A Swarm of Butterflies

moon phase Week of 07/12/2009 Good days for planting beets, carrots, radishes, salsify, turnips, peanuts, and other root crops.

Today I heard the song of a bird that I haven't heard here in ten years. There are Red-winged blackbirds in the area, but I've never seen them up in my small valley. Great Spangled Fritillary Great Spangled Fritillary They just showed up, five of them altogether, a female with a male and three juveniles. For me it's the nicest gift that summer could bring me. To hear blackbird songs all day is something I'll never take for granted.

I've lived my whole life in a rural setting and have always been able to hear the songs of the grassland birds. These are the songs I first learned to recognize as a boy. The blackbird, Meadowlark, and Bob-o-link were always around me until I moved to this valley 10 years ago. I hadn't seen any of these three birds here until today. This 20-acre grassland meadow must finally look good to them.

Great Spangled Fritillary on a milkweed Great Spangled Fritillary on a milkweed The Red winged blackbird family has been paying visits to the birdfeeders. They like sunflower seeds, and come right to the window feeder like they've done it before. I really am enjoying having them around.

I'm also pleased that the two young Red-tailed hawks who fledged in the valley are still hanging around. I always know where they are because of their raspy, high-pitched, begging calls. Occasionally I will see one of them making short trips from one tree to another. Not yet strong enough to be expert flyers, they tend to grapple with a bad choice of perches. Bouncing up and down at the end of a long, leafy branch isn't a good idea if you want to be inconspicuous.

Trio of  Great Spangled Fritillary Trio of Great Spangled Fritillary It was a special week for my favorite flowers on wings—butterflies! Some are subtle but beautiful, and some are brilliantly colorful. My morning walk through the meadow was greeted by dozens of fluttering wings of several kinds of butterflies. I couldn't help but notice an abundance of Tawny-edged skippers, a small but pretty tiny skipper. There seemed to be even more Twelve-spotted skippers, another of the skipper family.

My gaze followed a single, large orange butterfly as he fluttered and sailed across the meadow. I wanted to see where he might land so I could get a better look at him. He finally landed in a patch of milkweed, where I found a dozen more of his kind. Painted Lady Butterfly Painted Lady Butterfly The milkweed pods are just starting to bloom with lovely pale lavender flowers, and the butterflies were having a milkweed picnic. Only a quarter of the blossoms were open, so it was possible to see 3 or 4 Great Spangled fritillaries together on the same plant. Their wings are a rich dark orange with dark brown speckles like the freckles on a child's face. I stood still in the center of the milkweed patch and just watched the silent beauty.

 Not one, but two large striking Monarch butterflies were among those who came searching for nectar. I looked around for any signs of leaf chewing, but didn't see any. Chewed leaves mean there are caterpillars, and maybe more butterflies next year. Black Ctenucha moth Black Ctenucha moth I'll keep an eye out for them.

While standing in this spot, I was treated to a variety show of Òflying flowers.Ó There were American ladies, Question marks, Spring azures, and Cabbage whites. Then to add to the already great show, were several dragonflies and a black Ctenucha moth. Ah, these are the moments I waited for all those long winter months, and they will surely be part of my dreams when the cold comes again.

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Re from from New York on July 13, 2011 at 07:24:19 PM
Wonderful pictures. A question: A pair of Robins nested by our downspout. They built a small nest and 3 or 4 baby robins were hatched. My question is: the babies are now grown and have flown. However, the Mother bird is sitting on the nest again. Is there a chance that she is having more babies? Thank you, a faithful reader of your column. Re
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