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My host and butterflying buddy in S. Texas, Benton Basham — a genial, solicitous, and kind fellow who also happens to be one of the most accomplished and admired birders in the land, and a Big Year veteran. Photo by Jan Dauphin, at the NABA Butterfly Garden, Mission.
The amazing Floyd and June Preston — dear friends of mine for 47 years, and perennially peripatetic butterfly field investigators, living and working out of their camper when away from Lawrence. The malachite (below, lower left) and these photos are by Ben Basham.
(Read counter-clockwise, starting in upper left corner)
Two memorable watering holes visited on recent side trips in between South Texas stints:
Lovejoy’s, unchanged in years and nothing fancy, lies at the bottom of lively 6th Street in Austin — where I went in search of remnant colonies of the rare Apache Skipper.
Halloween was definitely the wrong night to try to get into Lovejoy’s, or even into Austin. But the next night, after the Day of the Dead parade died down, I managed to get in for a pint of the shockingly hoppy Dennis Hopper Ale.
A few days or weeks later, my train was sidetracked for an hour in Shelby, Montana. I found this little cowboy bar open, and dropped in for a glass and a chat — definitely not Dennis Hopper Ale — half the bar was devoted to fish bait for the Miras River. Back at trackside, I came upon an amazing thing. There, just behind the last car, lay a dead great horned owl — spread-winged beside the cold rail.
A young Navy vet came over to see what I was looking at, and he pronounced the owl’s wingspan and beautiful plumage to be “insane.” The two of us carried the owl over to a lone cottonwood tree…
and laid it down beside the trunk, then covered it with cottonwood leaves, there in that bleak little eastern Montana town.
The reason for going north in November — not an intuitive strategy during the waning days of a Butterfly Big Year — was to attend a research summit for the Children and Nature Network. This gave me a chance to look for the winter stages of several species I had earlier missed seeing in the northern states.
Remarkably, with the assistance of knowledgeable local lepidopterists, I managed to find some of these by slogging and creeping about snowy winter bogs and swamps: Karner Blue eggs and Swamp Metalmark larvae! Bog copper eggs: Ø
Then a relaxing ride on the rails from St. Paul to Spokane and on home for a much-needed visit with Thea.
This time I saw no butterflies from the train, as the asters and goldenrod were all bloomed out in the snowy landscape. Lots of pronghorns, though, and time to pore over lists of all the butterflies I still need to see when I return to Texas, if I am to reach my goal of 500 species. Check out the Xerces.org blog for complementary details.