There she was--a gorgeous orange-and-black butterfly sipping nectar from a rosemary bush near the Glen Cove Marina, Vallejo.
She seemed so out of place and out of season. It was Sunday morning, Feb. 11, and we were east of the Carquinez Bridge, with the temperature pushing 70 degrees after a raucous winter storm.
The butterfly? A West Coast Lady, Vanessa annabella (as identified by Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology. It's often confused with Vanessa cardui, commonly known as "Painted Lady."
"Adults 'hibernate,' but near sea level can be seen sunbathing and being territorial on sunny, mild days all winter long," he writes on his website. "There is probably some altitudinal migration, but no evidence of latitudinal migration as in V. cardui."
"Host plants are herbaceous Mallows, including Cheeseweed (Malva), Alkali Mallow (Malvella), and Hollyhock (Alcea); not recorded locally on Velvet Leaf (Abutilon theophrasti). The species also uses Urticaceae. Several broods, the entire season at any given location."
Shapiro describes the West Coast Lady as "an earnest and generalist flower visitor. In winter often seen on flowers of Rosemary, Escallonia (an evergreen shrub or hedge) and Salpichroa (nightshade family) in gardens."
Our West Coast Lady soaked up a little sunshine and a little nectar and off she fluttered.
There's nothing like seeing an admiral at a marina.
That would be the Red Admiral butterfly, Vanessa atalanta, at the Berkeley marina.
It's often very common in the urban Bay Area, says butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis. The Red Admirals often share sites with West Coast Ladies.
"Both breed on the weed Parietaria judaica (Pellitory) there."
We also saw a West Coast Lady, Vanessa annabella, fluttering around the Red Admiral last Saturday.
But it's the other butterflies that Shapiro is concerned about. "At this time of the year, one used to see Great Coppers (Lycaena xanthoides) up the yin-yang on the 'waste ground' across the marina parking lot, between it and the freeway. Since they made it part of Eastshore Park, it seems to be gone. Typical!"
Other "marina fauna" from back when, he says, included Anise Swallowtails and Large Marbles. "The latter seems to be gone too; it's extinct regionally but there is one population I know of near Concord."
A renowned lepidopterist, Shapiro monitors the butterfly population in Central California and posts information on his website, Art's Butterfly World.
He's the author of the book, Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions, illustrated by Tim Manolis. "The California Tortoiseshell, West Coast Lady, Red Admiral, and Golden Oak Hairstreak are just a few of the many butterfly species found in the floristically rich San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley regions," Shapiro writes. He covers and identifies more than 130 species in the book.
Summer is fading and the temperatures are dropping, too.
You're more likely to see Vanessa.
That would be Vanessa annabella, one of the Painted Lady butterflies.
The West Coast Lady (Vanessa annabella), is seen more often in cool seasons, says UC Davis butterfly expert, Arthur Shapiro, professor of ecology and evolution.
The West Coast Lady is a member of the Brush-Footed Butterflies (Nymphalidae) and the subfamily, True Brushfoots.
On a recent trip to Tomales, we spotted the West Coast Lady and a honey bee sharing the same plant, a Salvia uliginosa (a tall sage that can reach six to seven feet).
The wings of the orange-brown butterfly and the transparent wings of the honey bee glowed in the sunlight as the insects nectared the sky-blue blossoms. The two have at least one thing in common: they love a good sage.
Shapiro, a lepidopterist extraordinaire, covers more than 130 species in his colorful book, Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions, published by the University of California Press. The guide also offers tips on gardening and photography.