Winter is coming!
The weather around Sydney has been beautiful recently with lots of lovely sunny days, though it’s getting quite chilly at night with winter being just around the corner. Thankfully the Night King has recently been defeated and destroyed, so hopefully it won’t be a long winter.
On 17th May 2019 I decided to pay Glenbrook one last visit for the season, as it gave me the opportunity to walk to three different sites with the potential of seeing a few interesting butterflies even this late in the autumn.
Cox Street bushland
As usual, after getting off the train at Glenbrook I first made my way to the Cox Street bushland site. I had very low expectations, as on my previous visit (26/03/2019) the place had been as dead as I’d ever seen it, but I had a nice surprise even before reaching the bushland; a couple of Brown Ringlets (Hypocysta metirius) basking on shrubs on the roadside grass verge. Whilst not unknown, I haven’t often seen Brown Ringlets at this location; I think it’s a bit too dry for them and so Grey Ringlets (H. pseudirius) are much more common here. I stopped for a few minutes to take some photos and video footage, to the consternation of the older lady across the road who pretended to be gardening in her front yard but in fact was blatantly gawking at me instead.
To her obvious relief I moved on towards the bushland’s entrance gate, where a quick search revealed a complete absence of Grey Ringlets – unusual for this spot except during winter. I spent a couple of hours in the bushland but only saw one butterfly on the wing, and that was just a quick glimpse. It was something small and orange/brown, but I didn’t get a good look at it was flying low down where it was obscured by foliage. It landed very heavily on a flower, so I guessed it was probably a Hesperid, but by the time I could get to a spot with a better view the butterfly had gone.
There were hardly any flying insects to be seen at all; the best I could manage was to find a few hatched pupae of the Imperial Blue (Jalmenus evagoras) on the small wattles at the side of the track. After taking a few shots I tried searching for eggs, but I’d stupidly left my reading glasses at home so I doubt I’d have been able to see the adults at close range, let alone the eggs. There probably weren’t any to find, however, as even I would have been able to detect the presence of their attendant ants, which tend to swarm all over the eggs, larvae and pupae of Imperial Blues.
After pottering about the bushland for a couple of fruitless hours I decided it was time to move on, so I retraced my steps back to the station before turning left up Ross Street. I scooted past the overpriced trendy cafes, cut through Glenbrook Park and hustled across the Great Western Highway. After walking about 250m east along the far side of the highway I turned left into Barnet Street. There’s a bit of a hill here, which grows distinctly steeper each year, but once I was past the worst of it I found the sunny roadside verge had attracted a couple of butterflies.
About half a dozen Speckled Line-blues (Catopyrops florinda) were flitting about, pausing to bask in the sunshine and to feed from flowers. Despite it being so late in the season most of them seemed to be quite fresh and colourful. One was particularly eye-catching; a dazzling blue suggesting that it had emerged that morning. That specimen was so full of beans that he never gave me a chance to take any photos, so I had to content myself with taking shots of the others, such as the guy at the top of this post, and taking some very shaky video.
My plan had been to walk up as far as the gate into Knapsack Park, just to the north of York Street, then spend some time searching the immediate vicinity for butterflies. I’ve found this to be quite a good spot previously, particularly for Imperial Blues. Whilst it was too late for them to be on the wing now, I intended to look for the White-margined Grass-dart (Ocybadistes hypomeloma), a species I have not yet managed to find. Its foodplant is Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra), which grows in this area, and I thought it worth a look because according to the Atlas of Living Australia there are records of hypomeloma from Glenbrook, albeit specimens collected by G.A. Waterhouse way back in 1933. Even if the Grass-dart wasn’t around I thought I might have a chance of Orange Ringlets (Hypocysta adiante), which I’d not seen all season at the Cox Street bushland.
Afterwards, I’d walk along the track to the Elizabeth Lookout and see what could be found there, before descending the Stairs of Cirith Ungol to the Knapsack Viaduct. This entire plan turned to custard within a few moments of my passing the entrance gate. I’d seen a lot of Rural Fire Service vehicles around; one of them drove up and the driver told me they were due to start a controlled burn to the south of the track. If I wanted to proceed at all I had to make sure I was through the bushland and down the steps within 30 minutes.
There was no time to search for hypomeloma, but I doubt I missed much because from what I saw during my march along the fire trail this bushland was every bit as quiet as that at Cox Street. I did not see a single butterfly of any kind, not even at Elizabeth Lookout where a few hilltopping beasties can generally be found.
Despite the complaints from my dodgy left knee I made my way down the Stairs of Cirith Ungol, then scrambled up a steep bank to emerge beside the path next to the Viaduct.
Old Great Western Highway track
The Knapsack Viaduct is near the southern end of the Old Great Western Highway track, which begins at Emu Plains where the old Great Western Highway ends at the bottom of Mitchells Pass. The path is sealed the whole way, and is a popular place for people getting some exercise and walking their dogs, as evidenced by the amount of dog crap littering the grass verges. You need to watch where you’re putting your feet if you go butterflying here.
In my experience the most productive spot is beneath the power lines just to the north of the Viaduct, where some Lantanas flourish despite repeated attempts to cut them back. It’s most notable for the Dark Pencilled Blues (Candalides consimilis) that can be found here between August and October, this being the most reliable site I know of for that species. It’s one of those places where you never quite know what might show up. I have very few shots of White Migrants (Catopsilia pyranthe) or Pale Green Triangle (Graphium eurypylus), but I’ve photographed them both on the Lantanas here.
On this particular day there were not all that many butterflies on the wing, though still plenty more than at the other sites I’d visited. The most plentiful species was the Speckled Line-blue, which breeds on the Poison Peach (Trema tomentosa) shurbs that grow just to the sides of the path. It was now the warmest time of the day, and the florinda had become very frisky indeed. I spent some time stalking them unsuccessfully before being able to get a shot of a male sitting with his wings wide open.
The biggest surprise of the day was the appearance of a fresh-looking Glasswing (Acraea andromacha). I’ve seen this butterfly at the Elizabeth Lookout way above, including one very hot afternoon when I unsuccessfully tried to get photos of a dozen of them as a storm raced towards us from the south-west, but I don’t recall seeing them down here. This individual seemed keen to sip nectar from Cobbler’s Peg flowers, though they had almost all gone to seed by now, hence the 500 or so seeds that had hooked themselves into my trousers and shirt as I attempted to photograph the florinda.
Ignoring the Lantanas completely, the Glasswing kept on fluttering around the Cobbler’s Peg seed heads, dipping down as if to land before bailing out and bobbing along to the next plant. Eventually he flew past me and settled on a grass stalk; before I could turn round a dog chased him away, but after 10 minutes he returned and eventually settled long enough for me to get one decent shot.
Two male Common Jezebels (Delias nigrina) patrolled the area, but seemed completely disinterested in the Lantanas and never landed for a moment. An enormous Tailed Emperor (Charaxes sempronius) sailed around beneath the power lines for a minute. Being so large I was sure this had to be a female; she didn’t deign to land which was disappointing for me as almost all my shots are of hilltopping males.
Soon after the Tailed Emperor left one of my favourite butterflies appeared on the Lantanas; a female Southern Silver Ochre (Trapezites praxedes). This species usually shows up here in the autumn, and fortunately this one was in need of a good feed so she sat nicely on the Lantana while I grabbed photos and video. Whilst not a freshie, she wasn’t in bad condition given how late it was in the flight season.
Growing tired of hanging around the Lantanas I headed north along the path, to see what else might be around before making for Emu Plains station. About half-way I turned to the right, passing a gate so I could check out the grassy area beyond. In one sunny spot I saw half a dozen Grass-darts, so I stopped to see if they might be O. hypomeloma. Alas, I saw no sign of the diagnostic white marking, and there was no Kangaroo Grass in this area either. They looked to be the much more common Greenish Grass-dart (Ocybadistes walkeri); one of them posed rather nicely on a grass seed head, so I snapped a couple of shots.
There was little else to see between there and carpark next to Mitchells Pass, where I put my camera away and began the boring 3.5kms walk to the station. With no butterflies to distract me I made it in time to catch the train for my ride home.
I suspect I’ll see few butterflies in the Sydney area between now and September, but I’ll still make the occasional trip to sites like the Botanic Gardens in the City and at Mount Annan, where I’ve had some success in previous winters. After all, you just never know…