The other day (May 24, 2019), I saw a Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui) near the town of Dinsmore, California. That’s in the northeast corner of Humboldt County, near the Trinity County line, just off the 36, on the edge of Six Rivers National Forest. The terrain is hilly, fairly steep and treed with Firs and Oaks of various species. Though this spot was only a little over 50 miles from the 101 to the west, it takes close to an hour and a half to drive there, due to tight curves and steep climbs. It’s out in the boonies for sure.
The butterfly had seen better days. One of their lower wings was over half gone and the others a bit raggedy-edged. Earlier this year, in southern California—specifically in Anza-Borrego State Park—I had seen thousands of them every day for weeks. There had been a bigger-than-usual migration (see here, here and here). For awhile there, I couldn’t drive anywhere without my windshield getting streaked with yellow and my grill filling up with dead bodies. Try as I might, it just wasn’t possible to avoid hitting them, there were so many. I felt a little less bad about it one day when I came out of a store and saw a couple of small birds on my bumper, gorging on the corpses.
Other times, sitting in the desert, a cloud of them would pass through, literally hundreds a minute, alighting on the many, many flowers and passing on. (A “superbloom” was in effect too.) For as many as there were, it was tricky to get good photos. They were shy of close human presence and never landed in one place for long. What I had to do was a pick a good spot and sit still with my camera turned on and pointed, waiting for one to flutter within focusing distance.