Here’s some color to brighten any winter dullness that might be fogging your mind as January comes to an end. I spotted this Gulf Fritillary butterfly on Egans Creek Greenway in Fernandina Beach, Florida, where we spend our snowbirding days.
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.
Photography often teaches me a lot. I love to be out and about in nature, photographing whatever I see and find or that finds me.
In this case, this beautiful butterfly and I seemed to find each other. I was looking for alligators when I spotted this Zebra Longwing Butterfly flitting around a clump of flowers growing along a stream on a warm, sunny morning. Many butterflies zig and zag and fly erratically, making them difficult to shoot. However, this lovely creature almost seemed to pose for its picture. It cooperated perfectly. The morning sunshine perfectly backlit both the butterfly and the heads of lantana blossoms it was enjoying.
I was able to capture several satisfactory shots of its contrasting colors and exceptionally long, thin wingspan. I couldn’t help but note the hole in the left wing and wondered what had caused the deformity.
After downloading the photos on my computer, I discovered that this butterfly had the perfect name. It looked like a zebra, and it had long wings. Also, I learned that the Zebra Longwing Butterfly is Florida’s state butterfly because they are so plentiful in the state.
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.
When I asked my wife to identify the flower the butterfly was enjoying, her reaction surprised and inspired me. “Wow,” she said, “seasons of Gaillardia!” Then I saw it. As the growing season winds down, this meadow of wildflowers held the blanket flower nearly in every stage of growth. The Variegated Fritillary butterfly, which just happened to be in the shadow of a taller flower, fed on one of the remaining Gaillardia heads still in full bloom.
We got the last space in the parking lot. My 11-year-old grandson and I were beginning a hike in nearby Shenandoah National Park.
We had trudged this trail with his entire family a couple of years ago. This time the two of us would do the trek on our own terms and in our own time. Clearly, though, we wouldn’t be alone. The warm sunshine and cool temperatures drew many others to hike in the perfect weather.
I carried snacks and water in my multi-pocketed vest I mostly used for birding and photography. I packed extra batteries for my camera given my history of digitally documenting every step of the way. Davis carried the binoculars.
Our ascent began as soon as we crossed the roadway. Soon we joined the Appalachian Trail that winds through the Blue Ridge Mountains. A stone marker with a metal band identified where our loop trail and the main trail split.
We indeed encountered other hikers, some early birds who were on their way down, and others like ourselves who were ready for the rocky trail ahead. As we climbed, we always had to watch our step. The trail consisted of dirt, stones, terraced steps formed by exposed tree roots, and huge rocks.
Ascending the summit of Bearfence Mountain is more of a rock scramble than it is a climb. For an 11-year-old, it was child’s play. For a creaky-boned, gimpy-kneed grandfather, it felt like survival.
I struggled to pull myself up the jagged boulders that served as the ridge-top trail. Undulating, rocky outcroppings intermittently protruded above the surrounding forest of oaks, maples, sassafras, wild cherry, and dogwoods.
Davis, on the other hand, bounded catlike up, down, and around the biggest boulders. Rectangular dabs of baby blue paint clearly pointed the way over the exposed bedrock and through narrow crevasses and the many trees. When I dallied, either to catch my breath or to take a photograph, Davis retreated to make sure I was keeping up.
During an easier section of the trail, Davis surprised me with a hiking theory he had developed. He said a team of hikers required five different people.
“You need a photographer,” he said, “who is last in the group because he or she is always taking pictures to document the trip.” I appreciated both his astute observation and his subtle hint at picking up the pace.
From a rock.
Taking a break.
Red Admiral sunning.
A hiking team also needed an explorer to guide the group and who usually took the lead, he continued. I think he had found his calling. The other skilled positions included a writer to record and report about the trip once it is completed, a carrier to tote the equipment, and a collector who gathers samples to research after the expedition.
I thought his comments both profound and practical. However, I quizzed him about the obvious. Weren’t the two of us already doing all of those tasks?
“Oh, yes,” he said. “I guess you’re right. But it’s still easier if you have five.”
As we enjoyed the expansive views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west and ate our snacks, other hikers joined us. Butterflies danced in the forest openings and sunbathed on lichen-covered rocks bordered by wildflowers and bright berries. Davis, of course, kept practicing his hiking team concept by being the explorer. He disappeared and reappeared at will.
I didn’t need to ask my grandson what he thought of the day. Davis’ enthusiasm spoke more ardently than any words could. He had enjoyed the outing as much as his pooped Poppy.
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.