I have not been diligent about keeping up my blog lately. I blame that entirely on summertime. This summer in particular has been brutal, with intense heat and humidity; if the temperatures do drop, it’s because we’re having storms. The bottom line is I have not been out in the field searching for critters to photograph, which is what I love to do, and is the whole point of this blog! (I will also blame work, where I spend 40 hours a week plus the commute, hours that I cannot be nature watching. But I love my job, boss…!)

I have been watching what comes into my own Chesapeake yard when I’m home, and have taken the occasional photo when the opportunity presents itself. I’ll share some of these photos with you this month.

As you know if you read my blog, I like to photograph birds and insects, particularly butterflies and dragonflies. In the past I’ve taken most of my photos with my telephoto lens (a Canon L series 100-400 with Image Stabilizer). But this summer I decided to make more use of my Canon Macro lens for my insect pictures.  The disadvantage of using the macro is that you do have to get very close to your subject, and insects tend to fly away from you. The advantage is that if you are able to get close, you get a better quality, sharper photo with better detail. Look at the American Snout butterfly at the top of this column; not only can you see its snout very clearly, but you can see the spots on its eyes and the stripes on its antenna (click on the photo to open a larger view).

Dragonflies are one of my favorite photo subjects. Even though I do not have a pond or live near a body of water, some of the more common local species do visit my yard. Below is a female Blue Dasher, perhaps our most adbundant dragonfly species. This species is fairly small, about 1″ to 1 1/2″ long, but with the macro lens you can see her features clearly, including her “face,” which looks to me like a Dr. Seuss character from Whoville!

Here’s another dragonfly visitor to my yard, a female Needham’s Skimmer.

Everyone loves to take a photo of a bee on a flower! Here’s mine for this month:

As I have for the past 8 or so years, I am raising and releasing butterflies this summer. I plant specific “host” plants to attract specific butterfly species, search those plants for eggs or caterpillars, then collect the caterpillars and place them in screen cages where predators cannot get to them. I feed them their host plants until they go into their chrysallis stage. When they emerge from the chrysallis as an adult butterfly, I release them. I have raised over 4000 butterflies of at least 20 different species, which is very gratifying to me.

One of the more unusual looking caterpillars that I raise is the Spicebush Swallowtail. In the caterpillar stage, they hide most of the time in the leaves of their host plant (Spicebush), which they “fold” over themselves and secure by spinning sticky, web-like threads; in effect, they create a sort of sleeping bag for themselves.

 As you can see, this caterpillar has a very well developed and effective defense mechanism; it scares off possible predators by resembling the head of a snake! In fact, all the markings you see on this caterpillar are only pigmentation, and not real “eyes” or “mouth.” Even the white “catch-light” in the false eyes is white pigment, and not an actual reflection of light. This mimicry of a snake is called a “passive” defense mechanism.
Just before the Spicebush caterpillar goes into its chrysallis stage, its colors change radically. Here’s a photo of one the day before it went into chrysallis — again, all the features you see are just pigment; these guys do NOT have huge eyes!—

Somewhere between 10 and 14 days after it goes into a chrysallis stage, it will emerge as an adult Spicebush Swallowtail, below. When butterflies emerge, their wings are wet and they need some time to dry them before they can fly; that’s why this butterfly is perched on my hand. If it could fly, it would be long gone!

Another species of butterfly that I’ve had a lot of success with this summer is the Red Admiral, one of my favorites. Its host plant is False Nettle, and so far this year I’ve raised somewhere around 30-40 of these beauties:

I haven’t had many chances to photograph the birds in my yard this summer, but below are a couple of pics of one of the very active juvenile Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that have been frequenting my garden and my feeders. The adult males with the bright red gorget (throat) have already left; their southb
ound migration began around mid-July. The majority of the hummingbird migration will take place later this month and into early September. By mid-September, any hummingbirds you see at your feeder are birds that summered north of us and are now migrating south; they are different individuals than the ones you saw during the summer.

I love watching the juvenile hummingbird’s antics; you see them chasing each other, defending favorite perches and food sources, diving like kamikaze pilots and chattering incessantly at each other. They are “adults in training,” learning the skills they will need as adult breeders, learning to be “macho.”

I always disliked the summertime, even as a child. I’ve just never been comfortable or tolerant of heat, bright sun and humidity. But my passion for raising butterflies and making my yard a bit of a nature sanctuary and watching what passes through has made the “summertime blues” much easier to bear.

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2 thoughts on “Summertime Blues

  1. Enjoyed learning more about your butterfly raising. And am excited that we can experience it a little bit with the caterpillars in the Children’s Room. Will there be a releasing party? Would make work more enjoyable! 😉

  2. This morning in the Children’s Library, our first Black Swallowtail butterfly emerged from its chrysallis! We have collected the caterpillars from the carrots, parsley and fennel plants in the library’s garden, and have been raising them. The kids have been able to witness all the stages of a butterfly — egg, caterpillar, chrysallis, and now adults. Come see them at Central Library’s Children’s Library!

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