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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Lifers are full of surprises!

Banding in the Davis Mountains today, I wore binoculars while manning the traps, as I always do. Trapping was slow, so when I noticed a butterfly land, I got my binos on it, and immediately recognized that it was a lifer. But lifer what? It had just perched for that one split second, and after retrieving my camera from the vehicle, I was unable to relocate it perching again. My instinct, based on seeing butterflies in the guide books daily, was that it was a satyr. For sure, I knew that it had four large spots only on top. Frustratingly, I couldn't get my iphone butterfly app to work.

Toward mid-morning, when hummers were not visiting the trap feeders much, Kelly sent me off to go look for butterflies, and I didn't argue. While looking, I chased a few butterflies, but all were foraging and none would land. I couldn't watch out for Rock Rattlers and butterflies at the same time, so chose to follow butterflies, and hope for the best. One butterfly I was pursuing, hoping it would land, finally lit long enough for me to snap one frame of it. I couldn't tell what species it was without binoculars, but neither could I photograph it without using the camera exclusively. Through the camera lens I thought it looked like a large skipper, probably an Orange Giant-Skipper. Afterwards, looking at the tiny camera monitor without my reading glasses, I still thought it was an orangish large skipper, not really having any idea what an Orange Giant-Skipper actually looked like. To my mind the color and size looked right for that species though. Throughout the time I prowled with my camera, I photographed several species of butterflies that I considered were probably common, but just in case they weren't, I wanted to document them. I reported to Kelly that I didn't get anything new, except possibly a skipper.

As soon as I got home to my computer, I snatched up my Kaufman's butterfly guide and went to the satyr section, intent to see if I could identify the probable satyr that I had sighted earlier in the day, before the memory of how it looked faded in my mind. Even though the illustration's color looked a bit off from what I remembered, the Red Satyr was the only one with just four large spots on top. I pretty much concluded, that was what the earlier unphotographed one was, plus the range for that species was right.

Kaufman guide illustration of Red Satyr

When I got my photos downloaded, I started culling the blurry ones out as I scrolled through them in preview mode, which I normally do. Sometimes, I've taken up to 200 photos, and like to get them more manageable before I try to ID them and cull them further. The final reduction takes place when they're enlarged in photoshop.  It's normal for me to end up with just 3 or 4 photos from a day's shooting.

Suddenly, on my screen appeared the butterfly I had seen, but thought I hadn't photographed. Yup, no doubt about it, a Red Satyr. I was just as surprised (#1) that I had ID'd it correctly without a photo, as I was surprised (#2) that I had a photo of it.

Never before had I photographed the species I wanted, while thinking I was photographing another species, in this case, what I thought to be a giant-skipper. A giant-skipper would have been lovely too, but I would have forever wondered about the satyr that got away. This species should eventually show up at the oasis. Hopefully, I'll get a better photo of it then. But I can't complain. What with the short window of opportunity, and the blade of grass in front that usually messes up the autofocus, it's surprising (#3) that the photo is as sharp as it is.

This is my first lifer butterfly from the Davis Mountains, but it's not going to be my last, which will come as no surprise to anyone.

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