Sunday, May 21, 2017

Columbia Hills

The long ridge paralleling the Columbia River north of The Dalles is called the Columbia Hills. It is crossed by the Dalles Mountain Road and is loaded with wild flowers this time of year. I spent the afternoon there yesterday and recorded several species of butterflies:

Papilio zelicaon Anise Swallowtail, 3 very faded individuals
White, 1 unknown species (Cabbage White/Becker's White size)
Icaricia icarioides Boisduval's Blue, several dozen fresh males
Glaucopsyche lygdamus Silvery Blue, 2 faded males
Euphilotes species "buckwheat blue," 1 male (couldn't catch, unsure of species)
Callophrys sheridanii Sheridan's Green Hairstreak, 1 plus another green hairstreak which I'm not sure is Sheridan's, could be either affinis or dumetorum.
Euphydryas colon Snowberry Checkerspot, several dozen newly-emerged males and around a half dozen females.
Vanessa cardui Painted Lady, around a dozen faded individuals.
Coenonympha tullia/california Ochre Ringlet, several dozen on the lower slopes.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot and Lupine

Show Phlox Phlox speciosa
Lupine and Arrowleaf Balsamroot

Douglas' Buckwheat Eriogonum douglasii

Snowberry Checkerspot Euphydryas colon, male

Snowberry Checkerspot Euphydryas colon, female

Snowberry Checkerspot Euphydryas colon, female

Snowberry Checkerspot Euphydryas colon, female

Arrowleaf Balsamroot, sweet pea (Lathyrus sp.), Nine-leaved Desert Parsley (Lomatium triternatum), Bare-stem Desert Parsley (Lomatium nudicaule) and a number of other flowers!

Arrowleaf Balsamroot and sweet pea (Lathyrus sp.)

View south over the Columbia River and Oregon wheat country

View west towards The Dalles

So much paintbrush!

It really did look like it was glowing!

Yellow Prairie Violet Viola nuttallii

Large-headed Clover Trifolium macrocephalum

Panorama of the Columbia Hills (click to enlarge)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Butterfly Collections

Collections of butterfly specimens come in many forms, from personal collections ranging between a few dozen to thousands of specimens, to university or other institution collections of varying sizes. All collections are useful for a number of reasons, including personal education, education of the public and scientific research (primarily taxonomy and geographic range). My personal collection includes around 3,500 butterflies and moths and 658 other insects, mostly beetles. I primarily use my collection as a reference for my book and mapping projects and for occasional educational presentations to schools and other groups. There is nothing like seeing people's faces light up when they see "real" insects in display cases where they can spend as much time studying their appearance without the bug flying away or being in a position where certain wing markings aren't visible. It is difficult to fully comprehend size differences, subtle colors and reflective scales when looking at photos, all of which are more easily learned when handling or otherwise looking at specimens in person. Because butterflies reproduce so quickly and most adults only live for 1-2 weeks, collecting poses no harm to all but the rarest species (which are usually protected and not collected except by permit).

My specimen photography setup during a visit at the Burke Museum
For my recent book projects, I needed to photograph specimens of butterfly species found in the Pacific Northwest. I was able to use some of my own collection, but visited university collections to find some species and several subspecies I don't yet have. The Oregon State University Arthropod Collection (OSAC) in Corvallis houses one of the largest collections of Lepidoptera on the west coast. The collection of Lepidoptera at the Burke Museum of Natural History in Seattle houses an extensive collection of primarily Washington butterflies. Washington State University (Pullman) and Central Washington University (Ellensburg) also have collections of Lepidoptera and other insects. Most collections will allow anyone to visit and often will allow photography of specimens with permission.

Burke Museum in Seattle, WA

Invertebrate collection at the Burke Museum (there are
several large cabinets in this room and more in the hallway)

Oregon State Arthropod Collection (OSAC) at Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR

Just a few of the many cabinets and drawers at OSAC

Drawer of skippers at OSAC

A few fritillaries, sulphurs and blues at OSAC

Display of interesting bugs at OSAC

Of these, the CWU collection is least known by local lepidopterists but is where "phase 2" of my personal interest in Lepidoptera took off. Until then, all my butterfly knowledge was obtained through all the library books and purchased guide books I could get my hands on, together with my own limited collecting ("phase 1"). Due to the lack of a curator and a move into a new building, the CWU collection fell into disarray by the time I started college there. I earned Independent Study credits curating the collection between 2004 and early 2006, completely reorganizing the specimens, cataloging which cabinets and drawers had which species, repairing broken specimens and creating several "teaching displays," drawers with sample specimens to be used for classes, in order to limit future shuffling of and damage to specimens.

Last year, I learned that two fellow lepidopterists donated specimens to CWU decades ago but later thought the collection had been destroyed (it was originally housed in a building that was condemned before construction of a new science building). This sparked new interest and I revisited the collection a couple weeks ago for the first time since I graduated. It has barely been touched since I left and very little has changed, but I was excited to see such a nice sample of specimens from Kittitas and Yakima counties, including an excellent series of the Columbia Basin segregate of Sylvan Hairstreaks (Satyrium sylvinus), a group which hasn't been given a subspecies status but which stands out as being very pale compared to all other Sylvan subspecies and primarily occurs in Kittitas County (where CWU is located). I plan to visit the collection more in the future to help bring it up-to-date with current species names. A few images of the CWU collection are shown here:

In the collection room at Central Washington University, Ellensburg, WA:
The bank of cabinets on this side are all the Lepidoptera

Several drawers in the CWU collection.

Marbles and orangetips in the CWU collection

Some of the blues in the CWU collection (a few are mis-identified from when I first organized
them 12 years ago, along with a few specimens someone later added to the Silvery Blues)

Some fritillaries in the CWU collection

Checkerspots in the CWU collection (all of the E. chalcedona are probably actually E. colon,
I haven't checked those yet, and C. palla  and C. acastus are lumped together on the left).

A few wood nymphs in the CWU collection

A few skippers in the CWU collection (several of these need to be identified or corrected)

Some moths (sorry to the moth-lovers, I can't be more specific!) in the CWU collection

More moths in the CWU collection

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Pacific Northwest Azures

Here is a little blue glimmer of spring to look forward to. Echo Azures (Celastrina echo) are common and widespread throughout most of western Washington and Oregon and forested areas of the eastern side of the Cascades. Lucy's Azure (Celastrina lucia) is known only from a small area of central Washington (parts of Yakima and Kittitas counties) in the Pacific Northwest, although they occur elsewhere in the central and eastern US. They are very similar and hard to distinguish at first glance. Lucy's Azure generally has a brighter, frostier blue dorsal color on both males and females, compared to the deeper, lavender blue of the Echo Azure. A full profile description of the Echo Azure is found here in a past blog post. Both species use similar habitats and an array of host plants.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Butterfly photographers

Many of you probably know by now that I've been working with Bob Pyle on a new butterfly field guide. We recently submitted all the materials to the publisher and while it will be another year before it is finally published, I now have more time to catch up on other projects, like this blog and my own Sinlahekin book (trying to finally get it out later this year...we'll see!). My part of the other book involved contacting numerous photographers and trying to source photos for the 202 species that will be covered in the book. It was a monumental task and required pouring over thousands of photos from over 60 photographers.

At the beginning of the project, I knew of several butterfly photographers but not the extent of their photos. By the end of the project I've made new friends and discovered a treasure trove of photos. I'd like to share their public pages here so that others are aware of these resources. While I will still recommend Butterflies of America as the go-to source for identification, these sites may assist with more localized identifications, will provide some ideas of locations to visit for your own photography, and are just plain fun to look at! This is also intended as a partial thank-you to these folks and so many others who helped me out, I hope to return the favor by promoting your websites!

If you have a page of Pacific Northwest butterfly photos I'm not aware of, please contact me and I'll add it to the list. It's too late to get into the book, but I like to have a running list of local photographers.

Alan Wight - Alan Wight's Homepage
California, primarily around Sonoma County, includes other wildlife as well.

Bill Bouton - Flickr
Primarily Central/Southern California and Arizona, various other photos from southern and eastern US and some in Mexico.

Bryan Reynolds - Flickr
also The Butterflies of the World Foundation
Professional nature photographer with a tremendous array of butterflies and other insects, plants, and other wildlife, mostly east of the Rockies.

David Lee Myers - David Lee Myers Photo
Professional photographer of butterflies and other subjects around Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington.

Dennis Deck - Butterflies Oregon
As named, photos of Oregon butterflies.

Dennis Holmes - Flickr
Primarily Northern California and Southern Oregon, some excursions into Northern Oregon and Washington.

Donald Gudehus - Nature Photography
Primarily Oregon with an assortment of species from other states.

Jeff Pippen - Jeff's Butterfly Page
Primarily North Carolina and Montana, but continually adding new species and locations across North America.

John Christensen - Jasper Sailfin Photography (click here for butterflies and other wildlife)
Professional photographer in Michigan; I actually ran into him by accident in one of my favorite butterfly spots in central WA last year, he went there because of this blog! Bob and I wound up using some of the photos he took on that trip for our book.

John Davis - Flickr
Butterflies and birds, mostly from the Columbia River Gorge and surrounding parts of Washington and Oregon.

Ken Kertell - Flickr
Mostly Arizona and surrounding region, with a gorgeous set of recent photos from the Amazon.

Mike Patterson - Flickr
Butterflies and birds in Clatsop County, Oregon and surrounding areas.

Norbert Kondla - Flickr
British Columbia, Alberta, Alaska and surrounding regions.

Ray Bruun - Flickr
Northern California and Southern Oregon. Gorgeous photos of many subjects, including butterflies.

Rob Santry - Flickr
Primarily Northern California and Southern Oregon, some excursions into Northern Oregon and Washington.

Rod Gilbert - Rod Gilbert's Photos
Primarily the Puget Sound/Olympics region of Washington, with some landscape and wildlife photos from several national parks.

Tom Kogut - Tom Kogut Photography
Washington and Oregon butterflies and wildlife, along with fantastic photos of overseas trips.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Recording Geospatial Data

Considering my career is in GIS (geographic information systems), I've rarely mentioned anything about mapping in my blog posts and only have one post that discusses the pros and cons of different ways to display butterfly records, found here.
In this post, I will attempt to give a brief overview of some common methods of recording data and provide some tips for the method that has worked best for myself.

GPS Unit
GPS (global positioning system) units come in many shapes and sizes, the most common of which are small hand-held units, such as the Garmin eTrex, and vehicle navigation units, such as the Garmin Nuvi. I personally prefer Garmin products for the best results and user-friendly interfaces, although Magellan is another popular brand. I won't go into all the pros and cons of the two brands, there are plenty of reviews on the internet for that! If you really want to study the nitty-gritty details, this is a good place to start:
A serious lepidopterist needs to record detailed location information for any butterfly records, therefore a GPS device is essential. While I used three different GPS units through my early years of records-keeping, I have now switched over to the following system because 1) it is combined with my phone, so I don't have to carry extra equipment, and 2) I find it easier to use and more flexible.

Avenza PDF Maps
Avenza is a free app for Apple and Android devices. It uses the built-in GPS in your smart phone to tell you if you are on a particular map, and allows you to add waypoints and track a path (hiking, biking, etc.) similar to a standard hand-held GPS unit. This app came out a few years ago and has been rapidly gaining in popularity. Many companies are now using it to collect data because it is so easy to use, reduces the equipment (everyone has a phone, now they don't also need a GPS unit), and allows them to use custom company maps. Avenza has a map store where you can purchase standard maps (on Apple devices, it is linked through your iTunes purchase account). They are constantly adding new maps and have a wide range of options, anywhere from historic maps to standard road maps, National Geographic Trails Illustrated maps (my personal favorites!) and other recreation maps. Some maps are free, but most range from around $2 to $15 and are comparable to or slightly cheaper than paper versions.

Because I am a GIS analyst by profession, I am able to make my own custom maps in ArcMap (ESRI software) and upload them to the Avenza app on my phone. However, I primarily use the National Geographic Trails Illustrated maps purchased through the Avenza store. They have proved to be the most accurate for trails here in Washington and I like the cartographic style (symbols and colors). The specific maps I have purchased are:
821::Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
822::Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams
825::Alpine Lakes Wilderness
It appears their 810-series are Oregon maps and 820-series are Washington. Most of these maps are currently $12 and include both sides of the paper version of these maps (i.e. the purchase will download two PDF maps).

Another series I find useful are the Benchmark Recreation Maps. They are a single map of an entire state, exactly the same as you find in the front of Benchmark Atlases. Avenza doesn't offer them for all 50 states yet, but most of the western states, including Oregon and Washington, are available for only $5 each! While they lack the detail you'll see in the trails maps, if you are in an area you're very familiar with or otherwise don't need to see any of the details, they are very useful as a cheap alternative for simply allowing you to save waypoints to the map to store the same information you would on the detailed maps. I used these Benchmark maps for all the states I visited during my two week road trip this summer (the LepSoc conference I blogged about). They worked great because 1) I wasn't always sure which location I'd be catching butterflies in, so a statewide map covered my bases, 2) it was cheaper than buying detailed PDF maps of everything, and 3) I still like to be old-school and use paper maps (mostly state gazetteers/atlases) for general navigation and trip planning. So, I planned out the general route using my road atlases (yes, I brought a book bag full of them!), entered the general route into my Garmin Nuvi GPS for turn-by-turn navigation, then saved placemarks in Avenza whenever I stopped, both to mark the coordinates and easily enter notes about the butterfly species I saw, all of which I transferred to my notebook each evening for easy reference and as a backup.

I strongly encourage everyone to try out this app, it may not be for you, but it is certainly worth trying if you are looking for a simple and easy way to record information when you're out and about in the woods!
Avenza app - views 1 and 2
View 1 is what you see when you open the Store in the Avenza app. You can either browse the maps by group, such as clicking on National Geographic and then the "Trails" option, then scroll through the list of maps, or you can click on the Find Maps button at the top of the screen, which will take you to something similar to view 2. You can pan around the map and zoom in or out to areas of interest to see if there are any maps for that area (the blue pins), or you can click in the gray search box at the top and type in a keyword, or a specific map title such as the ones I listed above.

Avenza app - views 3 and 4
Once you have purchased a map or uploaded your own custom maps, they will appear as shown in view 3. As you can see under each title, it tells you if you are "on map" or the general direction and how many miles away you are from that map. This makes it easy to scroll through the maps and find the one you need to view if you have a bunch of them. View 4 shows part of the Benchmark Washington recreation map with several pins I saved during my trip to Goat Peak, Slate Peak, and the Sinlahekin last month. The blue circle in the middle of the screen is where a pin would be dropped if you added another one. The lat/long coordinates at the bottom of the screen correspond to the point in the center of the blue circle; they change as you move the map around.
If you click on the arrow in the bottom left corner of the screen, it will turn blue and the map will center on your current location if you are within the extent of the map, otherwise it will say "not on map".

Avenza app - views 5 and 6
Views 5 and 6 show one of the National Geographic Trails maps with several pins that I've color-coded for different trips to the same location. When you touch any of the pins, you will see a pop-up, as in view 6, with the pin name. If you touch the "i" button it will open up the attributes of that pin (aka placemark).

Avenza app - views 7 and 8
View 7 is an example of what you'll see when you open the attributes of a pin/placemark. By default, when you drop a pin on the map it will have a name of Placemark 1, Placemark 2, etc., but you can edit it to whatever you want by clicking on the little gray X button on the right and typing in a new name, such as my note here for "Coronis Fritillary Females". Note that it also saves the date and time below the name. This is also where you can change the pin color or style (Icon button), the description (a box where you can type detailed information, such as a list of butterfly species seen at the location), or add photos (it will ask if you want to take a picture or choose one from your camera roll). As long as you keep those photos in your camera roll/on your phone, they will be available through this app. You can export them as part of the KML file and they will be viewable in Google Earth. Once you export them as a KML, you can delete the photos from your phone if you wish (the KML will have an embedded copy of them). If you click on the Location button you can view the full lat/long coordinates for that point. You can also edit the Layer attributes/schema, but I rarely mess with that. See view 9 below for more on that.
View 8 shows some of the options available in the map (click on the wrench button in the bottom right corner of the screen in the map view to get here). The measure tool allows you to measure distances or areas on the map by hand. If you wish to track your movements during a hike or bike ride, use the Record GPS Tracks tool. It will record information even if you close the app. This tool needs to have a clear GPS signal, so I recommend keeping your phone in a shirt pocket or outside pocket of your backpack. I covered it up too much one time and it kept losing the signal, so the final track had lots of sharp zigzags and said I traveled twice as far as I actually did!

Avenza app - views 9 and 10
View 9 shows several layers that are within a single map. In views 5 and 6, if you click on the symbol on the bottom right that looks like a pin with three lines next to it, it will take you to this view. As you can see here, I've grouped the placemarks (pins) by year to help separate different trips to the same area. It also shows one layer, the "Lost Creek Old Growth", which is a polygon feature I exported from ArcMap and brought into Avenza for a hiking trip. The two buttons on the bottom right are the import (left) and export (right) options. When you click on the export button, you'll see something like view 10. You can choose to email a KML file (as shown) or pick a different option and format. If you choose the email option, once you click Export (top right of screen), it will open an email window where you can enter a recipient (I usually send to myself) and it will automatically attach the KML file. You can then open the file in Google Earth on any computer to view your points! It usually keeps the same point color and style as seen on the maps, and you can click on them in Google Earth to view the data (same info as in view 7), including any photos that you may have added.
The KML files are also easy to bring into ArcMap using a conversion tool.

Overall, Avenza is very easy to use but takes a little bit of exploring to figure out where all the options are. They do have a "Getting Started" map that tells you what most of the buttons do, but I learned more just by playing around with everything. It's almost impossible to mess up anything, so just explore and experiment. Go to their website for more information:

In summary, these are my recommendations...
Save good butterfly locations using a vehicle navigation GPS (eg. Garmin Nuvi) and Avenza.
When I'm driving around in the mountains and find a particularly good butterfly spot in an area I'm unfamiliar with, I'll save the location in my Garmin Nuvi so that I can navigate directly to it in the future. If I collect any butterflies in that spot, I'll also save a waypoint in Avenza so I have the date, time and lat/long coordinates for future reference.
Navigate to butterfly locations using a vehicle navigation GPS.
You'll need a GPS unit that provides turn-by-turn navigation. A smart phone may substitute for this, but it is usually hard to find a particular location in the mountains on your phone.
Record butterfly data in Avenza PDF maps.
Allows you to save waypoints that include lat/long coordinates, date and time, along with any photos you might take with your smart phone, and is very easy to enter additional notes. Also will record hiking tracks with approximate length and elevation changes. Is easy to export all points and tracks as a KML file that can be opened in Google Earth or converted to a shapefile for use in ArcMap (GIS software).