Wednesday, September 9, 2015

What Happened When I Pushed Myself Beyond My Comfort Zone

"Do one thing every day that scares you."

--Eleanor Roosevelt

This year I’ve been pushing myself to do things that are outside my comfort zone, much more than usual. Having the Butterfly Big Year as an overall goal has really helped to motivate me, at least in terms of going places that I might otherwise have rationalized away as too far, too inconvienient, etc. Each time I try something that scares me, and I succeed in enjoying myself anyway, helps me the next time too.

Last weekend I drove an hour each way to get to Soldier’sDelight N.E.A., a park with a unique serpentine barren ecosystem that isn’t found elsewhere in Maryland. I’d heard good things about Soldier’s Delight from other friends but hadn’t yet visited it myself. The real motivating factor this time was that there would be a guided butterfly hike. The chance to go butterfliying with folks much more experienced than I was something I couldn’t pass up. I’ve been struggling this year with conclusively identifying some skippers; if I couldn’t be sure what I saw in terms of species, I wasn’t letting myself add it to my Big Year list. So I hoped in addition to seeing some of the endemic specialties, maybe I would see some of the more cryptic species that would be conclusively identified for us by the expert. Yeah!

We started off in the Visitor Center to view a quick slideshow of many local butterflies. I was disappointed to learn that some of my target species are in flight only early to midsummer, and would not be found on this late summer/early fall day. Oh well, I should pay more attention to the broods and flight seasons given in my field guide next time. For example, “Flies in early spring or summer, one brood” means I better find it by July at the latest, or else give up on that species for the year. If I do another Big Year next year I’ll definitely be more strategic in planning forays. After the slideshow we hit the trail.

Heading down the scrubby trail; this is probably the most shade we had all afternoon.

The day was brutally hot and humid, more like an August day than early September. My one water bottle was not nearly enough; in the future I think I’ll update my normal pack contents to include two water bottles on hot summer days rather than my usual one. The pack I use has compartments for two bottles; usually I use one of those compartments to hold small items like a magnifying class, my binoculars cleaner, and a small flashlight. But in order to be safe and healthy on the trail I really ought to have more water with me in the summertime. At least the recent heat and lack of rain meant there were few if any mosquitoes, so that was a small blessing.

Many of the other attendees were avid butterflyers and naturalists; it was fun to meet them. We also had some beginners along, so a good mix of folks. The experienced folks mostly had high-end cameras with lenses that seemed to go on forever. My little point-and-shoot seemed pretty piddly in comparison! They got some pretty awesome photos of many of the specialty species we saw, while I got only one or two clear shots. It takes me much longer to get my camera in focus on the tiny butterfly, and I didn’t want to fall too far behind. My priority was to experience and explore the ecosystem with a guide, so I didn’t let myself fall too far behind just for a better photo. Another trip I might spend longer trying to get decent shots.

Leonard's Skipper on Liatris-- this butterfly is ONLY seen in late summer/early fall. Very cool!

We saw several great butterflies, including three that are new for my Big Year List. Yay! The Leonard Skipper pictured above was most attendees' goal for this trip. We saw several of them, including a mated pair, very cool! I added Crossline Skipper and Dun Skipper to my year list as well, both very plain, cryptic species. I’ve wondered before if I saw Crossline Skipper but couldn’t be sure without another verification. It was great to have other observers to help ID and corroborate. We also saw Swarthy Skipper, which I saw while visiting my mom in Ohio. Mom and I found Swarthy Skippers at Battelle-Darby Creek Metro Park, which showcases the mid-western prairie ecosystem. So I found it interesting that it was also here in this relict prairie ecosystem in Maryland. It’s been very dry here in Maryland, so the wildflowers weren’t quite as lush as they might have been. We did see stubborn plants like liatris, boneset, and others that could get by without too much nutrients anyway, as they needed to be able to grow in the shallow soils native to that area.

I learned from the slideshow that some of the early spring butterflies I missed this year are common at Soldier’s Delight at the right time of year. I am definitely coming back next spring, whether I do a Big Year or not. I’ve never seen Falcate Orangetip in the wild, and its larval host is common enough in the right area of Soldier’s Delight that I should finally be able to check that off my life list. Woo-hoo! So even though it’s an hour away from my house, I’ll definitely be making multiple trips back next year. I can’t wait to see it in the spring.

Have you been exploring any areas that are new to you this summer, or otherwise getting out of your comfort zone? I hope you’re pushing yourself to grow and expand your experiences. It’s worth the initial anxiety. I wish I could say it gets easier each time; it hasn’t gotten much easier for me. But the more I do it, the harder I’m willing to push myself the next time to get over that mountain of uncertainty.  Maybe that’s what people mean when they say it gets easier.

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