The Waltz of the Hickory Hairstreaks
I have the great fortune of living in a mature hardwood forests on a two acre lot in Rigaud, Québec, Canada. This has allowed me to witness butterfly and moth behaviour and phenological events in ways I had never experienced in the past. This morning, similarly to last July, the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes in bed were a dozen hairstreaks waltzing in a sunny corner of the back yard. I quickly went out with the intent to photograph all the different individuals I could see to capture the variation between them. I soon realized this would be impossible. With 3-4 individuals on every bush and tree branch in sight that was in the sun and many seemingly hiding in the shaded bushes, I lost count within minutes. I was also flushing many from the grass and dirt all around the house as well. There were just too many to keep an exact count!
There are also a few Banded and Striped Hairstreaks scattered between all the Hickory Hairstreaks which provides a great opportunity to compare individuals of all three species.
This was a magical moment. Having dreamed as a kid to see hairstreaks, especially Hickory Hairstreaks, and now finding what is seemingly an extremely healthy population. The first time I witnessed such a behaviour, I did a video call with my mom and dad (I could not reach my brother) to share this unique event live with them and they were actually able to count nearly 10 at one time on their iPad screen. I then asked my dad if he would consider this a lifer since he was seeing them for the first time live. He quickly answered no.
By 9:30 am most hairstreaks are gone from the backyard with only 1-2 staying around during the day. Does that mean that species like Banded and Hickory hairstreaks generally spend most of their active time up in the canopy of mature trees and come down once in a while to take nectar from flowers once they have warmed enough in the early morning? It may just be that we only see a very small portion of the population of hairstreaks whose caterpillars can feed on the leaves of tall mature trees such as hickory and oak since when we generally go out butterflying it’s past 9 am.
So far, every summer I have witnessed a mass emergence about 10 days after I observe the first individuals in my backyard. Most individuals are fresh but some show several degrees of wear. Sometimes they even show up on my moth sheet at night!