On Tuesday, March 6th, the forecast said it "might" be 70, and it "might" be sunny, though clouding up in the afternoon. We packed a lunch, grabbed our binoculars and cameras, and went. We reached Bear Creek Lake in Lee County about eleven, it was sunny and 62 degrees, but it was warm enough for a handful of Eastern Tiger and Spicebush Swallowtails (both new for us for the season) to be flying along the road. We walked the Nature Trail at Bear Creek Lake, adding a few flower flies and Tachinid flies and Orange Sulphurs and Spring Azures for insects, but the main attraction was the trail itself which went from one fine big specimen tree to another (all with identifying placards), and we noticed how much better in a way we could see the trees at this time when there were no leaves out and they were laid bare.
We continued on down the ridge road (highway 44, a "Scenic Byway") and pulled off at a favorite stop, a trail going down to a creek bottom. A mud puddle there had a small handful (we weren't seeing large numbers of anything) of male butterflies drinking up salts. It included the butterflies we had been seeing plus some of the runtiest Zebra Swallowtails I have ever seen. The first generation of Zebras have much shorter tails than the summer generation, but these virtually had stub tails and the butterflies themselves were not a lot bigger than the Comma/Questionmarks we were also seeing. I can't remember if it was flood or drought when these were caterpillars last fall, but somehow they didn't get much nourishment.
Also at the puddle were a few Juvenal's Duskywings, always the first skippers of the year, and always a sign that the season is really underway. It was 70 degrees now, but rapidly clouding over.
Cheryl was noticing all the wildflowers.
We got back in the car and continued on down the road, making stops where it looked interesting. At one stop we saw a black rat snake stretched across a stick that had eaten such a big meal its pattern was stretched and exaggerated.
At another we picked up a long-jawed orb-weaver (Tetragnatha sp.) to examine it.
From time to time we picked up other butterfly species, Gray Hairstreak, American Snout, Mourning Cloak. Finally we got up to ten species, the first two-digit butterfly day of the year. We finished the day with this tiny flower fly (Platycheirus sp.), which, no more than 5 mm long, has larvae that are fierce predators of even tinier insects.
By then the overcast was so dark it was not worth staying any longer and we came home. I checked my records and many of the butterflies we saw down there were indeed out two weeks earlier than I would normally see them up here in Jonesboro. But now I have been so slow getting this blog done (almost a week) nothing seems very early anymore, and at the speed the hardiness zones are moving up to us, it really won't be many years before the alligators and early butterflies are up here with us. Maybe I shouldn't be wishing for an earlier spring every year; maybe it was better back where it used to be.