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Native azaleas attract swarms of pollinators

I had a very interesting field trip today. It involved a "life orchid", among many other interesting finds. More on some of that later, I hope. A brief peregrination into Shawnee State Forest also produced some noteworthy observations, not the least of which was the flowering of pinxter-flower azaleas, Rhododendron periclymenoides. These small shrubs were near peak bloom, their spindly boughs awash with pink flowers. Every bit as nice as the architecturally interesting flowers was the constant parade of pollinators. Here, a pair of spicebush swallowtails, Papilio troilus, battles for primacy at a particularly coveted snarl of blossoms. Eastern tiger swallowtails, several species of skippers, and both hummingbird clearwing and white-lined sphinx moths also visited.

If you are looking for an especially showy situation in which to photograph butterflies, I would head to Shawnee in the next week or so. Cruise the forest roads and watch for blooming azaleas. Set yourself up in a good position with favorable light and a good backdrop, and let your subjects come to you.

I also learned a new technique for butterfly photography. The azalea featured in this photo was rather high on a steep bank; further than I could comfortably reach with my normal go-to 100 mm macro lens with Canon's twin light flash setup. So, thought I, what the heck, and pulled out my tripod and big 500 mm f/4 II bird lens and attached it to the Canon 7D Mark II. Same setup I'd use to go after songbirds and anything else with feathers. Well, that rig also works very well for butterflies, at least the large ones. The parameters for this shot were f/4.5; shutter speed of 1/3200, ISO 640, and no flash. When I saw this pair of swallowtails bickering and dogfighting, I jacked the shutter speed way up, and that made it possible to freeze both of the rapidly fluttering insects. A nice leafy green backdrop created a pleasing bokeh (background blur).


Sue said…
You take the most spectacular photos, but it begs the question--do you find it a pain to drag around a bunch of equipment? I will never take fantastic pictures--I realize that and part of that reason is I find it hard enough just taking a plain old camera. How do you manage so well and STILL have a good time?
Anonymous said…
Thanks for this great article! I have been trying to become more acquainted with Ohio native plants so I could plant them in my yard. I did not know Ohio had a native azalea. I have been learning so much from your blog at the same time I am enjoying the beautiful photos.

Sincerely, Carol
Jim McCormac said…
Thank you, Carol, and Sue, I love photography so dealing with the gear is much more pleasure than pain.

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