In June 2019 my wife and I spent around 8 days at West Kelowna in British Columbia, Canada. It was just a short trip to attend a family wedding (which was great by the way), but I took my camera along just in case I got any opportunities to go butterhiking. Naturally family events took precedence, and at first the weather was miserably cold and wet, but I did get to sneak away a couple of times…
In the hills above West Kelowna
The wedding took place at a resort in the hills just a few kilometres north of West Kelowna. The day prior (21st June) a load of us were helping get things set up, and after a few hours of that I grabbed my camera and went to look for butterflies.
Directly across the road from the resort’s entrance a track led up into the hills, so I followed it through the trees and clearings for a while. It all looked very promising, as the sun finally came out and there were lots of flowers, but there was an almost complete lack of butterflies on the wing. After about half an hour I finally saw a couple of Crescents in a small clearing; they were jumpy and difficult to approach but after a few unsuccessful attempts I was able to get one or two shots of what I have tentatively identified as a male Northern Crescent (Phyciodes cocyta).
I should probably take this opportunity to point out that a lot of my identifications of Canadian butterflies are tentative, because I find many of them very difficult. The Crescents are a good example; there are several species and they’re all pretty similar. If anyone reading this is able to correct my IDs please leave a Comment or send me an email via the Contact page.
Finding nothing else in this area I followed a different track beneath some power lines; this went steeply up the hillside but soon led to a patch of flowers where I saw one or two Skippers zipping around, though I wasn’t able to get close enough for any photos. About halfway to the top another little path led towards the trees, so I thought I’d give it a go. Within a few yards I disturbed a pale Lycaenid, which flew around in a slightly odd manner before suddenly landing on a leaf a few yards ahead of me. It took me a few attempts, as I kept on disturbing the butterfly, but it eventually rested with its wings open long enough for me to grab a couple of shots, after which it flew a short distance and obligingly settled with its wings closed, allowing me an underside photo. It was obviously a Copper of some kind, despite the lack of copper colouration; when I looked it up in my Canadian butterfly book it turned out to be a female Blue Copper (Lycaena heteronea). The name seems misleading, given she had no more blue colour than she had copper, but according to the book the males are blue.
I spent about two hours in the hills, and whilst I did see a couple more Skippers up near the top of the ridge I wasn’t able to get any more photos. On the plus side, at least I didn’t bump into any bears – always a worry for me when I’m out butterflying in Canada.
West Kelowna roadsides
On 24th June I was able to get out for another two hours, so I took the chance to explore some of the roadsides within a few kms of where we were staying. I’ve often found roadsides to be quite productive, especially when they are full of flowers as these were, but for the most part it was another butterfly desert. I did see quite a few Cabbage Whites, but nothing else but the occasional Swallowtail. Eventually one of the latter paused to feed from some purple flowers at the edge of the road; I was able to get a couple of photos though they weren’t very good owing to the wind and the butterfly’s hyperactive behaviour.
After walking another 3 or 4 kms I came upon an area of large, wooded lots which looked very promising except for the fact that they were fenced off. I turned to head for home, but took a bit of a detour to a patch of waste ground which was full of flowers that had attracted a Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice eriphyle). Mostly you see Sulphurs flying endlessly at high speed just above the ground, but this one stayed in the area to feed from the flowers. I had to stalk it many times to get any photos but eventually I got a few, most of which I had to delete as they turned out to be overexposed.
(Colias philodice eriphyle)
(Colias philodice eriphyle)
This little area also yielded a European Skipper (Thymelicus lineola), which I had photographed several years earlier in Calgary, and I did see a Blue but failed to get any shots of him.
I hung around for a while, but nothing else presented itself so I set off back to the house. On the way, close to where Ridge Estates Drive meets Boucherie Road, was a patch of pink flowers (milkweeds?) which had attracted 6 or 7 Swallowtails. I scrambled down the bank and began snapping away, finally getting some reasonably decent photos of these lovely butterflies. Whilst most of my shots are of the uppersides I did get to see the undersides of just about all these specimens; in each case the submarginal lunules on the underside hind wings were yellow, indicating the butterflies were Western Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio rutulus).
I was hoping at least one of the Swallowtails would have orange lunules instead of yellow, as this would have made it a Canadian Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio canadensis), but no such luck.
Glen Canyon Regional Park
The closest green space of any reasonable size, I spent 6 hours hiking around this Park on 26th June. It’s a long, thin strip of land following Powers Creek between Westbank and Glenrosa. I went in via the entrance at the southern end, off Gellatly Road South, making my way northwards in the hope of finally finding a decent number of butterflies.
At first the track followed the Creek through a wooded area; it looked as if it should have been a good butterfly site but I saw nothing on the wing. I soon reached the first of a few flights of steps, the ascent of which brought home to me just how much food and wine I had consumed at the wedding. I spent some time checking out various different areas – around the trees, in clearings etc – but all I saw were a few Tiger Swallowtails which had no interest in landing.
At the top of yet another set of steps I sneaked around behind a fence designed to keep me away from a steep drop, so I could explore a little suntrap. A grey shape caught my eye so I carefully approached the area where it had been flying, where I was fortunate enough to see the butterfly settled on a leaf only a couple of inches above the ground. To my delight it was my first sighting of a Canadian hairstreak, which unless I’m mistaken was a Grey Hairstreak (Strymon melinus), and a lovely fresh specimen too. It was quite cooperative, allowing me to approach as close as I liked while it sat still, though it took exception when I tried to work my way around to get shots from the other side. It vanished in an instant, and though I returned to the spot several times that day I didn’t see it again. For my first butterfly of the day to be such a beauty seemed like an auspicious start.
It was a while before I managed to take any more photos, as butterflies were still few and far between. I saw one or two Crescents flying around flowers near the side of the track, but nothing else at all until I reached a spot where small meadows lay on both sides of the path. They were filled with flowers, which had attracted some thirsty butterflies. The most common by far were the Crescents, though I didn’t find them easy to photograph as they were rather fidgety even when settled. I think they were all Northern Crescents (Phyciodes cocyta); I made sure I got photos of males and females but despite their beauty I didn’t want to spend too much time chasing them because I’d seen them before on previous trips to Canada.
In this same area I also got photos of another Lycaenid species; there were two specimens which I think were both male Melissa Blues (Lycaeides melissa). Unfortunately both were rather old and worn, though the blue colour was still quite striking.
(Phyciodes cocyta) – male
(Phyciodes cocyta) – female
Something was flying around the trees alongside the path; it landed and I took a long-distance photo of what I assumed was a very ragged White Admiral (Limenitis arthemis), a species I’d previously photographed in Calgary. In fact it turned out to be the first of a number of Lorquin’s Admirals (Limenitis lorquini) I was fortunate enough to see that day. At times I’d see 3 or 4 of them disputing ownership of a particular perch, usually on a tree overlooking a meadow or a patch of blackberry bushes. Some of them were gorgeous pristine specimens, though as is often the case with butterflies I found the better specimens less easy to photograph than the more worn individuals.
I spent a lot of time following these Admirals as they sailed around, and almost as much time cursing at the little buggers when they flew off just before I was able to get a good shot of them. I never managed to get a really good shot of a great specimen with its wings spread, but despite all the profanity I aimed at them I was still very happy to have been able to observe them.
One of the Admirals (the guy in the right-hand picture above) was busy defending a blackberry bush from all-comers, including two Mourning Cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa). I was extremely keen to photograph these, as it’s one of my all-time favourite species. I know this butterfly as the Camberwell Beauty, as I grew up in England where it’s a very rare migrant from Continental Europe. I recall doing a very large picture of this butterfly at school when I was around 7, but I never saw one in the wild until my first trip to Calgary in 2009. I got a couple of shots on that occasion, and another in British Columbia in 2011, but I’m always going to want more (and better) photos of this species.
Unfortunately this wasn’t my day for Mourning Cloaks, as the Lorquin’s Admiral repeatedly drove them off any time they went near his patch. I did occasionally see them settle further away but they never let me get within 20 yards before taking off. They were very worn specimens, presumably having emerged the previous autumn and then hibernated through the winter, but I was still disappointed not to get any photos.
I did have more luck with the Tiger Swallowtails, as several of them settled to feed from some pink flowers. As they were behaving themselves I took the opportunity to get some more shots.
Amongst all the Tiger Swallowtails I did see the occasional one that looked different; paler but with thicker black bands. They looked lovely as they flew about, but none of them seemed remotely interested in posing for my camera. However one of the swallowtails feeding from the flowers appears to have been this other species; it’s a pretty bashed-up specimen but I suspect it’s a Pale Swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon). I can’t rule out it just being a worn and faded Western Tiger, but the heaviness of the black markings looks more like P. eurymedon to me.
Repeated wandering around the patches of meadow was finally rewarded by the appearance of two Skipper species. I saw two or three Western Branded Skippers (Hesperia colorado), and one European Skipper (Thymelicus lineola), but was surprised not to see a lot more Hesperids given the amount of grasses in the area. I also expected to see more Lycaenids, but all I saw apart from the one Grey Hairstreak and two Melissa Blues was a very worn and rather nondescript little thing which I took to be a Western Tailed Blue (Everes amyntula).
Just as I was getting ready to leave, I disturbed a dark brown medium-sized butterfly, which scooted along at ground level before settling with its wings open, revealing two eye-spots on each forewing. I grabbed a shot, but like so many Satyrids it took off when the flash fired. So began a game of Hide and Seek, in which the butterfly led me across a considerable amount of ground before settling and hoping I wouldn’t be able to spot it. Once or twice I won the game and was able to get a couple of shots (for which I bumped up the ISO so I could turn off the flash), though my quarry never posed with its wings open again. I believe it to be a Common Wood Nymph (Cercyonis pegala).
And that was it for the day. Just before I emerged back onto Gellatly Road South the rainclouds that had been threatening for most of the day finally came overhead. From about 10:30am onwards I’d been hearing thunder, and had watched as towering dark clouds crept towards me, but to my great surprise they had held off whilst I was butterflying. I’m much more used to the weather being fine until I reach my butterflying site, at which point it clouds over, so this was a nice change.
Photo Gallery Updates
In the unlikely event of my identifications being correct, I have added photos of the following Canadian species to the Photo Gallery :
- Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus)
- Pale Swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon)
- Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice eriphyle)
- Northern Crescent (Phyciodes cocyta)
- Lorquins Admiral (Limenitis lorquini)
- Common Wood Nymph (Cercyonis pegala)
- Blue Copper (Lycaena heteronea)
- Grey Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)
- Melissa Blue (Lycaeides melissa)
- Western Tailed Blue (Everes amyntula)
- Western Banded Skipper (Hesperia colorado)
- European Skipper (Thymelicus lineola)
Pretty slim pickings really; I was expecting to see more even though my opportunities to go butterflying were limited.