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This year, as the gardens are starting to come together, it’s been tremendously rewarding to see more species of animal life showing up among the flowers.

Some of the most notable additions to the gardens this year have been butterflies, including the Lorquin’s Admiral (Limenitis lorquini), and most recently the Mournful Dusky-Wing (Erynnis tristis).  Even for those species we’ve seen in previous years, this year we seem to have more of them.  That was true of our Checkerspot butterflies (Euphydryas chalcedona) in spring, and now in September, we seem to be overrun with a number of Woodland Skipper butterflies (Ochlodes sylvanoides).

We’ve seen a few skippers here before, but not to the degree that we’re finding them this year, so we must be doing something right.

At this same time last summer little was in bloom, except for some native asters, as most of our flowering plants were California natives that settle into their summer dormancy by late August.

However, starting this spring, we’ve slowly begun to add a few well-behaved non-native species to the cultivated areas, as nectar and pollen resources, including some late-blooming hybrid sages, lavender, Coreopsis and Rudbeckia species.  The butterflies at least seem to be appreciating our efforts.

Unfortunately, the terrain here is rather treacherous, so running around with one’s eye attached to the viewfinder chasing butterflies can be a rather hazardous undertaking.  As such, my butterfly photo collection has been sparse up to this point, and the majority of the images quite blurry.

Yesterday though I was fortunate to find this group of Woodland Skippers nectaring on some of our Lavandula intermedia ‘Provence’ plants that are still in bloom.

Yesterday though I was fortunate to find this group of Woodland Skippers nectaring on some of our Lavandula intermedia ‘Provence’ plants that are still in bloom.

Woodland Skippers are members of the Hesperiidae family of butterflies, and perhaps the most common species of Skipper to be found in the western states[1].   They’re sympatric with, and very similar in appearance to, the Rural Skipper  (Ochlodes agricola).  However, Woodland Skippers are generally in flight later in the season than Rural Skippers, most commonly sighted between July and October, with their peak flight activity in late August to early September [2].

These skippers, unlike their counterparts, are found in a more diverse array of habitats, including chaparral, shrub-steppe, and riparian woodland, however, like the Rural Skipper, they tend to prefer to avoid urbanized areas.

The Woodland Skipper’s preferred habitat is moist woodland clearings.  This year we seem to meet that criteria as our late spring rainfall, and cool summer temperatures, has allowed both creeks on the property to remain flowing all season.

Woodland Skippers typically frequent undisturbed sites.  Although we have cleared some small areas on the property over the last few years, we’ve left the vast majority of the woodland untouched.

We have at least two preferred native nectaring plants on the property, including native asters (Symphyotrichum chilense), which are in bloom now, and Coyote Brush (Baccharis pilularis), which is just about bloom.  However, they are quite enchanted with the lavender blossoms too.

The larval food sources for this species aren’t specifically known, but are believed to be perennial grasses[3].

Identifying Skippers can be challenging, but to tell if you’re looking at a member of the Skipper family, look at the tip of their antennae.  Skippers have a unique physical trait.  The ‘club’ section on the distal antenna hooks backwards, resembling the tip of a crochet hook.

With so many skippers nectaring on the lavender blossoms, I suppose it was inevitable that someone else would be found dining in the same area. 

As I moved through the lavender bed, trying to keep up with these frenetic little butterflies, I suddenly discovered yet another crab spider lurking in the garden, but this time, instead of a honey bee, she had a Skipper firmly in her grasp.

It seems like quite an ambitious meal for a spider of this size.

As always here at Curbstone Valley, it seems that where there is plentiful prey, predators abound, but that’s all part of the balance of life here on the farm.

Although this Skipper met its demise, it’s been very gratifying to watch as more beneficial insects gradually call the farm home.  With fall planting season just around the corner, we can’t wait to add even more plants to the gardens.  I wonder who we’ll find lurking in the gardens next year?

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[1] Glassberg, Jeffrey. 2001. Butterflies through Binoculars: The West : A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Western North America. Oxford University Press. p. 272

[2] Tilden, J. W. 1965. Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay Region. University of California Press. p. 80

[3] Garth, J.S., and Tilden, J. W. 1986. California Butterflies. University of California Press. p. 157.