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Swallowtails and the pipevine

The area of the New River Gorge Birding Festival is among the most biodiverse in the eastern U.S. Flora and fauna abound, and at at times on a nice spring morning one hardly knows where to look. We had some utterfly fantastic field trips this year, with lots of great birds.

It wasn't only birds, though. My trip participants tended to be interested in nearly everything, so we took time to admire and learn about non-bird stuff, too.

Dutchman's-pipe, Aristolochia macrophylla. This high-climbing vine draped the timber in one of the mountain forests that we visited to a degree I've not seen before. This area, known as Sugar Mountain, was packed with birds. We had great looks at Worm-eating, Kentucky, and Black-throated Green warbler as well as many more, in addition to Scarlet Tanager, various thrushes, the ever-popular Cerulean Warbler, several species of vireo, and on and on.

In between all the avian action, our party saw scads of Pipevine Swallowtails - more than I've ever seen in any one locale. And with good reason. Their host plant, the Dutchman's-pipe pictured above, was abundant. Like most swallowtails, pipevines often course about high in the treetops, and are large enough that many a birder briefly confuses them for birds as they scan the canopy seeking out small warblers and other songbirds.

After a bit, I spotted some of the interesting flowers of the aptly named Dutchman's-pipe. As they were high up and well out of reach, a little West Virginia ingenuity was employed to secure one of the high-climbing vines and procure some flowers. These flower-pickers, who are normally quite macho, shall remain nameless.

They eventually prevailed over the vine, rewarding us with good, close looks at the odd blooms. One can see where the name Dutchman's-pipe stems from.

Soon afterward, we spotted this newly emerged Pipevine Swallowtail low on the stem of a May-apple. It's wings were still hardening and the insect fairly glistened with vibrant hues of blue, orange, and blackish-purple. Sugar Mountain was truly a feast for the eyes this day, with all of the winged wonders whirling about.

If you've not been to this part of West Virginia, I hope you can attend next year's New River Gorge Birding Festival.


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