Tag Archives: butterflies

When One Became Two


First the disclaimer. I am not a scientist or a lepidopterologist. That’s a person who studies butterflies and moths for a living. (Yes, I had to look it up.)

Now for the background on my Photo of the Week, “When One Became Two.” A couple of decades ago, scientists noticed irregularities in Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies, especially those flitting around the Appalachian Mountains. Their investigations showed that some of the swallowtails were bigger than others. Those that were larger were also paler in yellow pigment than the smaller ones. Enough evidence was presented that it was decided that the giant-sized swallowtail was actually a new species. Thus, the Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail was born. And yes, I realized I am oversimplifying the process and intense research.

I was ignorant of all of this information until I came upon the two different swallowtails side by side, feasting on the same thistle blooms. My wife and I were showing friends from Ontario, Canada, around Rockingham County, Virginia, recently when we saw the two butterflies. Even from our vehicle 30 feet away, we could distinguish that there was a significant size difference between the two tiger swallowtails. We also noticed that the larger one was not as yellow as the smaller one.

The journalist in me went to work after we bid our friends farewell. I was fortunate enough to capture the two butterflies in the same digital frame, which made it easier to compare their sizes and colors. As you can see, the Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail is indeed larger and paler than the more common Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. A check of multiple sources verified my conclusions based on these two main distinctions. Also, the only alteration that I made to the photo was to add my watermark.

So a few years ago the Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail butterfly was designated as a different species than the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. My Photo of the Week, “When One Becomes Two,” shows why.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Black on Yellow


I just happened to see this Black Swallowtail butterfly flying in our backyard. It was the first of the spring, and I raced for my camera. Fortunately, it was still there when I returned, flitting from one dandelion to the other. When it finally landed on this one, I started snapping away from the patio 15 ft. from the butterfly.

You can judge the diminutive size of this beauty by comparing it to the dandelion blossom on which it chose to roost.

“Black on Yellow” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Butterfly Breakfast

Butterfly Conservancy, Key West FL
My wife and I visited the Key West Butterfly Conservatory and Museum in Key West, FL. It’s a magical place, full of colorful butterflies and plants and flowers on which they thrive. We arrived right after the business opened, which turned out well for both the butterflies and us.

The staff had just set out plates of over-ripe fruit sprinkled with various nutrients the butterflies needed. Whether intended or accidental, the breakfast offerings for the lovely creatures were themselves works of art.

“Butterfly Breakfast” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Fragrant Shadow

Fragrant Shadow

My wife and I have enjoyed observing the various migrating butterflies that frequent the flowering butterfly bushes in our backyard. We had the three shrubs planted this spring. The fragrant, white blossoms have attracted several varieties of butterflies.

I especially enjoyed watching this Common Buckeye flit from flower to flower. I liked how the sun cast a shadow of the flower onto the Buckeye as it enjoyed the sweetness of the blossom.

“Fragrant Shadow” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Butterfly Season

butterflies

From little on up, everything about butterflies intrigued me. The sizes, shapes, colors, flight patterns, unpredictable behavior around flowers, they all got my attention. They still do.

In August, when late-summer wildflowers are in full bloom and butterflies are migrating south, I am awestruck each and every time I see one of these flying beauties.

Even though I know certain species of butterflies frequent woodland habitats, I am always amazed when I see them flitting among stands of mixed hardwood forests. Butterflies seem to be able to find blooms that we humans ignore. Perhaps that’s a lesson for us. Slow down. Take notice of your surroundings. Enjoy what you discover. Sometimes it takes a butterfly to guide you to the flowers.

That was not the case, however, when this beautiful female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly lighted on this Joe Pye weed blossom. Joe Pye weeds grow to be six-feet tall, and their multi-headed flowers are lovely, fragrant, and serve as butterfly magnets. Other pollinators love them, too.

I used my telephoto lens to capture this shot recently in southeast Ohio. “Butterfly Season” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Brown on Yellow and Green

Confused Cloudywing, Golden Ragwort

Brown on Yellow and Green.

Butterflies and flowers are made for one another. On a recent hike in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, many wildflowers were in full bloom, and from their joyous, creative aerial dances the butterflies couldn’t have been happier.

Little skipper butterflies were most abundant. I found this one, which I believe to be a Confused Cloudywing, flitting from bloom to bloom on this patch of Golden Ragwort, a daisy-like flower.

The afternoon sun nicely illuminated this invigorating scene. “Brown on Yellow and Green” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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In awe of fall’s many murmurations

meadow, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg VA

The hilltop meadow.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Have you seen them? Fall’s murmurations are everywhere, or at least they were. They can be as fickle as fall weather. In fact, it’s autumn’s cooler temperatures and shorter daylight hours that often spur them on.

European starlings create the defining form of murmurations that are often caught on video. Massive, migrating flocks of starlings whirl, dance, gyrate, and swirl, darting high and low, turning seemingly indiscriminately in the sky. One minute they mimic a ballet dancer, the next a fearsome Halloween monster. Sometimes they perform over land, other times they maneuver above great bodies of water. Either way, their machinations mesmerize human observers.

Common Buckeye, honeybees,

Getting buzzed.

These starling murmurations, so prevalent in the fall, appear cloud-like, pulsating as if scripted to a choreographed symphony. They change direction and tempo, moving from Beethoven’s measure to Springsteen’s beat. I once saw a murmuration where thousands of starlings turned and twisted like a tornado, so much so that other drivers also pulled over to watch the show.

As magical as they are, the starlings cannot claim a patent on this fascinating phenomenon. Though not as showy or perhaps even as noticeable, other creatures great and small participate in their own migratory matinees.

A recent Sunday afternoon sabbatical on a hilltop brought me to that conclusion. October’s bright afternoon sun bathed the land in warmth and beauty. I couldn’t have been happier.

West Virginia, Virginia, Appalachian Mountains

The blue mountains.

To my west, the Allegheny Mountains stood eternal, the hazy blue boundary line between Virginia and West Virginia. To the east, the Massanutten Mountain held watch over the city of Harrisonburg, which hummed with its usual busyness.

As pleasant as that was, the setting became secondary to the murmuration activity in the lovely hillside meadow before me. In its last days of seasonal, colorful productivity, hundreds of butterflies flitted everywhere. Multiple species competed for the blooms they far outnumbered. Thousands of honeybees, bumble bees, and beetles also joined in the frenzy for the limited floral offerings.

Monarch butterflies, meadow, wildflowers

Blooms and butterflies.

Though they weren’t captivating clouds of whirling birds, each insect species had its own style. Butterflies chased butterflies. Bees buzzed butterflies, usually unsuccessfully. It wasn’t uncommon for a ladybug, honeybee, a Monarch, and a Painted Lady butterfly to all inhabit the same blooming wildflower plant, appropriating whatever they could for their journey or hibernation ahead.

Overhead, turkey vultures sailed on rising convection thermals, additional byproducts of the generous sunshine heating the cooler landscape. Beyond the urban trees and down the hill, a red-shouldered hawk shrieked its call in an attempt to flush songbirds from their protective cover.

American robins appeared with only abbreviated chirpings. Silent and absent since their last summer nestings, robin congregations bobbed on yards and scavenged crabapple trees for any morsel of energy to wing their way to milder winter climes.

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An eastern phoebe launched from a solitary dogwood tree loaded with bright red berries. The bird had no interest in them, however. Instead, it captured an unsuspecting damselfly, and returned to the same perch in the same tree, wagged its tail one more time and disappeared.

On the way home, a rather lopsided V winged across the last of the sunset’s orangey glow. Even with car windows closed, I could distinctly hear the geese honking as the darkening sky absorbed them. At day’s end, I was elated to have observed a few of the other forms of nature’s murmurations, each with their own flair, their own personal signature.

What murmurations of fall have you seen? Look sharp. They’ll soon be gone, replaced by the coming season’s institution of slumbering stillness.

sunset, Shenandoah Valley

Waning sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Emotions run high as school starts

boating, Lake Erie

Summertime fun has come to an end.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It seems like I just can’t get away from it. Retired from my career in education 18 years, butterflies still tickle my tummy this time of year.

From pre-school through college, the school year either has or is about to start for thousands upon thousands of students. Emotions can run high for everyone.

I remember those days all too well.

Edgefield School

Edgefield School as I remember it.

As a student, I always got excited about the start of another school year. I couldn’t wait until the class lists were posted a week or so before the fall term began. We never knew exactly when those blue-inked mimeographed lists would show up on the glass doors of the Edgefield School. Often times we depended on another student finding out and spreading the word.

Once posted, I hustled down Harrison Ave., turned left on 38th Street, and climbed those foreboding cement steps to the double glass doors of the three-story brick school building. Besides wanting to know who my teacher was, it was more important to me to know who my classmates were. Friendships in youth are critical.

My grandchildren didn’t have to run to the school to discover who their new teacher was. The principal sent a letter to each pupil. However, because of privacy reasons, they’ll have to wait until the first day of school to learn whom they will spend the next nine months with learning their lessons.

Talk about nerves. I’ve already heard some chatter about hoping so and so is in their class. Of course, once everyone gets their letters, I suppose most will know before school begins.

Though they might not admit it, I think the older the students get, the more nervous they are. With required proficiency tests in every state, there’s a lot of pressure on students to do well for themselves, their class, their school, and their district.

That’s likely the last thing on a freshman’s mind. No matter how big or small the school, peer pressure cuts across every aspect of today’s teenage life. I wouldn’t want to ever go back to those uncertain years.

The beginning of another academic year runs the gambit of emotion for parents, too. They’re glad to have the kids back on some predictable routine and some much needed free time for themselves. Some parents are just downright relieved that school is back in session. And yet, they’ve enjoyed the time with their offspring over the summer months.

School supplies have to be purchased, along with school clothes, and arranging for childcare if both parents happen to be working the same shifts. Finding dependable, safe situations can be stressful if not expensive.

cardinal flowers, spicebush butterflies

Butterflies of a different sort.

Even us grandparents feel the tension of the start of school. Wanting to help as much as possible and in any way can, we seniors like to stay abreast of what all the grandkids are doing, and how we can assist the parents. Cries for help often come at the last minute.

Good teachers, of course, have long been readying for this first day. I’ve seen their cars parked at the local schools all summer long, just the way I did when I was a principal. That doesn’t mean they won’t get those butterflies in their stomachs. Even the veteran’s do that. The same goes for bus drivers, custodians, cooks, secretaries, and all other staff members.

So whether it’s sending your first child to school for a full day of learning or whether you’re a seventh grader who can’t locate your assigned locker, take heart. You are not alone. Everyone else is either excited or anxious, too.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Summer Colors

Tiger Swallowtail, Silver-spotted Skipper

Summer Colors.

The Big Meadows area of Shenandoah National Park is a big, wide-open prairie-like saddle tucked between the park’s hardwood forests. It’s about midway along the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah N.P. According to a park ranger, no one is certain why the meadow is even there. No matter. It is, and the wildlife loves it.

In the summer, Big Meadows is especially a haven for songbirds and insects. Bright and fragrant wildflowers serve as food and habitat for the beautiful butterflies. These thistle blooms were a magnet for this pair of Silver-spotted Skippers and this female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

“Summer Colors” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Sharing the Sun

gulf fritillary, butterfly

Sharing the sun.

I was fortunate to catch this Gulf Fritillary as it landed on a flower in a nature preserve in northeastern Florida. The late afternoon sun brilliantly backlit the beautiful butterfly’s stunning orange and black pattern. Without being too poetic, the butterfly seemed to be sharing the sun with its absolute radiance.

I thought this photo served as a warm welcome into a New Year for everyone. “Sharing the Sun” in my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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