Updated: Aug 22
At the beginning of June, I received an intriguing message on Facebook. Barbara had gotten my name from a woman who'd seen my photos in a local gardening group. Barbara Boland and Monica Davis had founded the El Segundo Blue Butterfly Conservancy (ESBBC), and wanted to know if I'd be able to provide some documentary photography to their efforts. I'd been curious about the butterfly for years, but never actually seen one, so I quickly agreed to help.
My daughter and I observing butterflies (photo taken by Barbara). We were careful to step only on pathways and clear patches of sand so as not to damage any plants or crush any butterflies or pupae (which tend to be on the ground under the brush). I was filming a butterfly when this image was taken. You often don't even need to leave the bike path to see them; please be mindful of where you put your feet when you visit! In 1976, the El Segundo Blue (Euphilotes allyni) was listed as endangered, due to habitat loss. The butterflies are picky eaters, and their entire life cycle is dependent on Sea-cliff Buckwheat (Erigonum parvifolium), which grows on sand dunes near the coast. Over the course of the last century, most of those sand dunes suffered human interference and were developed into housing and infrastructure.
I was fortunate to capture this ES Blue next to a bee along the Chevron fence line. The bee gives a sense of scale for how small the butterflies are. In June and July, I documented the butterflies at Dockweiler State Beach in Los Angeles county and along the fence line at the Chevron Blue Butterfly Preserve (at the refinery in El Segundo, CA), capturing images of males (who are blue) and females (brown), along with mating pairs. I'm currently revisiting these sites, hoping to spot caterpillars. The adult phase of the butterflies' life cycle is quite short. Go down to Dockweiler on a sunny day in June or July, and you might spot them flitting about--they're about the size of bees, but move much more erratically. The adults mate and lay eggs, after which caterpillars emerge. They eat and moult, and then spend most of a year as pupae, until the summer sun encourages them to emerge and start the cycle anew.
Top row (L to R): A male ES blue; a female ES blue; a mating pair Middle row (L to R): the ES blue is identified by its square spots and orange stripe; a mating pair with my finger for scale (taken by my 6 year old daughter); a male with open wings Bottom row (L to R): A female ES blue; A blue perched on buckwheat at Chevron; a male ES blue Conservation efforts by several groups have restored other habitats, and butterflies have been spotted in additional locations. The Friends of Ballona Wetlands started the El Segundo Blue Coalition in the late 2010s with efforts to support blues around the South Bay; their website is www.esbcoalition.org. The ESBBC is on Facebook and primarily working in El Segundo. The City of El Segundo, for which the butterflies are named, had no habitat to support the butterflies outside of the privately managed Chevron refinery grounds, and a few residential gardens maintained by homeowners. (Ironically, one of the city's elementary schools has the butterfly as its mascot, although most of the students have never seen one.) The ladies of the conservancy wanted to change that. Early this summer, the city planted two patches of seacliff buckwheat at Library Park, and more was planted at the local middle school. In July, the ladies led tours of the patch of buckwheat at Dockweiler, and many locals, some lifelong residents, were thrilled to see Blues for the first time.
Monica Davis (R) leads a tour of the El Segundo Blue butterfly habitat at Dockweiler State Beach.
On July 20th (2023), the El Segundo Herald ran an extensive article about the Blue and conservation efforts (written by Liz Spear).
Visitors have been excited to post their observations to the Facebook group dedicated to the ES Blue butterfly. Several residents have committed to planting buckwheat in their own yards. Hopefully the butterfly will find those plantings in the future and enjoy the benefits of additional habitat. I am offering greeting cards, prints, and wall art (follow link to shop the gallery) of my butterfly photos, and a portion of the proceeds from those sales will go towards purchasing additional sea-cliff buckwheat to expand habitat for these delicate beauties. If you are a scientist looking for El Segundo Blue images, please contact me, I'd be happy to work with you. Want to help local natives? Pick up a book specific to your region or visit a native plant shop local to you. If you're in southern California, (near the coast between Santa Monica and Palos Verdes), check out Introduction to the Plant Life of Southern California. You can shop plants at the Theodore Payne Native Nursery in Sun Valley, CA.