Friday, March 25, 2011

Chasing Digital Butterflies


I am reading Mariposa Road by Robert Pyle.  The book is inspired by Kenn Kaufman's Kingbird Highway, in which teen-aged Kenn Kaufman attempts to break the record for birds seen in a year--except the the Mariposa tome is about Pyle's attempt to see a record number butterflies in a year.  The book is about a third butterfly list, a third autobiography, and a third travel essay.  I enjoy all three genres.

To to really like Mariposa Road, I suspect you foremost need a latent interest in butterflies. My blog readers know that I possess this trait.  Pyle is also a birder, and like birders recounting great birding days, he delights in stories of butterflies seen right here but last year.  (In fact, in the first 10% of the book he records more birds than butterflies--he only sees about eight butterfly species! Pyle writes, "If you are a butterflier, it's best to be a birder too, since that way you can almost always occupy yourself.")  Despite Pyle's relatively erudite writing style--a gimlet, for example, is really a strong gin cocktail, not a piercing stare from the Border Patrol--I find myself inspired to search more diligently for butterflies. As I read Mariposa Road, I looked up the butterflies Pyle sees in the Kaufman butterfly book.

Winter/early spring in Minnesota might seem a poor season to kindle an interest in lepidoptery.  But even if I have seldom identified them, I have taken photographs of the butterflies that have crossed my path (and remained still for inordinate amounts of time).  So I have begun a search for digital images of butterflies among the pile of files stored on my external hard-drives. Now that I own a copy of Kaufman's Butterflies of North America, identification is more assured.

My first digital discovery is this image of a Bog Fritillary taken a couple of summers ago in Minnesota's Boundary Waters.  According to Kaufman, the second row of black-edged, white spots on the hind wing cinch identification.  This Canadian denizen barely dips into the United States, but found some sustenance on our plastic camp-ware.  I am, however, just a beginning butterflier.  Hap Huber writes that this critter looks more like an Atlantis Fritillary, another northern species.  He points out that the back wing of my butterfly is badly damaged.  Furthermore, the black-rimmed spots should be in a neater row if my identification was correct.  I bow to his greater experience!

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