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Butterflies at Baskett Slough, Ore.

Witness one of Oregon's rarest—and prettiest—insects at this Willamette Valley wildlife refuge.

A Fender's blue butterfly alights in a central Oregon refuge.
Photo caption
A Fender's blue butterfly alights in a central Oregon refuge.

The excitement is right at your feet in late May. That’s when Fender’s blue butterflies emerge from their cocoons and take flight near Salem, Ore., at Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge, home to one of the state’s largest populations of the rare insects. Timing is key: You need a sunny spring day to catch them hatching, says Cheryl Schultz, a conservation biologist at Washington State University–Vancouver.

Once thought extinct, the endangered butterfly with stunning iridescent sky-blue wings just an inch across has made a steady comeback at the refuge. Look for flashes of blue near the purple flowers of Kincaid’s lupine, a threatened prairie plant that provides food for the insect as a caterpillar and a place to hide before its brilliant spring debut.

When you’ve seen your fill, climb a path to a view of the area’s shallow wetlands. But tread carefully—you’re in the butterflies’ living room. (503) 623-2749, fws.gov/willamettevalley/baskett.

Photography by Rick A. Brown

This article was first published in May 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.