You can’t beat a butterfly scientist’s working
conditions. Official surveys kick off at a leisurely 10 a.m. Even then, you really only need go outside if
it’s warm and sunny enough for the butterflies to fly. The only potential
downside is the risk of heckling.
With this knowledge in hand, I was lucky enough to
accompany butterfly expert James Miskelly for four sunny day. During that time we (well, actually, he)
identified 21 species of butterflies and species of dragonflies. A fantastic week except for the heckling while walking downhill
under Blackcomb’s chairlifts. For some reason, seeing two grown men scamper
through the flowers with large butterfly nets is cause for a bit of hilarity from
the chairlift sitters. I blame it on too many Gary
The reasons for braving the sun and wildflowers with James were twofold. We wanted to expand our knowledge of species native to Whistler, and we wanted to explore whether two at-risk species Dun Skipper and Black Pedaltail occur here. Our surveys again failed to find either of these species but were very successful with others.
In his short stay, James boosted the number of butterfly species documented through the Whistler
Biodiversity Project to 29 (of 56 expected species), and we’ve now also
confirmed 20 species of dragonflies (of 31 expected
species). These impressive totals are at least partly due to Whistler’s transitional
location between coast and Interior B.C. Although most species are typically
coastal, species more common in the Interior also add to the diversity.
James’s visit greatly improved our knowledge of local butterflies. He confirmed
many species he expected to find, plus had some surprises. Most of these
surprises were range extensions, that is, first records of species in this
area. Another brought home the connection between non-native plants and
Our first butterfly of the survey was a European
Skipper near the base of Blackcomb. This non-native butterfly is relatively new
in B.C. but is expanding its range so rapidly the 2001
range map is already obsolete. Its host plants, Reed Canary Grass and Timothy,
are both non-native grasses widely seeded in B.C. So maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise to
find more European Skippers near timberline on the ski runs covered in Canary Grass and Timothy. Nonetheless, those skippers were higher
recorded so far in B.C. (by quite a lot) and proof we can expect it to
keep expanding its range. Efforts to collect and spread native seeds on the ski
runs this fall will hopefully slow this trend.
Meanwhile I’ll be studying my books in the hope of becoming a butterfly expert.
Add a net, a couple of hecklers, and maybe I too can emerge at 10 a.m.
(only on sunny days) to peruse the fritillaries and swallowtails.
BioBlitz August 9-10, noon to noon at Lost Lake. For more details see www.whistlerbioblitz.ca.
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