About twenty years ago, new digital camera in hand, I started to take frequent walks at lunchtime. The convenient open space was a powerline easement adjacent to my workplace. At first, I was interested in finding and photographing flowers. As I browsed around, I found a milkweed patch and a striking orange butterfly, a Great Spangled Fritillary:
Then I was hooked: Wood Nymph, American Copper (link), Eastern Tailed Blue, Cabbage White, Little Wood Satyr, Buckeye, Monarch, Orange Sulphur, Clouded Sulphur. I started posting to an email list for butterfly watchers and reporting what I saw, and traveling to other butterfly sites that had other species. But I kept up my visits to the powerline, going back to the milkweed to try to get a better image of Great Spangled Fritillary – I never succeeded.
Powerlines are a productive place for butterfly watchers because they are cleared regularly for powerline maintenance and preserved in a state of early succession. The food plants for the butterflies are abundant, shrubs and trees aren’t allowed to grow and shade the flowery annuals. At the same time, it wasn’t a very natural place to encounter nature. Kids zipped by on ATVs, scattering dust. And as I looked up, there were the buzzing powerlines, poles, steel, and wire.
At first, the powerline visits were a summer thing. As my interest in nature and photography grew, I went out in all seasons, and learned the succession of butterfly species. The powerline was a good location for a tiny spring butterfly, Brown Elfin, and I also found Henry’s Elfin (link).
The powerline I visited went on for miles. Some parts I could walk to, and other sections were a drive away. In one section, a stream crossed the powerline. It was a good spot for damselflies, including Ebony Jewelwing (link). There were willows by the stream, and every year in late May I’d see Viceroys, sometimes three or four at a time perching by the stream in different places.
As I explored the powerline more, I found another Elfin species in spring, Frosted Elfin – an exciting find, because they are somewhat rare, and known in a limited number of areas in Massachusetts. I proudly filed a rare species report form with the state. A Frosted Elfin from the powerline:
The Frosted Elfin is perching on the seed pod of their foodplant, Wild Indigo (Baptistia tinctoria).
I wrote a description of the powerline in a guidebook to butterfly sites that my butterfly watchers group published. And then, a decade ago, the company I worked for sold the business, and I got another job. I went back to the powerline, but less and less over time.
Then a few weeks ago, I got an email from a biologist who was starting a rare species survey in the town where the powerline was, asking for reports of butterfly species I’d seen, including Frosted Elfin. An old friend from the butterfly group referred him to me. I had the pleasure of sending him the section from the butterfly guide with a butterfly species list, as well as information on the spot where I found Frosted Elfin.
The British Soldier lichen (link) and the Little Bluestem image (link) were taken a few feet apart at a powerline near where I live – a nice spot, but not as productive as that first one. It’s almost the season for Frosted Elfin. Time for me to go back to the powerline!