Above the Tropopause: Searching for the Cassiope Blue

The Yosemite Butterfly County now officially closes the California season, with Paul @euproserpinus Johnson's Pinnacles Count opening it in the first weekend of June. I did 12 counts this year. My record in an eight-week window is 17 in 2010.
The big draw this year for the park's " Naturalist Series" was Robert Michael Pyle, the Godfather of American Butterflying. I hadn't seen him since his wife Thea passed away earlier this year. Three day pitch through the Sonora Pass has now become tradition for me. I don't collect much anymore so iNat photos of species have become my quarry. The Sonora Pass was sadly bleak from low snow and California drought.
Smiled at the lichen covered rocks that I knew a few more since my last visit one year earlier.
Connected up with Ken Davenport in Bridgeport, the most knowledgable where-species-are Lepidopterist in the state and author of " Yosemite Butterflies" ( 2007). Told him I wanted to see the Cassiope Blue ( Agriades cassiope ) this trip. He said he had a spot: Ellery Lake Dam along the Tioga Pass. " Meet me there at 9am tomorrow"
Also known as the "Heather Blue", the species was described only in 1998 and given full species status away from Agriades podarce, the more common Sierra Nevada Blue. A. podarce is found in wet meadows and hosts on Shooting Stars. Cassiope lives in a whole other world.
"We don't need to bring lunch, right?" I asked, judging by the spot he pointed at up the valley. " Two hours out, two hours back." What? My first assault into crumbling granite fields where each step feels like a never ending climb up a sand dune.
No butterflies for the first half hour. Lord, is this going to be a bust? Then Chris Tenney, the leader of the Monterey Butterfly Count and great birder, shouts from the other side of the bolder field " Shasta Blues " Good sign.
Reached the shelf and...there they were. Interesting to watch the males patrolling like Tiger Swallowtails along the ground in search of girls. Incredible difficult to photography. They never seemed to land. Don't really like photos in the net, but I was getting frustrated. Ken went higher for American Coppers ( L. rubidus ) which are also a High Elevation/rocky slopes species.
Chris shouted out that it's host, White Heather ( Cassiope mertensiana ) was in full bloom over on his side. I crossed the stream and...just sat to catch my breath ( heart pounding climb to 9,850) and ate my lunch. Then, my breath was removed again with the view of Ellery Lake and the Tioga Pass below. No greater manifestation of Vladimir Nabokov's famous quote: " To be in a rarified place with a butterfly and it's host plant...all that I love rushes in like a momentary vacuum and...I am at one."
Chris yelled, " There's one actually sitting on a heather flower" Got my shot.
Someone told me when I got back to San Francisco days later that White Heather was John Muir's favorite plant.
This is from Stephen Hatch's "The Contempletive John Muir"
" Some of my grandfathers must have been born on a muirland, for there is heather in me, and tinctures of bog juices that send me to Cassiope, and, oozing through all my veins, impel me unhaltingly through endless glacier meadows, seemingly the deeper and danker the better" Hatch adds: " The Scottish surname "Muir" means "one who lives besides a moor". A moorland is a large, open tract of land covered in heather. Cassiope is a white heather that grows in the Sierra Nevada."

Αναρτήθηκε από robberfly robberfly, Ιούλιος 31, 2014 0701 ΜΜ

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robberfly

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Ιούλιος 26, 2014 09:33 AM PDT

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Main Copper seen this day...

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robberfly

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Ιούλιος 26, 2014 11:05 AM PDT

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In the stream on the way down from the Heather Blue...

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robberfly

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Ιούλιος 2014

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The Heather Blue. Target species for the trip. Difficult hike to isolated population. Host is
White Heather ( Cassiope mertensiana)

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robberfly

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Ιούλιος 26, 2014 10:53 AM PDT

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Host plant for the Heather Blue butterfly. Blooming with Mountain Heather on this high shelf at 10,000 ft.

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robberfly

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Ιούλιος 26, 2014 10:55 AM PDT

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P. breweri is what is shown in Laws Guide

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Λύκαινα Η Φλαιάς (Lycaena phlaeas)

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robberfly

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Ιούλιος 26, 2014 10:45 AM PDT

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a.k.a. The American Copper. Trashed but enough left to call it.

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robberfly

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Ιούλιος 26, 2014 10:02 AM PDT

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Referred to as "Alpine Gold"...

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robberfly

Ημερομηνία

Ιούλιος 2014

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California, US (Google, OSM)

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This species was what the Heather Blue was keyed out of. Worn male. Last species-of-the-day before thunderstorm stopped the count.

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robberfly

Ημερομηνία

Ιούλιος 2014

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California, US (Google, OSM)

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Thrill to see again. Biologist in our group explained keying it away from Western Toad in ways other than white line. Distance in facial glands.

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robberfly

Ημερομηνία

Ιούλιος 26, 2014

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Tioga Pass, CA (Google, OSM)

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Flying amongst the Heather Blues.
This is a male.

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robberfly

Ημερομηνία

Ιούλιος 26, 2014

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Tioga Pass, CA (Google, OSM)

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Thick as flies this visit.

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robberfly

Ημερομηνία

Ιούλιος 26, 2014

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Tioga Pass, CA (Google, OSM)

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Saw as I slowly descended the rock slide. Thank God for my new camera!

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robberfly

Ημερομηνία

Ιούλιος 28, 2014

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Bodie, CA (Google, OSM)

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By the time we found this slope with tons of butterflies, the Monsoonal storm was already forming. It got bleaker and bleak by the minute.
This subspecies was split in '63 from the Southern P. c. sol.
Yosemite Butterfly Count

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robberfly

Ημερομηνία

Ιούλιος 28, 2014

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Tioga Pass, CA (Google, OSM)

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A lifer for me. Up on the saddle before the lake. Both Pyle and Davenport at the compilation afterwards walked me through why this wasn't P. acmon. The elevation, the black chevrons above the aurora and P. acmon not found this high. They clearly...know more...than my...lumping instinct.

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robberfly

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Ιούλιος 26, 2014 10:10 AM PDT

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Host for Edith's Copper

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Τι

Ανθρώπου (Homo sapiens)

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robberfly

Ημερομηνία

Ιούλιος 26, 2014 09:53 AM PDT

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robberfly's slow march towards Cassiope Blue

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Beautiful pics, write-up, and quotes. I love "there is heather in me."

Αναρτήθηκε από kueda περίπου 8 χρόνια πριν (Αναφορά)

Ditto - but what got me was "tinctures of bog juices that send me to Cassiope"

Αναρτήθηκε από leptonia περίπου 6 χρόνια πριν (Αναφορά)

Am now officially the unofficial president of your fan club.

Αναρτήθηκε από jzzipkin περίπου 6 χρόνια πριν (Αναφορά)

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