Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

The power has been out at work for two days, so I've started my holiday early and had time to create this buggy Christmas card. The first time I did this was two years ago (see here). This blog had just gained 30,000 page views, with an average of 100 per day. It is now at 84,150 page views, but the average per day has dropped a bit to 60, probably because I haven't been posting as often. Thank you to my loyal readers, and I hope anyone visiting this site for the first time will find it as useful!
Have a safe and happy Christmas and New Year, especially if you are traveling in all the rain, wind and snow storms this week!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Species Profile: northwest arctics - Oeneis species

There are three species of Oeneis (eh-NEE-iss) in Washington: Great Arctic (O. nevadensis), Chryxus Arctic (O. chryxus) and Melissa Arctic (O. melissa). The Great Arctic is found throughout the Cascade Mountain Range from Canada into northern California. Chryxus Arctics are found throughout most of Idaho, Wyoming and Utah, parts of western Montana, Colorado, northern New Mexico, eastern Nevada, and the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, as well as the northern counties of Washington up into Canada, with disjunct populations in the Olympics (Clallam County) and central Cascades (along the Yakima/Pierce county line). Melissa Arctics are found throughout Canada and Alaska, but dip into the north Cascades in Washington, parts of the Rockies from Montana to northern New Mexico, and the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
All three of these species have two-year life cycles, and at least in the Northwest, mostly fly in even-numbered years, so keep an eye out for these cryptic brown beauties this coming summer!

Great Arctic (Oeneis nevadensis)
This species almost exclusively flies in even-numbered years, with scattered records in odd-numbered years, and a few local populations that only fly in odd-numbered years.
Wingspan: 50 to 67 mm
Male: dorsal is golden orange with large dark brown discal cell and stigma.  Dark wing margins are flecked with white, creating a scalloped appearance.  One to three eyespots on FW and one on HW, on both dorsal and ventral sides.  VHW heavily mottled dark brown, gray and white.  VFW is similar to but lighter than DFW, with gray and white mottling near the apex.
Female: DFW cell lacks stigma and is not as heavily marked with brown; eyespots are usually larger with distinct white pupils.
Egg: white.
Larva: first instar is pink, later instars are mostly tan with dorsal and lateral stripes in varying shades of brown and white, final instar is usually paler.
Pupa: brown with dark, almost black head and wing casing.
Similar Species
Chryxus Arctic is generally smaller and the eyespots are usually smaller and more numerous.
Habitat & Biology
Habitat: clearings and grasslands in forested areas, often found on and along forest roads.
Overwintering stage: first winter as second or third instar larva, second winter as fifth instar larva.
Larval host: natural hosts are unknown. Larvae reared from eggs in captivity feed on various grasses and sedges.
Adult food source: various flowers including yarrow, mallow ninebark and composites.
Male Great Arctics (Oeneis nevadensis), both collected by me on July 11, 2008 at Red Top Mountain in Kittitas County, WA.
Female Great Arctics (Oeneis nevadensis), top was collected by me on July 11, 2008 at Red Top Mountain, bottom was collected by Robert Michael Pyle on July 7, 2010 off Hwy 97 near the Kittitas and Chelan county line.
Chryxus Arctic (Oeneis chryxus)
This species primarily flies in even-numbered years, but is found in odd-numbered years more frequently than the Great Arctic.
Wingspan: 44 to 57 mm
Male: dorsal is light gold-brown to deep orange-brown with large dark brown discal cell and stigma.  Dark wing margins are flecked with white, creating a scalloped appearance, but not as striking as the Great Arctic.  One to four eyespots on FW and one on HW, on both dorsal and ventral sides.  VHW heavily mottled dark brown, gray and white.  VFW is similar to but lighter than DFW, with some gray and white mottling.
Female: DFW cell lacks stigma and is not as heavily marked with brown.
Egg: white.
Larva: first instar is pink, later instars are mostly tan with dorsal and lateral stripes in varying shades of brown and white.
Pupa: brown with dark, almost black head and wing casing.
Similar Species
Great Arctic is generally larger and eyespots are usually larger and less numerous than Chryxus Arctic.
Habitat & Biology
Habitat: dry grasslands, pine forest clearings, often found along forest roads.
Overwintering stage: first winter as first instar larva, second winter as late (4-5) instar larva.
Larval host: Uses a wide variety of grasses (primarily Fescue and Poa species) and some sedges (Carex species).
Adult food source: various flowers, including showy phlox, puccoon, pearly everlasting, daisies and other composites.
Male Chryxus Arctics (Oeneis chryxus), both collected by me on June 28 (top) and June 29 (bottom), 2012 at the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area in Okanogan County, WA.
Female Chryxus Arctics (Oeneis chryxus), both collected by me, the top on July 18, 2004 at the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area and the bottom on July 3, 2014 at Long Swamp meadow, both in Okanogan County, WA.
Melissa Arctic (Oeneis melissa)
Like the previous species, Melissa has a two-year life cycle, but unlike the others it regularly flies in both even- and odd-numbered years.
Wingspan: 42 to 51 mm
Male: partially transparent, charcoal to brown-gray above and below, with dark gray and white mottling on VHW and apex of VFW.
Female: wings more rounded, less elongated.
Egg: white.
Larva: mostly buff with horizontal stripes in varying shades of pale green, white, gray and black.
Pupa: brown with yellowish and gray bands.
Similar Species
None. The VHW is a cryptic mottled gray and brown like the other two arctics, but this species lacks all orange coloration and eyespots.
Habitat & Biology
Habitat: alpine meadows, ridges and scree, usually above timberline (7,000+ feet elevation in Washington).
Overwintering stage: first winter as early or mid-instar larva, second winter as late instar larva.
Larval host: no Washington records.  Uses various grasses and sedges in other parts of its range.
Adult food source: alpine flowers.
Male Melissa Arctics (Oeneis melissa), both collected by Don Rolfs on July 24, 1995 at 7,000 feet elevation on Slate Peak in Okanogan County, WA.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Species Profile: Euphilotes - Buckwheat Blues

These species recently came up when someone contacted me with an identification question, so in light of my poor record of posting blog articles lately (it's crunch time with my book!) I thought I'd throw together my summaries of the two species groups ("Dotted" and "Square-spotted" blues) with descriptions of the two most common species in our area.

Columbia Blue (Euphilotes columbiae)
This species was originally thought to be a subspecies of Dotted Blue (E. enoptes), but analysis by Andrew Warren (Butterflies of Oregon, 2005) discovered that it is a separate species. Columbia Blue ranges across the eastern slopes of the Cascades in WA and OR, and scattered parts of E WA and NE OR. Dotted Blue ranges across most of CA, parts of NV and AZ, and scattered populations in W and Central OR and S WA.
Wingspan: 16 to 20 mm
Male: dusky blue dorsal with gray-brown border and white fringe. Whitish-gray ventral covered in numerous round black spots; submarginal row of orange crescents, rarely forming a solid band.
Female: warm brown dorsal color may be dusted with blue; orange submedian band on DHW.
Egg: pale greenish-white.
Larva: first instar is greenish-yellow, second and third instars are gray-green speckled with black, final instar varies from gray-green to pale cream, often with rose-red markings.
Pupa: honey brown.
Similar Species
Cascadia Blue (E. "battoides") has squarish black spots and is associated with Parsley Desert Buckwheat (Eriog. heracleoides). Other blue species that have a VHW marginal row of orange (Northern, Anna's, Melissa's, and Lupine blues) all have scintillae (sparkling blue-green scales on the marginal row of black spots). Worn individuals should be carefully inspected in bright light for any remaining reflective scales from the scintillae.
Habitat & Biology
Habitat: wherever host buckwheat grows, primarily in shrub-steppe canyons, meadows, and edges of pine forests.
Overwintering stage: pupa.
Larval host: Northern Buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum) and Tall Buckwheat (E. elatum).
Adult food source: primarily buckwheat, yarrow and rabbitbrush; males frequently visit mud and occasionally damp fire pits.

Cascadia Blue (Euphilotes "battoides")
The taxonomy of this group is currently being revised; recent studies indicate that the Square-spotted Blue (Euphilotes battoides) is actually made up of previously-undescribed species, each specializing on different buckwheats (Eriogonum spp.). The Cascadia Blue is very common in WA and OR and is nearly always on Parsley Desert Buckwheat (Eriog. heracleoides), it is also suspected to sometimes use Douglas' Buckwheat (Eriog. douglasii). The Summit Blue (E. glaucon) is the only Euphilotes species found to feed on Sulphur-flower Buckwheat (Eriog. umbellatum), but is also occasionally found with Cascadia Blue on Parsley Desert Buckwheat, where it usually flies earlier than the Cascadia Blue. A possible third species feeds solely on Round-headed Desert Buckwheat (Eriog. sphaerocephalum) and is found in E Kittitas County and W Grant County in WA.
Wingspan: 16 to 20 mm
Male: dusky blue dorsal with gray-brown border and white fringe, usually with small orange patch near trailing edge of DHW. Whitish-gray ventral covered in numerous squarish black spots; submarginal row of orange crescents, sometimes forming a solid band.
Female: warm brown dorsal color may be dusted with blue; orange submedian band on DHW.
Egg: pale greenish-white.
Larva: greenish-yellow first instar, red and white second instar, third instar similar but slightly darker, final instar varies from gray-green to reddish with pale and dark green and/or red markings.
Pupa: honey brown.
Similar Species
Columbia Blue (E. columbiae) has round black spots and is associated with Northern (Eriogonum compositum) and Tall (E. elatum) buckwheats. Other blue species that have a VHW marginal row of orange (Northern, Anna's, Melissa's, and Lupine blues) all have scintillae (sparkling blue-green scales on the marginal row of black spots). Worn individuals should be carefully inspected in bright light for any remaining reflective scales from the scintillae.
Habitat & Biology
Habitat: wherever host buckwheat grows, primarily in shrub-steppe canyons and meadows.
Overwintering stage: pupa.
Larval host: Parsley Desert Buckwheat (Eriogonum heracleoides).
Adult food source: primarily buckwheat, yarrow and rabbitbrush; males frequently visit mud and occasionally damp fire pits.
Comparison of Columbia (Euphilotes columbiae) and Cascadia (Euphilotes "battoides") blues

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Red Admiral closeups

I'm editing photos for a book I'm working on and found these shots of a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) I reared from a larva earlier this summer. I didn't notice before that they have tiny hairs on their eyes! For your enjoyment, here are some photos demonstrating the intricacies of Creation.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Mormon Metalmarks

It's that time of year again! If you happen to be out and about in central and eastern Washington and Oregon this Labor Day weekend, keep an eye out for these little jewels nectaring on rabbitbrush and other late-blooming flowers.  They only appear for about two weeks this time of year, and are our only representative of the metalmark group, Riodininae, a mostly southern-US and tropical group of butterflies.
Mormon Metalmark - Apodemia mormo on rabbitbrush at Ellensburg Viewpoint, I-82 south of Ellensburg

Mormon Metalmark & Woodland Skipper on rabbitbrush at Ellensburg Viewpoint, I-82 south of Ellensburg

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Late-season Butterflies

The butterfly season is winding down but there are still several species flying in the Northwest, especially up in the mountains.  I have heard reports of large numbers of Great Spangled Fritillaries (Argynnis cybele) flying in the mountains north of Ellensburg and have personally observed most of the following species recently between Cougar and the Windy Ridge Viewpoint east of Mount St. Helens, as well as the area west of Indian Heaven Wilderness.
Look for these little beauties when you're out in the woods hiking and camping over the next few weeks:
Woodland Skipper - Ochlodes sylvanoides
This little orange jewel is quite common in most locations throughout the Pacific Northwest, flying from June until the first hard frost, usually peaking in August.  The larvae feed on various grasses.
Woodland Skipper - Ochlodes sylvanoides
Clodius Parnassian - Parnassius clodius
Mountain Parnassian - Parnassius smintheus
These are the large white gliders seen in sunny forest edges and meadows in mid-summer. Their flight is winding down right now but they are still out in fair numbers at higher elevations.  Look for Clodius Parnassians on the west side of the Cascades and Mountain Parnassians on the east side. They are easily distinguished by their antennae: Clodius' are solid black and Mountain's are checkered black and white.  Other diagnostic characteristics include the two red spots on the hindwing (the lower spot is usually slightly smaller than the upper on Clodius, and slightly larger than the upper on Mountain) and the amount of scales on the forewing (Clodius forewings have fewer white scales around the edges so appear more clear, while Mountain Parnassians are mostly white). Clodius Parnassian larvae feed on bleeding hearts and Mountain Parnassian larvae feed on various stonecrops (Sedum species).
Clodius Parnassian (above) and Mountain Parnassian (below)
Pine White - Neophasia menapia
Larvae of these butterflies feed on the needles of pine and occasionally Douglas-fir trees.  Females usually stay high up in the trees, occasionally coming down to nectar on thistle, rabbitbrush, and other late summer flowers.  In years with high population numbers, these butterflies create the appearance of snow in the forests, fluttering high around the trees and floating down to nectar on flowers.
Pine White - Neophasia menapia
Purplish Copper - Lycaena helloides
Mariposa Copper - Lycaena mariposa
Purplish Coppers are widespread and common and usually have multiple generations per year, so are one of the few species seen in late summer.  Their larvae feed on several plant species, mostly in the Polygonaceae family (knotweeds, smartweeds and dock).  Mariposa Coppers are much more localized, restricted to areas where their host Vaccinium species grow, such as huckleberries and wild cranberries.  I love seeing the flashes of coppery purple and frosty brown among the bushes while I'm picking huckleberries this time of year!
Purplish Copper L. helloides (above) and Mariposa Copper L. mariposa (below)
Mormon Metalmark - Apodemia mormo
These little gems should be appearing soon in the dry washes and canyons of central and eastern Washington.  Look for them nectaring on rabbitbrush in areas where their host buckwheats (Eriogonum sp.) grow.  Some good locations are along the Columbia River and at the two viewpoints off I-82 on Manastash Ridge overlooking the Kittitas Valley.  You'll get some puzzled looks from onlookers wondering why you're scampering around the rabbitbrush apparently staring at broken bottles and trash instead of taking pictures of the valley like a sane person!
Mormon Metalmark - Apodemia mormo
Lorquin's Admiral - Limenitis lorquini
This butterfly is tenacious, continuing to fly into late summer in spite of tattered wings and often being so faded it is nearly unrecognizable save for its characteristic flap-flap-glide flight pattern.  Lorquin's Admirals usually peak around the end of June and early July, but I am still seeing them here and there in the mountains.
Lorquin's Admiral - Limenitis lorquini
Great Spangled Fritillary - Argynnis cybele
These are one of the last fritillary species to fly in the summer.  They seem to be nearing the peak of the flight season right now. They are sexually dimorphic, which means the females are colored significantly differently than the males.  Both are very large, nearing 3 inches compared to the ~2 inch wingspan of other fritillaries.  While flying, the females often look more like a Mourning Cloak than a fritillary.  As with other fritillaries, the larvae of Great Spangled Fritillaries feed on violets.
Great Spangled Fritillary (male & female) - Argynnis cybele
Hydaspe Fritillary - Argynnis hydaspe
Coronis Fritillary - Argynnis coronis
Hydaspe Fritillaries are very common in forested areas on both sides of the Cascades.  On the western side, they are usually the only fritillary species flying. Where they fly with other fritillaries, they are often distinguishable on the wing by their deep orange color.  Great Spangled Fritillaries have a similar color but are usually brighter and always larger.  Another late-summer fritillary is the Coronis Fritillary (below). They are more yellowish-orange and appear much lighter in color than Hydaspe in flight.  Larvae of both species feed on violets.  Coronis Fritillaries are known for their seasonal migration, emerging in the sagebrush-steppe of central and eastern Washington in late spring and following the flowers to higher elevations, especially westward into the Cascades.  They are rarely seen west of the Cascade crest, but I observed several of them near Mount St. Helens last week, possibly due to the dry summer resulting in a lack of nectar sources further east.
Hydaspe Fritillary - A. hydaspe (above) and Coronis Fritillary - A. coronis (below)
California Tortoiseshell - Nymphalis californica
Milbert's Tortoiseshell - Aglais milberti
Red Admiral - Vanessa atalanta
These three butterflies may be confused with each other by the casual observer.  Red Admirals usually aren't very common but have had a good year with more local sightings.  Both tortoiseshells are common, primarily in the mountains from the Cascades eastward.  California Tortoiseshells have boom and bust cycles and have had fairly low numbers in recent years. Their larvae feed on Ceanothus species (buckbrush/snowbrush).  Milbert's Tortoiseshells usually have a fairly steady population and are found nearly anywhere their host stinging nettles grow.  Red Admiral larvae also feed on stinging nettle.
California Tortoiseshell (above), Milbert's Tortoiseshell (center) and Red Admiral (below)
Ochre Ringlet - Coenonympha tullia
Common Woodnymph - Cercyonis pegala
These are nearing the end of their flight season but are still popping up occasionally.  Typical of the satyr family, they both have slow, floppy flight patterns and rarely fly more than two or three feet above the ground.  Larvae of both feed on various native grasses.
Ochre Ringlet C. tullia (above) and Common Woodnymph C. pegala (below)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Species Profile: Swallowtails

The butterfly season is in full swing; the Spring-fliers are wrapping up at the lower elevations and early Summer species are starting to appear.  Right now is the perfect time to see all six species of swallowtails on the wing in Washington and Oregon!  Indra and Anise swallowtails have finished flying in many locations but may still be seen at higher elevations, while the Oregon Swallowtail should be emerging soon, and the Western Tiger, Pale Tiger, and Two-tailed Tiger swallowtails are all on the wing in most locations.  I've previously written about Oregon Swallowtails here, and Anise and Indra swallowtails here.  Because swallowtails are fairly common and easily noticed by many people, I am frequently asked questions about them and how to tell them apart.
One misunderstanding that comes up, more often than some might think, is that these are Monarchs. Although a quick look at pictures of swallowtails (yellow and black) and Monarchs (orange and black) quickly clears up this issue, I think the reason some people are confused is because Monarchs are so often talked about in public forums (media, classrooms, etc.) and swallowtails are large, widespread and very common, so people assume they must be the oft-mentioned Monarch.  Although there are many things about the Monarch that make it special, I am often discouraged that it is held in such high regard while so many other equally or even more unique butterfly species are ignored.  Not taking away from the Monarch, just wishing that more interest was shown in other species.

Swallowtails in our area can be divided into two groups: "black" swallowtails and "tiger" swallowtails.  The first are generally known by their half black, half yellow wings, relatively short tails, and large red eyespot on the hindwing.  The second are known by their familiar black tiger stripes on mostly yellow (or white) wings and longer tails.  As larvae, black swallowtails primarily feed on plants in the parsley family, including desert parsley (Lomatium spp.) with the exception of the Oregon Swallowtail, which feeds only on tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus).  Tiger swallowtails primarily feed on broadleaf trees such as willow, birch, aspen, and chokecherry.  All swallowtails overwinter as a brown or green chrysalis.

Indra Swallowtails are mostly black and have the shortest tails of all these species.  They only use a few species of Lomatium, and are usually found on rocky slopes and canyons on the east side of the Cascades.
Black swallowtail group: Indra, Anise, and Oregon swallowtails.
Anise Swallowtails are common throughout Oregon and Washington.  They are deep yellow and the black pupil in the eyespot is completely surrounded by red.  Oregon Swallowtails are restricted to east-side locations where their host tarragon is found.  They are butter-yellow and the black pupil is bordered by yellow on the lower edge, or is sometimes much reduced (see below).
Comparison between Anise and Oregon swallowtails
Western Tiger Swallowtails are bright lemon yellow with wide black tiger stripes and a single tail.  Two-tailed Tiger Swallowtails are usually darker yellow (faded individuals may appear more similar to Western Tigers in color), have narrow tiger stripes, and a small second tail.  Female Two-tailed Tigers often have wider stripes and appear more like Western Tigers, but are generally larger and have the second tail.  Western Tigers are found throughout Washington and Oregon, while Two-tailed Tigers are only found from the crest of the Cascade range eastward, except in southern Oregon where they range out to the coast.  Pale Tiger Swallowtails are white or cream with wide black stripes and are found through most of western Washington and Oregon and most forested parts of the eastern side of the states.
Tiger swallowtail group: Western, Two-tailed, and Pale tiger swallowtails.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

New Zealand, part 1 - Introduction and Itinerary

This is veering way off from topics related to Pacific Northwest butterflies, but New Zealand is on the western edge of the Pacific Ocean, so it still counts (and even if it didn't, I'd make up an excuse anyway!).  I recently spent two weeks visiting my sister in New Zealand.  It was my first overseas trip, my longest road trip (we toured the north island for nine days) and the longest vacation I've ever taken.  The weather couldn't have been better, it was sunny and in the 70s and 80s (Fahrenheit, I never did get a good grasp on Celsius while there) nearly every day.
Before I dive into describing the trip and all the wildlife I saw, here is a note about Maori/Kiwi pronunciation (for Americans anyway!):
"wh" is pronounced as an "f"
"ao" and "au" both have an "ow" sound with slightly different inflections
"ai" is pronounced like "eye"
For example, the yellow flower kōwhai (which means "yellow" or "to be yellow" in Maori) is pronounced something like "ko-fy".
Remember to click on the photos to view at full size if you wish.
Day 1 - arrival and short drive south of Wellington to Mount Victoria
After settling in and relaxing for a couple hours, we took a short drive around the harbor to Mount Victoria for views of the city and harbor.  We also accidentally found The Weta Cave, a "design and special effects workshop", where most of the props for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies were made, along with several other movies.  Because these movies will repeatedly come up in my New Zealand posts, for those of you not already familiar with the abbreviation, I will hereafter refer to them as "LOTR movies".
View of Wellington (looking north) from Mount Victoria
View of the airport and surrounding suburbs of Wellington (looking southeast) from Mount Victoria
Day 2 - walking tour of Wellington
Took the train into Wellington and spent the morning wandering around downtown, then hopped on the cable car to the top of the hill above the city, which is where my sister works and is surrounded by the botanical gardens, both of which we toured of course!
Parliament buildings in Wellington (capitol of New Zealand)
Day 3 - day trip to Cape Palliser
Drove from Wellington to Masterton, where they hold the annual Golden Shears sheep shearing competition.  We wandered around Queen Elizabeth Park, then drove down to Martinborough where we ate lunch in the town square, a small park in the center of town.  Someone must have liked to travel, because the streets were named Texas, Kansas, Ohio, Cambridge, Cologne, Naples, Venice, Strasbourge and Dublin.  We continued driving southwest, through Pirinoa, then angled southeast along the coast to Cape Palliser, the southern-most point of the North Island.  We returned through Featherston.
Looking south towards Cape Palliser
Looking west across Palliser Bay (the Dr Seuss-looking plant is a Cabbage Tree)
Little Blue Penguin crossing at Cape Palliser
New Zealand fur seal (Arctocephalus forsteri) mother and pup at Cape Palliser
New Zealand fur seal (Arctocephalus forsteri) pups at Cape Palliser
Cape Palliser Lighthouse
Looking northwest across Palliser Bay from the Cape Palliser Lighthouse
Day 4 - began our road trip
Drove from Wellington, north through Porirua (Whittaker's chocolates headquarters!) and stopped at the beach in Paraparaumu (nicknamed Paraparam) to test the water and take a couple pictures of Kapiti Island.  Continuing north, we stopped in Levin at a very interesting kid's park/playground, where we tried our hand at the giant hamster wheels and zip line before heading up to Whanganui for dinner, then decided to push onward to Waitara (east of New Plymouth) for the night.
Downtown Whanganui, New Zealand
Day 5 - Mt Taranaki and Cape Egmont Lighthouse
Backtracked south to Stratford, then west on Opunake Rd and north to the Dawson Falls Visitor Center, where we hiked the Wilkies Pools Loop Track, and the Dawson Falls Overlook Track. We then drove west around the mountain to Pungarehu and out to the Cape Egmont Lighthouse for some photos and time on the beach before heading back to Waitara for another night.  On our way there, we stopped in New Plymouth, where everything was decked out in red, white and blue and several American flags were hanging in storefronts, apparently we stumbled into the middle of "Americana Days in Taranaki"!
The "goblin forest" on the Wilkies Pools Loop Track at Mt Taranaki
The "goblin forest" on the Wilkies Pools Loop Track at Mt Taranaki
The "goblin forest" on the Wilkies Pools Loop Track at Mt Taranaki
A mini waterfall along the Wilkies Pools Loop Track at Mt Taranaki
Dawson Falls at Mt Taranaki
Dawson Falls at Mt Taranaki
Coast line near the Cape Egmont Lighthouse, near Taranaki
Cape Egmont Lighthouse with cloud-capped Mt Taranaki in the distance
Day 6 - Waitomo Glowworm Caves and Hobbiton
Drove northeast out of Waitara, through Te Kuiti and up to Waitomo, for a morning tour of the glowworm cave.  No one is allowed to take photographs inside the cave, but it was great, it was like looking at a night sky full of turquoise-colored stars.  Afterwards we continued northeast through Cambridge and took a little country road towards Matamata to the Hobbiton movie set (LOTR and Hobbit movies).  They run tour groups every half hour, and right before ours started, a big thunderstorm rolled over and got us soaked, along with some nerve-wracking nearby lightning (I was in sandals, standing in water...).  After the tour, we headed north through Te Aroha to Paeroa (home of "Lemon & Paeroa" or L&P, a kind of fizzy lemonade), then east through the Karangahake (Kara-nah-key) Gorge, with a quick stop at Owharoa (Oh-fa-row-ah) Falls, through Waihi, then north up the coast to Whangamata (Fang-ah-mah-tah) for the night.
Sign in front of the Hobbiton cafe and tourist center
Hobbiton movie set
Hobbiton movie set
Hobbiton movie set
Hobbiton movie set - this whole tree is fake! It is made of fiberglass and metal, and the silk leaves are hand-painted and individually wired onto the branches. The birds don't seem to mind though!
Hobbiton movie set - I think this is Bilbo's home (I'm not as familiar with the movies as some of my friends :)
Hobbiton movie set - sign on the gate in front of this hobbit hole
Hobbiton movie set - apparently the two Monarchs (right) didn't see the sign on the gate, or maybe they're here for the party?
Hobbiton movie set
Hobbiton movie set
Hobbiton movie set - this dragon is coming out of the bushes on the edge of the pond.
Day 7 - Coromandel Peninsula and Cathedral Cove
BEST DAY EVER! After breakfast at a cafe on the beach in Whangamata, we headed north along the coast to Whenuakite (Fen-ooah-kitty) and over to Hahei.  To get to Cathedral Cove, you have to drive up a steep hill north of Hahei (which is on a beach), find parking somewhere (we had to pay to park in someone's driveway as the tiny parking lot was more than full and people were parking on the bits of grass over the curb), then hike about 30 minutes along the cliff through forests with puriri trees (host to the Puriri Moth which I'll talk about in the next post) before dropping steeply down (there are some stairs) to the beach.  Apparently this is where part of the second Narnia movie was filmed.  It is absolutely gorgeous there, we didn't want to leave!  Eventually we tore away and drove southwest to Coroglen and took the mostly-gravel Tapu-Coroglen Road over the mountains, stopping to admire the giant kauri trees, including a short climb up another cliff (more stairs!) to the Square Kauri, the 15th largest kauri in New Zealand.  It is believed it wasn't logged with the rest of the kauri trees in the area because of its nearly square trunk.  Once we hit the Firth of Thames (west side of the Coromandel Peninsula), we followed it south and had dinner in Thames, where we learned the road we needed to take back to our hotel in Whangamata was closed from a serious accident, so we had to detour another hour south to Paeroa and retrace our steps from the previous evening over to Whangamata for the night.
View north towards Cathedral Cove (other side of the cliff on the left), on the Coromandel Peninsula
Cathedral Cove, on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula
Several White-fronted Terns (Sterna striata) on this rock at Cathedral Cove
South end of Cathedral Cove
The sand at Cathedral Cove is pink! It seemed to mostly be made of bits of shells.
Grove of kauri trees along Tapu-Coroglen Road (one of these is the Square Kauri)
The "Square Kauri" above Tapu-Coroglen Road, it is the 15th largest kauri
The "Square Kauri" above Tapu-Coroglen Road, it is the 15th largest kauri
Day 8 - Rotorua
From Whangamata, we drove south through Tauranga to Rotorua, stopping for lunch at the lake and a quick walk through the weekend street market. Thus began a 24-hour stint in the land of air smelling of sulfur and ammonia.  First stop was Te Puia, home of several geothermal features in a park with interpretive trails, as well as a small museum and school that teaches Maori crafts such as wood carving and basket weaving.  They also have a building that houses two live kiwis, of which we saw one but it was sleeping and just looked like a basketball-sized bundle of feathers with no head or tail.  From there we drove south to Waiotapu, an area with numerous geothermal features, such as boiling mud pools, hot springs, geysers and fumeroles (steam vents).  We found the "secret spot", a hot spring that bubbles up next to a creek, forming a mixed pool of hot and cold water. There were a few people quietly soaking in the pool, and we waded in it a bit before driving a little further up the park road and taking a short walk to the "secret secret spot", another hot spring at the base of a small waterfall that is a couple hundred feet off the road on an unmarked trail that few people know about (my sister knows someone who knew where it was and gave us directions).  We topped off the evening with a quick stop nearby at a viewing area of a large shallow pool with several areas of bubbling mud.
Lake Rotorua with a family of Black Swans (Cygnus atratus)
Small geyser and other thermal features at Te Puia, near Rotorua
Small geyser and other thermal features at Te Puia, near Rotorua
Sulfur deposits on the rocks at Te Puia, near Rotorua
Maori meeting house at Te Puia (where they have a wood carving school), near Rotorua
Bubbling mud pool at the Waiotapu thermal area (this particular spout was exploding more than bubbling)
Bubbling mud pool at the Waiotapu thermal area
Day 9 - Huka Falls, Craters of the Moon and Lake Taupo
From Rotorua, we drove south through Reporoa towards Taupo. First stop was about three miles north of Taupo at Huka Falls, a several-hundred feet stretch of rapids ending in a short but powerful waterfall, all of which was brilliant turquoise blue. After taking in a scenery, we drove over to the nearby Craters of the Moon thermal park and spent an hour or so wandering the trails around several steaming craters of various sizes, at least one of which was the filming location for Gollum's lair in the Lord of the Rings movies. We had lunch and ice cream in Taupo on the shore of the lake before driving south around the east side of the lake and taking another pit stop in Turangi and continuing south on the "Desert Road", stopping to take evening photos of the three volcanoes: Tongariro (north, smallest), Ngauruhoe (center, "now-ruh-ho-ay", aka "Mount Doom" in LOTR) and Ruapehu (south, tallest). We then headed west from Waiouru to Ohakune, where we stopped for the night.
Huka Rapids, just above Huka Falls, north of Taupo
Craters Of The Moon thermal park north of Taupo (another LOTR filming location)
Craters Of The Moon thermal park north of Taupo
Craters Of The Moon thermal park north of Taupo
Craters Of The Moon thermal park north of Taupo
Mt Ruapehu, looking west from the Desert Road between Taupo and Waiouru (Mt Ngauruhoe is to the right, out of photo)
Mt Ngauruhoe, aka "Mt Doom" from LOTR, looking west from the Desert Road between Taupo and Waiouru
Day 10 - Tongariro National Park
From Ohakune, we drove north around the west side of the mountains to National Park (a town named after the park), then east to the little cluster of cafes, visitor centers and Chateau Tongariro (hotel) on the northern flank of Mt Ruapehu.  On the way there, we stopped at Tawhai Falls, another filming location for LOTR.  After lunch, we continued up to the end of the road at the ski village, but the mountain was completely covered in clouds at that point so we settled for a cup of tea in the cafe, then drove back down a bit to the Silica Rapids trailhead.  We decided not to hike the full loop, but hiked to the rapids and returned the same way.  We then returned to Ohakune and took another forest road up the south flank of the mountain to the other ski area (both ski areas are the highest points you can drive to on the north island and are above the tree line).  There wasn't much up there and the mountain was still mostly covered in clouds, but the landscape was nice (and it was also used in the LOTR movies). Our final stop on the way back to Ohakune was Mangawhero Falls.  Although there was only the tiniest trickle of water at the time, the gorge was spectacular. We also found out later that that was where the scenes of Gollum catching fish were filmed for LOTR.
Tawhai Falls, near Whakapapa on the northern slopes of Mt Ruapehu
Chateau Tongariro, north of Mt Ruapehu
Chateau Tongariro, with Mt Ruapehu in the distance
Mt Ngauruhoe, aka "Mt Doom" from LOTR, looking east from the Chateau Tongariro parking lot
View of the tussock grasslands from the Silica Rapids Track, north of Mt Ruapehu, looking northeast
View of the tussock grasslands from the Silica Rapids Track, looking north
Close-up of the tussock grass, moss and heather along the Silica Rapids Track
Silica Rapids, north of Mt Ruapehu (underground thermal activity produces silica that is deposited on the rocks in the rapids)
Silica Rapids Track, looking down a steep set of stairs on the trail
Cloud-capped Mt Ruapehu, view from the ski area on the south flank (end of Chakune Mountain Road)
Kiwi crossing!
The creek that feeds Mangawhero Falls (barely a trickle this time of year), with Mt Ruapehu in the distance
Day 11 - Ohakune to Napier/Hastings
Headed east to Waiouru, then south to Taihape.  We were supposed to turn east on Taihape-Napier Road before the town of Taihape, but missed the intersection and used the opportunity to stop in Taihape and see the giant gumboot (New Zealand likes their giant statues of fruit, vegetables, and the occasional random object).  After we got back on track, we followed the road to Napier, enjoying the beautiful sheep country on the way, and even stopping to photograph a couple sheep stations that were in the middle of shearing!  Eventually we made it to Napier and first checked out the beach before looking for a place to stay the night.  Come to find out, there was a cricket World Cup game being played in Napier that day or the next day, and every place was booked, or the last spots filled up just a couple minutes before we arrived at each hotel, so after three tries we finally found a place in the neighboring city of Hastings.
Romney sheep waiting to be shorn at Motukawa Station, on the Taihape-Napier road
Day 12 - Gannets at Cape Kidnappers and back to Wellington
There are two tours of the gannet colonies at Cape Kidnappers southeast of Napier (east of Hastings). One is essentially a wagon ride, sitting on a large flatbed trailer pulled by a tractor along the beach at low tide, providing views of the offshore gannet colonies, and allows you to have lunch on the beach and hike to the top of the cliff to the main colony. The other is in a more-or-less air-conditioned 4x4 safari bus that takes you directly to the main colony at the top of the cliff.  The tractor tour takes about 4 hours and is cheaper, while the bus tour is about 3 hours and more expensive.  We had debated for several days which one to do, and decided on the bus tour because 1) we were getting very tired at this point of the trip and 2) we still needed to drive back to Wellington and the bus tour would be done nearly two hours before the tractor tour returned.  The tractor tour seems to cater more to families with kids and I'm sure would have been fun if we had more energy, but after seeing how high the cliff is, we were very happy we chose the bus!
View of Hawke Bay from the cliffs at Cape Kidnappers, looking north towards Napier
The bus tour winds through the property of an American billionaire (can't remember the name), which includes the Cape Kidnappers Golf Course (apparently world-renowned and rated in the top 40 of the world if I remember right) and a luxury lodge/hotel and spa, frequented by many celebrities apparently, the cheapest rooms start at around $800/night.  Or you can rent the owner's cottage (when he's not there of course) for several thousand dollars a day, and it includes a chef and butler!
After we returned to reality, we came to the cliffs and some of the most amazing views of the ocean I've seen.
Island colonies of Australasian Gannets (Morus serrator) at Cape Kidnappers
Eventually we wound around to the end of the cape and suddenly came out on the plateau where thousands of gannets came into view, oh so much closer than I expected! It was wonderful, we spent nearly an hour there, photographing them and the other colonies lower down on the cliffs and on the beach.  They aren't afraid of people but aren't very curious either, so they stay on their side of the little rope fence and we stayed on our side, but we could get to within two or three feet of some of them, so I went a bit crazy with my new camera.
Australasian Gannet (Morus serrator) colony at Cape Kidnappers, New Zealand
Australasian Gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers
Australasian Gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers
Coming in for a crash landing at Cape Kidnappers (gannets are completely awkward on land!)
Australasian Gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers (see the little baby?)
Australasian Gannet with small chick at Cape Kidnappers
Australasian Gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers
Juvenile Australasian Gannet at Cape Kidnappers
Australasian Gannet with chick at Cape Kidnappers
Like parent, like chick - Australasian Gannets at Cape Kidnappers
Juvenile Australasian Gannet at Cape Kidnappers
Juvenile Australasian Gannet stretching its wings at Cape Kidnappers
Australasian Gannet at Cape Kidnappers
Australasian Gannet at Cape Kidnappers I love the blue eyes and black-lined beak,
and the wild greenish-cream colored stripes on its legs!
Australasian Gannet at Cape Kidnappers
Australasian Gannet beach colony at Cape Kidnappers
Australasian Gannet "saddle colony" at Cape Kidnappers (this is the one you most often see on postcards)
Afterwards, we hit the road again, back through Hastings and south to Waipukurau, where we unknowingly missed a turn and continued south on a little country road.  You would think we would have noticed something wasn't quite right, but most of the highways and major roads in New Zealand look like every other country road: narrow and winding.  So, over a half hour later we started wondering why we weren't seeing more towns that should have been along the highway, then we came across the little town of Porangahau, I tried to find it on the map and finally realized we were waaaaay off!  It was too late to turn around at that point, we were enjoying the drive and also realized we were already almost to the "world's longest place name", Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu (Taumata for short).  Eventually we came out at Dannevirke and got back on the right road and headed southwest, through Palmerston North, and back along the coast to Wellington.
World's longest place name: Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu (Taumata for short)
Day 13 - recuperation
We pretty much sat on the couch all day!
Day 14 - south coast and flight back home
I spent part of the morning packing up, then we drove out to the coast south of Wellington.  On a clear day you can see the south island from there, but there was just enough mist and clouds on the horizon to block it. It was still a beautiful view, and my sister showed me where her dive club is based, then we had lunch next door and watched a few scuba divers coming up onto the beach after their dives.  I didn't want to leave, but eventually it was time to catch my plane back to the states.

See my next blog post for a list of the insects I saw during this trip, along with more photos!