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My Search for the Elusive Moss's Elfin

For the past few years, after completing my annual Milk River/Writing-on-Stone May Species Count, I have headed west on the 500 towards Cardston, Pincher Creek, the Crowsnest Pass, and my favourite area, the South Castle River just south of Beaver Mi

For the past few years, after completing my annual Milk River/Writing-on-Stone May Species Count, I have headed west on the 500 towards Cardston, Pincher Creek, the Crowsnest Pass, and my favourite area, the South Castle River just south of Beaver Mines Lake. I should add at this point that I am your typical citizen scientist, self-taught in all things nature, these days more of a bug guy than a birder! I do not use all these fancy Latin names – I prefer Bearberry or Umbrella Plant...not Arctoslapkylos and Eriogonum!

I try to spend a few days exploring the old road that runs alongside the South Castle River. I camp at Beaver Mines Lake. It's easy to get to from Pincher Creek and a local store sells gas and the basic groceries. My reason for butterflying in this quiet, unspoilt area is because I am always on a mission to find a Moss's Elfin. Local butterfly experts Barb Beck and Norbert Kondla have been kind enough in the past to help in my search, and I would never have visited this area had it not been for them.

About six years ago, I heard about Prairie Bluff, about an hour's drive to the east of Beaver Mines Lake, which is south of Beauvais Lake Provincial Park. This is one of two locations in Alberta where a sighting of Moss's Elfin (Callophrys mossii) has been confirmed. Barb and Jim Beck found the butterfly in question during a count there. Nowadays, it is hard to access the hilly area due to gas and oil development, and I am never sure my knees could handle the slopes are 60–70 degrees, so quite steep.

The second location is Windsor Mountain, directly south of Beaver Mines Lake. From Beaver Mines Lake, it takes about an hour to reach to reach Windsor Mountain on the old South Castle Road. The lower slopes are close to the road, so are easy to attain. I was there last year in very nice weather and it did not take me long to discover that a certain amount of scrambling was going to be involved. There was not much flying around in the variable vegetation, but I am sure I found Bearberry!

I did come across a few Elfin bugs but was not sure which species I was collecting. I was pretty sure I had hit the mother lode, but when I visited Norbert later, I found I had completely missed my target. From there and the surrounding area, close to the river, I had found only Brown and Hoary Elfin! Norbert said I should have been further up the slopes in order to find my elusive mossii. That rocky ridge looks pretty high up, but at least I now know where I am headed the next time I visit.

Bob Parsons