Skip to main content

Return of the butterflies

The warming of spring brings out a new crop of butterflies, and their appearance is much welcomed by many, including your narrator. These stunning male Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, Papilio glaucus, are fresh and unblemished. I photographed them on a recent sunny day in southern Ohio, the duo was among dozens that I saw.

Try as I might, this female American Lady, Vanessa virginiensis, would not fully cooperate with my camera. It's a semi-wary species to begin with, but this girl was busy. She was scrambling about the pussy-toes, which is this species' host plant, depositing eggs, and I didn't want to horn in and disrupt activities more important than my picture-taking. So I just did the best that I could, and largely left her to the business of making more of her kind.

Here is a more formal portrait of pussy-toes, Antennaria plantaginifolia. It's a very common plant of dry banks and exposed soil, typically growing in the semi-shade of woodland borders. Pussy-toes is not what most people would term a showy plant, and few gardeners would be tempted to seek it out and plant pussy-toes inside the garden fence. However, aesthetic issues aside, this species is a goldmine for early spring pollinators, and we shall take a glimpse into its nectariferous attractions.

A small fly with a huge proboscis laps nectar from tiny pussy-toe flowers. I have no idea which species of fly this is, but its value as a pollinator is manifested in the minute orangish pollen grains stuck all over its hairs. Flies, which generally get an utterly underserved bad rap due to the ills caused by a relative handful of species, are a major and incalculably valuable group of pollinators.

A solitary bee of some sort ravages pussy-toes flowers. I saw many, many like it on these flowers during this foray into Shawnee State Forest. It should go without saying that the Hymenoptera - bees and wasps - are of major importance regarding the pollination of our native plants. And the pussy-toes, discreet and as ignored as they are, provide major fodder for the earliest pollinators of spring. If you want to see lots of cool bugs, and find subjects galore for the macro lens, park yourself by a colony of pussy-toes and keep a sharp eye out.

Spring Azures, Celastrina ladon, were everywhere on this fine spring day. These little flecks of silvery blue are a ubiquitous part of the vernal butterfly fauna, and groups of them are often seen gathered at mud puddles or other moist spots. They are not immune to the virtues of pussy-toes, as we can see.

Needless to say, I was quite pleased to find several Henry's Elfins, Callophrys henrici, nectaring at pussy-toes flowers. These tiny butterflies tend to be localized, and are always in close proximity to their host trees, which is redbud, Cercis canadensis. Elfins often perch on the ground, a situation which does not lend itself well to making showy photos. To boot, they can be rather flighty. But when ensconced upon tasty flowers, they become quite approachable and it was easy to get as close as I wished.

This is a Brown Elfin, Callophrys augustinus, which is one of Ohio's rarer butterflies. It is only known from about five counties in southern Ohio, and populations tend to be widely scattered and small. Shawnee State Forest harbors several reliable sites, and that's where I made this image. The butterfly is resting upon the leaf of a mountain-laurel, Kalmia latifolia, its host plant. Elsewhere it uses other plants in the heath family such as blueberries and huckleberries. Some of the brown elfins were also nectaring on pussy-toes, but I was not able to get a documentary shot.

The butterfly parade will only grow more robust as spring progresses, and take heart - we have a good 5-6 months of butterflying season ahead.


Popular posts from this blog

The Pinching Beetle, a rather brutish looking bug

The world is awash in beetles, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Few of them can match the intimidation factor of a Pinching Beetle, Lucanus capreolus, though. Those formidable looking mandibles look like they could slice off a finger.

Today was one of those coolly diverse days. I started off down in Fayette County, visiting the farm of a friend. He has restored about 25 acres of wetlands, and the response by the animal community has been nothing short of phenomenal. Blizzards of dragonflies of many species, amphibians galore, and nesting Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, and Sora. Among MANY other things. And all in a short two years. Add water and they will come.

Then, working my way home, I ducked into a Madison County cemetery that has a thriving population of Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, and shot images of our native prairie dog. Then, I stopped at a spot along Little Darby Creek, waded on in, and procured some pretty nice shots of various stream bluets and dancers. …

Calliope Hummingbird in central Ohio!

A hatch-year male Calliope Hummingbird strikes a pose. Small but tough, the hummingbird was feeding actively yesterday in 39 F temperatures. It frequents feeders and gardens at a home in Delaware County, Ohio, about a half-hour north of Columbus.

Fortunately, the wayward hummer appeared at the home of Tania and Corey Perry. Tania is a birder, and knew right away that the hummingbird was something special. For a while, the identification was up in the air, which isn't surprising. The Calliope Hummingbird used to be placed in its own genus, Stellula, but has recently been submerged into the genus Selasphorus, which includes Allen's, Broad-tailed, and Rufous hummingbirds. The latter two, especially, are quite similar to the Calliope in subadult plumage. Rufous is the default "vagrant" hummingbird here, with dozens of records and birds turning up annually. There is but one Ohio record of Allen's Hummingbird, from late fall/early winter 2009. Ditto the Calliope Hummi…

Snowy owl photography tactics - and things NOT to do

A gorgeous juvenile female snowy owl briefly catches your narrator with its piercing gaze. It's doing its Linda Blair/Exorcist trick - twisting its head 180 degrees to look straight behind. Owls have 14 neck vertebrae - double our number - which allows them such flexibility.

These visitors from the high arctic have irrupted big time into Ohio and adjacent regions, with new birds coming to light nearly every day. Probably 80 or so have thus far been reported in the state, and some of them have stuck around favored spots and become local celebrities.

I went to visit one of these birds this morning - the animal above, which was found last Friday by Doug Overacker and Julie Karlson at C.J. Brown Reservoir near Springfield. In the four days since its discovery, many people have visited as is nearly always the case when one of these white wonders appears near a large population center or is otherwise very accessible.

And as is always the case, people want to photograph the owls. And th…