“If you need to stop, stop! You’re not forty anymore you know…” With this advice Sandy sent me off to Huron National Forest in Michigan to look for Tawny Crescents. Crescents in the eastern United States are a confusing bunch, with possibly several species hidden within the range of the very familiar and widespread Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos). The Northern Crescent (Phyciodes cocyta) and Tawny Crescent (Phyciodes batesii) are northern species which occur in and beyond the northern limits of the range of Pearl Crescent. The three species have very similar orange and black wing patterns, and are similar in size–with about a one and a quarter inch wingspan–and differentiating them in the field can be tricky. Northerns and Tawnies are not known to occur in Indiana, but I depicted both in my Butterflies of Indiana: A Field Guide. I showed Northerns because they could possbily occur in northern Indiana, and I showed Tawnies because there are historic, but erroneous, records for them in Indiana. I had seen and photographed Northerns in Wisconsin and used those photos in my book, but Tawnies are much less common, and I was unable to find a reliable site to visit to photograph them prior to my book’s publication. This spring, however, a friend in Ohio told me he and some of his Ohio and Michigan butterflying friends were planning to visit a site in Michigan where Tawnies had been reported the previous year. He asked me if I would be interested in tagging along. Needless to say, my response was “yes!”
The Huron National Forest is over 400,000 acres and stretches from the shores of Lake Huron west nearly to Grayling. The Tawny Crescents had been recorded in the Huron Shores area, in Alcona County, a beautiful area graced by the Au Sable River, and located a mere 7½ hour drive north of my house. As usual, I had to watch the weather. The Ohio folks had originally planned to drive up the weekend of June 9, but the Tawnies were just beginning to emerge and the weather was questionable, so we decided to wait a week. As the week progressed, however, the extended forecast for the weekend didn’t look too good, so I decided to drive up by myself mid-week, during a short window of sunny—but somewhat breezy—weather. I left Wednesday morning, June 13, and arrived in the area around 5pm. My plan was to scout out the area before dark so I knew exactly where to go the next morning. Although the Ohio folks couldn’t make the trip mid-week, Bob Bell, a Michigan butterfly watcher who lives in the area and had originally found the crescents, met me and gave me a tour. The wind was howling at 30mph so photography was impossible, but I saw my first Tawny Crescents and became familiar with the area.
Since it was so windy, Bob took me to a more sheltered area along a heavily forested road where he had found a good number of dark female (form “Pocahontas”) Hobomok Skippers. Hobomok Skippers (Poanes hobomok) or “Hobie Cats,” as I have dubbed them for some reason, is a woodland skipper with a single flight in early to mid-summer. Males and typical females are brown below with a bright yellow patch on the hindwing, which is edged with lavender. The rare dark female is a much darker brown and the yellow patch is mostly obscured by brown scales. Hobomoks are very common, even abundant, in some areas of Michigan, but much less common in Indiana. I had not seen a dark female in many years, so I was eager to see them again, and possibly get some photos. We found them nectaring on the same blackberry bushes where Bob had seen them the day before.
Thursday dawned with a clear blue sky and calmer breeze, with gusts a much more manageable (but still annoying!) 10-15mph. I set out from my hotel in West Branch and arrived at the first crescent site at 7:30am. This proved to be too early. I had to wait an hour for it to warm up and for the sun to rise above the trees. Bob joined me again, and finally, at about 9am I saw my first Tawny of the day, a female. I quickly got photos of her with her wings open, as she warmed up for the day. As the morning progressed, I managed to get both dorsal and ventral photos of females.
I also attempted to get some photos of the antenna clubs, which are also important to observe when identifying this difficult group of butterflies. The antenna clubs of Northern Crescents are orange, but the antenna clubs of Tawny Crescents are black, sometimes tipped with brown, and the underside of the clubs are black and white, or black and gray. The breeze made focusing on the tiny clubs difficult, but here is a sample.
For some reason I was not having any luck getting photographs of males. All of the Tawnies that perched and allowed me to photograph them seemed to be females. Bob showed me another road where he had been seeing Tawnies. I had much better luck with the males along this road, although it took awhile because the day had now warmed and most of the butterflies were quite active.
But my patience paid off, and I eventually got the photos. My ventral photo is below, see the beginning of this post for the dorsal view.
All in all, a very successful trip. I left the area about 2pm, stopped at Rita’s Tasty Freeze in Standish for a celebratory ice cream cone (I really don’t need an excuse to eat ice cream, but seeing and photographing a butterfly for the first time easily qualifies!). Sandy of course was worried about the long drive home after a hard morning of work, and I remembered her suggestion to stop if I got tired, but the drive went smoothly and I rolled into the driveway at 12:30am. Not bad for being “over forty!”