Island Marble Butterfly Field Season Ends

Kathleen Foley tends an island marble butterfly habitat expansion plot on Frazer Homestead Preserve

The rare island marble butterfly has completed its active field season. Flying adults that emerged this spring successfully mated, and the eggs and larvae produced have now transformed into tiny gray pupae that are overwintering in vegetation along the grasslands, dunes and saltwater lagoons at the south end of San Juan Island. A new year-long, miraculous life cycle has begun.

The Preservation Trust continued its vital role in the conservation efforts for this beautiful butterfly. Our Suitable Habitat Patches at Frazer Homestead and Sundstrom Farm Preserves produced abundant host plants (Brassica rapa, or field mustard) for the adult butterflies. Alas, despite rigorous monitoring, we did not observe marbles at the sites.

The absence of island marbles outside American Camp reinforced what we already knew. The butterfly is so greatly diminished that finding its way to our “safe zones” was problematic. While disappointed, we know we are on the right track for supporting its expansion back across San Juan Island.

In another way, though, the season was a success for the Habitat Expansion Project. The patches at Frazer and Sundstrom not only provided viable host plants for the butterfly, but the knowledge that was gained in propagating native nectar plants to support the butterfly into early summer was invaluable as we move forward with a strong conservation effort. Next year, these “safe zones” will be back and better than ever.

“Each year we learn a little more about the plants the marble needs, and how well they can survive in these altered environments,” said SJPT Stewardship Manager Kathleen Foley, who is managing the project. “Until the butterflies make their home here, we will continue to care for these patches and keep the welcome mat laid out for them.”

Island marble—while still in peril—held on this season. The Preservation Trust, along with its partners, continues the fight for its ultimate survival here in the islands.

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A Banner Year for Bluebirds

The close of the 2018 breeding season marks the 12th consecutive season of the San Juan Islands Western Bluebird Reintroduction Project. As a result of the collective efforts of SJPT employees and local volunteers, 2018 has been the most successful breeding season since a population drop in 2013!

(Continued below)

Fledglings on a branch | Genevieve Shank

Here are some notable statistics and highlights:

A large clutch | Genevieve Shank

Population Info
Nesting Pairs
● This year so far we’ve had a total of 13 nesting pairs (up from nine last year!)
● 26 total breeding adults
● Eight non-breeding adults
Nestlings and Eggs
● 55 banded nestlings (including aviary introduced)
● 32 eggs remaining

● This season we have had 5 successful translocations!
● Two pairs that have successfully raised their first brood and working on their second as well as three families with a total of 16 juveniles.
● Note: All adults that were introduced re-nested on the island!

● This year despite intensive measures against predators, four breeding adults out of 26 went missing. One pair had a nest attacked by house sparrows but survived to re-nest on a different part of the island. We’re upgrading our predator guarding strategies to reduce loss in future years.

● We had one breeding pair that should win the unofficial “Bird Parents of the Year Award” because they laid some extra-large clutches this season. Their first clutch had eight eggs and their second had seven! This is impressive considering the average clutch size is generally around four to six.
● There are plenty of hardworking bird parents this year, including one pair that is currently working on raising its third brood! Many other pairs are working on their second brood as well.
● A new recruit has been recorded on the island this year, a breeding female has come across from Vancouver Island (Cowichan Valley). Seeing the exchange of birds between Vancouver Island and the San Juans is always exciting because it means that there is promise of successful genetic exchange in the future.
● Five unbanded new recruits have showed up in breeding pairs this season. Although banded birds provide useful knowledge about their origin and movements, unbanded birds offer a sense of hope that more birds may have nested on the island in recent years without our help.

Adult pair on a feeder | Genevieve Shank

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We are looking for an exceptional individual to assume the position of Development/ Administrative Specialist. The successful candidate will provide administrative and operational support for the Director of Philanthropy and the Executive Director and interact frequently with a large volunteer Board of Trustees and professional staff of nine. S/he will have the opportunity to acquire deeper knowledge of fundraising and management of a nonprofit organization in the conservation field while helping to protect special places in the San Juan Islands.

See the job description and application instructions here.

Applications are due by 5pm on Friday, August 17.

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New Gann Society Markers

We recently introduced a new way of honoring late members of the Gann Society, who have left legacy gifts to the Preservation Trust in their estate plans.

We call them Gann Society memorial markers, and we recently installed the first one on our Graham Preserve on Shaw Island. It memorializes Beverly Graham who, with her husband, Ernest Graham, bequeathed their 99-acre Shaw Island property to the Preservation Trust.

These custom-engraved, solid bronze markers will provide a lasting reminder of the permanent legacy that members of the Gann Society have made to conservation in these islands.

Learn about joining the Gann Society here.

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See Our June 2018 E-Newsletter

View from Tiptop Hill, Stuart Island | Peter Fromm

In this month’s issue:

  • Note from Angela: Growing Community Conservation (Part II)
  • Summer Social on Shaw
  • Magical History Tour
  • Thank You, Kurt Thorson
  • Photo of the Month (By Kurt Thorson)
  • Upcoming Events
  • Profile in Perpetuity: New Gann Society Memorial Markers

See it here!

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A Tribute to Kurt Thorson

While we all rely heavily on words to tell our stories, there is no substitute for a good photograph. When it came to conveying the work of the San Juan Preservation Trust, no photographer provided more spectacular and compelling island images to us than did Kurt Thorson, a longtime resident of Orcas Island who had deep roots on Waldron.

On June 11, we lost Kurt to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). We send deepest condolences to his wife, Robin Freeman, and their daughter, Tika.

Over the past 15 years, Kurt’s photos transformed our outreach efforts. Whenever we take our stories to the outside world, whether through our newsletters, website, brochures, or public presentations, we have leaned heavily on Kurt’s eye and images to drive home the urgency of this work. A carpenter by profession, he spent many evenings, early mornings and weekends in the field, hiking the backcountry with his camera as he chased the light. From wildlife to native plants to sweeping landscapes, Kurt was a photographic perfectionist: He would take dozens of shots of a single subject or vista before moving on to the next image.

The Preservation Trust leaned heavily on Kurt over the past 15 years, enlisting him whenever we were about to launch an important capital campaign or project. He was under-compensated, to be sure, but we know he found tremendous gratification from the knowledge that he was advancing the cause of land conservation in our islands. From Turtleback to Vendovi Island, Mount Grant to Zylstra Lake, he was responsible for most of the iconic images we’ve shared with you. Kurt Thorson may not be with us anymore, but we will continue to tell our stories, and see our islands, through his remarkable eyes.

Click here to see a gallery showing just a few of Kurt’s most enduring images.

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See Our May 2018 E-Newsletter

American Camp Prairie, San Juan Island | Jeff Brennan

In this month’s issue:

  • Note from Angela: Growing Community Conservation (Part I)
  • Have You Seen This Butterfly?
  • A New Way to Visit Vendovi
  • Speaking of Vendovi …
  • Photo of the Month (By Joe Belcovson)
  • Upcoming Events
  • Profile in Perpetuity: Susan McBain & Steve Jung

See it here!

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Vendovi Wildflower Gallery

These photos of camas, spring gold, chocolate and fawn lilies were taken during a Tiptop League* outing to Vendovi Island on April 14, 2018. A big thank-you to SJPT member Gene Helfman for sharing these with us. (Click a photo to enlarge it.)

* The Tiptop League consists of members who annually provide unrestricted support of $1,000 or more to the Preservation Trust.

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Have You Seen this Butterfly?

An Island Marble butterfly feeding on field mustard at American Camp | Photo: Jeff Brennan

The rare and wonderful island marble butterfly is on the wing. Its field season has begun. With likely fewer than 200 marbles in existence and an adult lifespan often lasting 10 days or less, the butterfly’s opportunities to breed are limited and intense. Time is of the essence to support this enigmatic beauty and to help it find safe havens here on San Juan Island.

The Preservation Trust’s “suitable habitat patches” (SHPs) at Frazer Homestead and Sundstrom Farm Preserve on San Juan Island continue to bloom, acting as bright yellow beacons to lure island marbles to these safe zones.

We watch, wait, and monitor each bloom. We hold our breath as each white butterfly that comes into view possibly holds the promise of island marble.

The Preservation Trust looks forward to expanding its current patch program across the island, but that will take time. If you would like to be involved now, here’s what you can do:

Go to the SJPT website and familiarize yourself with island marble, its habitat and host plants, including field mustard (Brassica rapa).

Brassica rapa (field mustard) plants | Photo: Jeff Brennan

• Check your garden or property (both in town and across San Juan Island) for field mustard. If it is present, look for white butterflies nectaring (feeding) on the blooms. The butterflies you see will likely be cabbage whites, but they could be island marbles. Look closely. Check the details. Be especially alert for the yellow, gold, and white pattern on the underside of the butterfly’s wings. If you see this marbling, contact SJPT Stewardship Manager Kathleen Foley at and we will investigate.

Here is an identification guide, courtesy of the Washington Department of Wildlife.

Saving endangered wildlife requires all hands on deck. The Preservation Trust encourages islanders to get actively involved in saving this rare insect. You may already have a safe zone for island marble on your land. That would be an important discovery and a great help to the butterfly. Island Marble calls the San Juans home, and so do we. Let’s all work together to ensure that this special butterfly continues to have a place in our midst.

– Susan Vernon

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Just Add Butterflies

A habitat patch” (SHP) for island marble in spring bloom. Susan Vernon photo

“Just add butterflies.” That’s what SJPT Stewardship Manager Kathleen Foley said when she saw this gorgeous bloom of Brassica and Blush at the Sundstrom Farm Preserve site on May 3.

This is one of two Suitable Habitat Patches (SHPs) developed by Kathleen and her crews (in collaboration with the Island Marble Butterfly Task Force) to support the rare island marble butterfly. The marble’s flight season has just begun and biologists are hoping these mustard patches will lure the butterfly to safe havens for reproducing and expanding its range.

Flight season for island marble is from mid-April to approximately mid-June. During this period, butterflies will be emerging from their overwintering pupal stage into flying adults. Once mated, the females will lay eggs on Brassica and other host plants and the one-year reproductive cycle will begin again.

The first island marbles of this season were reported at South Beach/American Camp on May 2. The south end of San Juan Island is the last stronghold for this subspecies of Euchloe ausonides that was recently proposed for endangered species status by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Preservation Trust will be monitoring its SHPs throughout the island marble field season. Both the butterfly’s host plant (Brassica rapa) and several nectar plants including blush (Plectritis  congesta), field chickweed (Cerastium arvense) and blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia parviflora) are currently thriving—a beacon of hope for this rare and beautiful insect. Now, we eagerly await the butterflies.

Stay tuned for more episodes in the incredible saga of the island marble butterfly. Click here to learn more.

– Susan Vernon  

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