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A Journal Of The First Two Plague Years, 2020-2021

The onset of the covid-19 pandemic in late winter 2019-2020 and the measures taken in response to it led inevitably to difficulties in maintaining our monitoring regime. At the outset it was decided that the UNR contingent (Matt Forister and Chris Halsch) would cover the 5 Sierran sites and I would continue doing the 5 lowland ones. On August 19, 2020 our Gates Canyon site was largely destroyed by wildfire. There were also significant, but much less extensive and destructive, fires at Suisun (June 8) and North Sac (July 7).

The Loss of Gates Canyon

On August 6, 2020, according to investigators, a 32-year-old woman went on a date with a man she had met on-line, and was never seen alive again.

Looking Backward Dec. 31—Jan. 1, 2019

2018 was the single worst butterfly year since this project began. It was the only year when butterflies were at a low ebb both in numbers and diversity at BOTH high (SV,CP,DP,LC,WA) and low (RC,NS,WS,GC,SM) sites. Usually wet years are good in the mountains and bad in the Valley, and vice versa for dry years. In 2018 it was bad everywhere. So it should not be surprising if 2019 was a better year.

Looking Backward Dec. 31—Jan.1, 2017

This is the year the drought was at least put on “pause.” In northern and central California most stations received record or near-record high precipitation. Recall that the drought years were consistently good for most Valley butterflies, many of which recovered to levels seen before the systematic decline that began in the late 90s. But the butterfly seasons at higher elevations varied from mediocre to awful, with species failing to be recorded in entire years at most sites.

Looking Backward Dec. 31—Jan. 1, 2016

Was this the fifth year of drought? Here are my numbers of site visits:

Site:2013201420152016 Suisun Marsh31323231 Gates Canyon32303331 West Sacramento34333533 North Sacramento32333333 Rancho Cordova31333134 Washington21212121 Lang Crossing18181817 Donner Pass18212215 Castle Peak7975 Sierra Valley18202019 Totals:233250252239

Sierran sites dried up and the season ended preternaturally early.

We’ll look at MIGRATORS and LOW-ELEVATION SITES first.

Looking Backward Dec.31—Jan.1, 2015

Conventional wisdom (i.e., mine) holds that the first year of a drought is good for butterflies, and the second is bad. 2014 was the third. 2015 was the fourth—unprecedented in modern California history. I kept up the tempo of site visits, with nearly-identical numbers per site to previous years.

Looking Backward Dec. 31—Jan.1, 2014

As I said a year ago, conventional (Shapiro) wisdom has it that the first year of a drought is good for butterflies, but the second is bad. How about the third? 2014 was the third drought year, as was much-discussed in the media. I was able to maintain the tempo of site visits, despite a serious accident on Sept.11 that had me in the hospital for 3 days, and knees that are increasingly unforgiving on Castle Peak.

September Song, 2013

Before Congress outlawed the practice, academics were forced to retire at age 65. That’s how UC Davis acquired Theodosius Dobzhansky; his previous institution sent him packing despite his being the greatest living evolutionary geneticist. Now old coots like me – I’ll be 68 in January 2014 – can stay around until infirmity or senility finally kicks in.

‘Butterfly man’ finds clues to climate change

In a functional classroom in a functional building on the UC Davis campus, Arthur Shapiro sits unassumingly in the corner. Rumpled, wearing well-worn Converse All Star tennis shoes, old jeans and a faded, zippered green hoodie, Shapiro could be just another student, except for his weathered face and bushy gray beard.

Painted Ladies, To Be or Not To Be?

Update: During the week of April 11, 5 more migrating Painted Ladies have been observed at various locations, all going N. There thus appears to be a migration afoot, but a minimal one!

Update: On March 12, 2011 at 11:54 AM, a Painted Lady in migratory mode, flying rapidly from SE to NW about 6' off the ground, was observed at Suisun City, Solano County--the first record this year known to me. It was small and pale, of the migratory desert phenotype.


Western Tiger Swallowtails

The "outbreak" of Western Tiger Swallowtails has continued for a second year. Elevated populations are reported at least as far east as Reno and as far west as Fairfield and Vallejo. The "epicenter" seems to be in Davis, however, where it has been on the wing every week since the last week of March, with no clear break between generations (very unusual), and at times in certain neighborhoods (e.g., College Park) one could see 5 or 6 individuals at one time.