Wildlife Wednesday: Autumn Butterflies

A beautiful Buckeye butterfly enjoys sweet Lantana on a warm, October day.

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“Butterflies can’t see their wings.

They can’t see how truly beautiful they are,

but everyone else can.

People are like that as well.”

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Naya Rivera

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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Butterfly photos taken at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden

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“Catching creativity is like catching butterflies –

fast-flying, bright-colored sparks darting here and there,

it requires quick wits, good eyes and desire to net them.

And once you have them, you need to act fast.

An idea, like a butterfly doesn’t last long: it is ephemeral.

It is here, and now it is gone –

so quick, grab your laptop, your pen and paper,

your Dictaphone, your sketch pad,

whatever your mode of expression or recording,

swoop and catch.”

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Lucy H. Pearce

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Wild Life Wednesday: Evening Pollinators

A moth drinks deeply from Comphrey flowers.

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Long past dinner time, as dusk settles over the garden, tiny flickering moths and fat bumblebees are still foraging for nectar.

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Two moths share these sweet Physostegia virginiana.

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We were just coming home, and camera in hand, I went to have a last look at the garden.  These little moths were fluttering so fast they weren’t much more than a blur to my eye.

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I was amazed to find them everywhere this evening, on so many different plants.  Their wings blurred like the fast beating wings of a hummingbird, or a hummingbird moth, and I wasn’t quite sure what I was seeing in motion.  One might imagine them to be tiny fairies, playing from plant to plant.

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The garden still whirred and chirped with life this evening as darkness gathered.  Most of the paths are still closed off with tumbled perennials after our days of wind and rain.  I had to lift and push past and step carefully over to find my way around.  It needs a bit of tidying again, but the creatures don’t mind.  They probably prefer this wildness.

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But the sun shone brightly today.  The air, not quite crisp, was cooler and no longer oppressive with humidity.  With Florence well past, we are feeling lighter, brighter, and a bit more optimistic.  We left home by mid-morning, heading north to see what we could see.

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Cane Begonias have covered themselves with bright flowers, finally, now that the season draws to its close.  These flowers offer sweet nectar, too.

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I forget sometimes, how much wildlife calls our garden home.  This afternoon we found a golden turtle waiting for us by the garage door.  I wonder if he’d ventured out of his usual hiding places to sample some fallen grapes while we were away.

But there he was, waiting, as we got our of the car.  His neck was fully extended as he watched us approach, trusting that he was welcome there and safe.  We were glad to see him, and a bit surprised as well.  He usually stays well-hidden in the undergrowth lower in the garden.

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Bumblebees share the Rudbeckia, even into the night.

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From the tiniest skinks waiting on the windowsill, to the hummingbirds resting on a branch beside the kitchen window, we are surrounded by beautiful creatures here.

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This dragonfly stopped to watch me photographing flowers yesterday, and waited patiently as I captured his image, too.

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They are already up and foraging when the sun rises, and others still busily flying about into the night  Their comings and goings remain cloaked in mystery to us.  We see only tiny slices of their lives.

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We’ve seen hummingbirds still feeding on the ginger lilies late into the evening.

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And  we hear their music deep into the night.  Owls call, geese sing to us as they fly low over the ravine and over the roof.  There is a low melody of insects playing lullabies after sunset.  Then songbirds begin greeting the morning well before dawn.

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Hardy Begonia naturalizes in shady spots in the garden.

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These are the familiar sounds of summer drawing to a close, a celebration of life, even as the seasons change again.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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“There’s an exact moment for leaping into the lives of wild animals.
You have to feel their lives first, how they fit the world around them.
It’s like the beat of music.
Their eyes, the sounds they make, their head,
movements, their feet and their whole body,
the closeness of things around them –
all this and more make up
the way they perceive and adjust to their world.”
.
Richard O’Barry

 

Wild Life Wednesday: All Calm Before the Storm

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It was gently raining when we awakened this morning, but the sun was breaking through along the horizon by the time we made it outside into the new day.

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An early morning bumbly enjoys the sweetness of Rudbeckia laciniata.

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We are all very conscious of the weather here in coastal Virginia this week as we watch the updates on the progress of Hurricane Florence.  We are on high ground and so flooding isn’t a concern.  But we live in a forest, and any amount of wind can change the landscape here; especially when the ground is saturated.

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The Solidago, goldenrod, has just begun to bloom.

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It looks as though the storm will make landfall far to our south, and the track no longer suggests it might travel northwards into Central Virginia.  Yet Florence remains a dangerous storm, and is absolutely huge.  We may start feeling its outer bands of rain and wind sometime tomorrow or Friday.

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Rose of Sharon

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Which made today all the sweeter.  Do you know the Japanese term, Wabi-Sabi?  The Japanese find beauty in the transience and ultimate imperfection of all phenomena.  The impermanence and changeability of the world around us heightens our appreciation of its beauty.  We can appreciate things while feeling a deep tenderness for their inherent imperfection.

I was pondering these things this morning as I wandered through our upper garden, wondering how it might appear in a day or so after wind and heavy rain have their way with it.  Already, our tall goldenrod and black-eyed Susans lean over into the paths, making them almost disappear in the abundance of growth.

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It is my first time wandering through the garden like this since I got a nasty insect bite last Friday afternoon.  It is still a mystery what bit me, as I was fully armored to work outdoors.  It was a small bite at first, but quickly blistered and swelled up to a massive angry red blotch that stretched several inches away from the original bite on my knee.  It has been a slow process of tending it, and I stayed indoors until yesterday, hoping to avoid another until this one was resolved.

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Ginger lily with orbs

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But today I was out in the early morning wetness, capturing the beauty of it, and trying to ignore the mosquitoes greeting me along the way.  I wanted to see everything and admire everything on the chance that the coming storm will shatter its early September magnificence.  It was the beautiful calm before the storm, and we have taken today to celebrate it.

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The rain was past and the day gilded with golden September sunshine when we set out along the Colonial Parkway to see the sky and watch the rising waters along the James and York Rivers.  If you’ve never seen the sky filled with enormous, rain shadowed clouds in the day or two before a hurricane approaches, you’ve missed one of the most beautiful spectacles of atmospheric art.

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Yorktown Beach, looking northwards towards Gloucester Point and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science

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The clouds are arrayed in regular, rhythmic patterns, punctuated here and there with towering, monstrous storm clouds.  The sky is blue and clear beyond them.  They float rapidly across the sky, these outer bands of the approaching storm.  These days of waiting are moody, morphing quickly from dull to golden and clear blue to stormy grey.

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One keeps an eye on the sky while pacing through the rituals of preparing.   There is an edge to the mood as highways fill with strangers moving northwards, inland, away from home and into an uncertain future.  We encountered one today at the next gas pump who needed to tell us he was traveling, just passing through, on his journey to somewhere safer than here.

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We found a nearby parking lot filled this morning with state police, huge generators, Klieg lights, and emergency response trailers.  The lot was filled at eight, but emptying out just a few hours later.  We’re still wondering where the equipment will ultimately end up.  We hope not here…

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Jones Mill Pond, near Yorktown on the Colonial Parkway

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I wondered whether the butterflies would move out ahead of the storm.  But we counted more than a dozen as we drove along the Parkway from Jamestown to Yorktown.   We saw mostly small ones, Sulphurs, but we were glad for their happy fluttering along the roadside.  We noticed the tide is already high along the way.  Jamestown Island is closed as preparations there continue.

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The rivers lap high up into the reeds, mostly covering the narrow, sandy river beaches.  The York River is already climbing the rip rap hardened banks constructed a few summers ago to protect the shoreline.  Small Coast Guard craft patrolled the river near Yorktown, but that didn’t deter a few families here and there, determined to enjoy this bright and sultry day at the beach.

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The York River, looking eastwards towards the Bay.

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The lizards were scampering around the drive and back steps when we returned home.  They’d been basking in the mid-day sun; our return disturbed their peace.

The squirrels had been at the grapes again, and we saw a pair of hummingbirds light in a Rose of Sharon tree nearby, watching us arrive.

It was too silent, though.  We didn’t hear the usual chatter of songbirds in the trees.  It was still, too.  Though the wind was blowing off the rivers, here the air hung heavy and still.

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Our Muscadine grapes are ripening over a long season.

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I believe in luck and omens, and perhaps that is why I planted a few little pots of Baptisia seeds this morning.  I’d knicked the seed pods from a plant I’ve watched growing all summer at the Botanical garden, and carried them in my pocket for weeks.

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With the seeds tucked into little pots out on the deck, I’m already thinking of the sprouts that will soon emerge.  Life goes on.  I believe that is the wisdom of wabi-sabi.

No matter the current circumstance, change is constant.  We can’t outrun it, or stop it.  Wisdom invites us to embrace it, observe its power, and find the ever-present beauty, come what may.

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This beautiful cluster of lichens was waiting for me beneath a shrub this morning.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
*  *  *
“To Taoism that which is absolutely still or absolutely perfect
is absolutely dead,
for without the possibility of growth and change there can be no Tao.
In reality there is nothing in the universe
which is completely perfect or completely still;
it is only in the minds of men that such concepts exist.”
.
Alan Watts

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“But when does something’s destiny finally come to fruition?
Is the plant complete when it flowers?
When it goes to seed? When the seeds sprout?
When everything turns into compost?”
.
Leonard Koren

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Begonia

 

Wild Life Wednesday On Thursday- Common Buckeye

This Common Buckeye looks quite uncommon to me… What colors!

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I gave my students half credit when their assignments came in a day late.  They nearly always offered a credible excuse that didn’t involve a hungry dog, too.

My credible excuse is that it was simply too hot and muggy to go around chasing butterflies or any other wild life yesterday.  We had a heat advisory in our part of Virginia, and by the time I finished watering the hanging baskets on the deck I was ready to call it a day and hide indoors.

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Today was much more promising for both working in the garden and for capturing butterfly portraits.  It meant a very early start this morning, but I joined our team at a  local garden with enthusiasm as we put in a few hours of watering, weeding, pruning, potting, and generally sprucing things up.  One of the naturalists among us was collecting seeds to package for events this fall.  And just as a few of us were standing around planning out our next task, I was blessed by a butterfly.

I’d been watching a beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail visiting the Zinnias growing nearby, when it floated over and landed on my wrist.  This lovely butterfly mesmerized me because it was going about its business with most of both of its hindwings missing.  It had escaped some dire mishap with its life, and even with damaged wings had the strength and determination to fly, feed, and even visit with me.

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A female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail feeds on Lantana in our own Forest Garden this morning.  The blue on the hindwings identifies the females.

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It landed partly on my watch, and curiously uncurled its proboscis to search for something nourishing.  I was so hot and sweaty at that point that my skin was probably a bit salty, and butterflies need salts and minerals.  That is why you may notice them ‘puddling’ on the ground around a seep or puddle, drinking the moisture they find there.

We watched in amazement as it tried to ‘drink’ from between the sections of my watch band.  I gently carried this little butterfly over to one of the nearby flowers, encouraged it to drink the nectar there, and it soon walked off of my wrist and onto the waiting flower.

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We continued working another hour surrounded by butterflies and goldfinches, enjoying the breeze on a beautiful August morning.

The mercury was climbing by the time I got back home to our own Forest Garden, but there was watering to do.  On these hot days, when it hasn’t rained, we schlep around hoses and watering cans to keep the pots and new transplants hydrated.  But the watering had to wait a bit longer today, because the butterflies were out in our garden too, enjoying the morning heat and delicious warm nectar.  I snapped a few photos to share.

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Along the way this morning I also teased a toad a bit when he came to bask in the overspray of the hose.  He loved the bit of mud I left for him.  There were hummingbirds and cardinals to keep me company as I made the circuit of the garden.

It was well past noon when my partner came out to suggest that maybe it was time to come inside.  By then I’d moved down to the shade of our fern garden, and there was still a good breeze.  We knew there was rain in the forecast for this evening.

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I sat awhile admiring it all, enjoying the breeze, and noticing the purple hue creeping across the berries on our beautyberry bush.  When the beautyberries turn color, we know that autumn approaches.

Which makes these late August days all the sweeter, and every visiting butterfly more precious.  They will feel the change in the air soon enough, and one day fly out of the garden, chasing summer’s warmth on their long journeys south.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Wild Life Wednesday: A Feast for Butterflies

A Silver Spotted Skipper enjoys Verbena bonariensis in our garden.

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This time of year I spend a lot of time hanging out with butterflies.  Once I spot one, I want to get as close as I dare, camera in hand, and just watch what it does and where it goes.  It’s funny how they are clearly aware of me, too.  Some are camera shy and fly up and off as soon as I begin to focus my lens on them.

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A Zebra Swallowtail takes flight as the female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys her Agastache nectar at the Heath’s Bulb Shop garden in Gloucester today.

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I have more than a few empty frames where a butterfly has flown away right as I click the photo.  Other butterflies appear to enjoy their modeling session, or at least tolerate my presence with the clicking, chiming camera.

I get almost giddy in a garden where a cloud of butterflies is busily feeding.  These lovely creatures seem quite content to share their nectar wealth, and light near one another companionably.

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My partner and I were visiting the display gardens at the Heath family’s Bulb Shop in Gloucester this morning.  We went outside and had just begun to look around when my partner called me over to the butterflies.  Perhaps six individuals were all feeding around the clear blue flowering spires of one large Agastache ‘Blue Fortune.’  We were spellbound.

We counted three different types of swallowtails, a Monarch and a sweet little hummingbird moth.

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A hummingbird moth shares the nectar with the Zebra Swallowtail butterflies.

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Now, in a place as nectar rich as a multi-acre display garden filled with perennials and flowering bulbs, wouldn’t you expect that the butterflies would be all spread out across the garden?  Would you really expect to see six individuals on a single plant, with lots of other flowering plants neglected?

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An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys Agastache ‘Rosey Posey’ at the Heath family gardens at their Bulb Shop.

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Eventually, we wandered a bit further into the garden to see what we could see on this sunshiny August morning.  The next butterfly activity was around the water feature which just happened to be ringed on one side with pots brimming with more Agastache.  This time I believe it was A. ‘Rosey Posey.’ 

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A water feature at Brent and Becky’s Bulb Shop in Gloucester, VA.

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And yes, I spotted another little hummingbird moth and an assortment of swallowtails. The many beds and pots and meadows and borders nearby didn’t have nearly the winged traffic as these pots of anise hyssop.  If you’ve grown it yourself, you know this is a tough perennial mint relative with fragrant leaves and non-stop flowers.  The nice thing about this perennial herb is its polite manners.  Even though it clumps and grows larger each year, it doesn’t run like most mints will do.

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We had a lovely clump, started from a plug, that perished sometime between November and April.  I was so disappointed that it didn’t return this summer and we have missed it.  I likely cut it back too early in the spring and it got zapped by a cold spell.  I waited too long this spring, giving it a chance to return, and didn’t admit until May that it was a goner.  And we have missed it!

If you are a butterfly enthusiast, you likely spend a good bit of time watching to see which plants the butterflies prefer.  Given a garden filled with flowers, where do they prefer to feed?

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This female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail feeds on Buddleia in our garden.

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What will attract the most butterflies?  If you are hoping to attract a good variety of butterflies, as we do, you likely want to plant lots of butterfly magnet plants to feed them over the longest season possible.

Another clear butterfly favorite is Lantana.  A friend and I were plant shopping together last month and headed for the gallon pots of Lantana.  We needed a number of them for a special event, and were astounded to see the entire display covered in beautiful butterflies.  We actually had to chase the bumblebees and butterflies off of the plants, once they were loaded into her car, so that we could close the back hatch.

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The female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly is dimorphic.  It can be either yellow or black. Watch when the sun shines through the wings of the black form. She can be identified because the tiger stripes are still visible with the wing illuminated from behind.  Females always have blue on their hindwings, and the males are solidly yellow with black markings.  This female feeds on Lantana in our garden.

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Buddleia, known as butterfly bush, earns its name, too.  Its panicles of richly colored sweet flowers are irresistible.  A bit rangy in its growth, it more than makes up for its habit with its spectacular flowers that keep blooming until frost.

The surprise butterfly magnet is perennial Verbena.  You likely have lots of butterflies on your annual Verbena in pots and baskets.  But the V. bonariensis in our garden attracts them even more than the Buddleia! 

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A female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail feeds on V. bonariensis in our garden.  Do you see the darker stripes on her upper wings?

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It is great fun to watch huge swallowtails land on these fragile looking little flowers seemingly floating in space, bobbing in the wind as they feed.  I expect the V. hastata that I planted last month will attract many butterflies, too, as it establishes and produces more blooms.

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It is a given that butterflies love herbs.  Beyond the Agastache, they seem to enjoy other mints, Monardas, basils, fennel, dill,  Salvias, and even chives!  I am delighted to see how happy the butterflies are to feed on the chives, blooming now, because they make for beautiful photos.  There are many, many plants where butterflies will feed:  Hibiscus and Echinacea, Aralia and crape myrtles, petunias and zinnias, cosmos and Rudbeckia.

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Chives

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We never tire of watching them.  We make a point to have pots and baskets of their favorites around the house where we can observe them from inside, and often pause near the windows to enjoy them for a few moments.  Butterflies speak to wild beauty and the inevitable cycles of nature.

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It is one of those koans of nature to realize both their fragility and their enormous strength.  They travel on incredibly long annual migrations and  survive in the face of perilous odds.

I appreciate them as a manifestation of living wabi-sabi– a fragile, fleeting beauty that we must appreciate in the eternal now, knowing full well that in an instant, they will fly away.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

*  *

“To Taoism that which is absolutely still or absolutely perfect is absolutely dead,
for without the possibility of growth and change
there can be no Tao.
In reality there is nothing in the universe
which is completely perfect or completely still;
it is only in the minds of men
that such concepts exist.”
.
Alan W. Watts

Wildlife Wednesday: A Feast For a Swallowtail

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You may count gluttony among those seven deadly sins, but our little Swallowtail didn’t get the memo.

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She was covered in so much wonderful sticky pollen by the time we spotted her, that we aren’t quite sure whether she is an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail or an Eastern Black Swallowtail.  Since no white spots are visible on her body, we suspect that she is the black form of the female Tiger Swallowtail.

From my perspective a bit under her, while she enjoyed this rose of Sharon flower, it looked as though she was lying on the flower’s pistol, straddling it with legs akimbo.  You can see the pollen on her body, legs and even wings.

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These rose of Sharon flowers, Hibiscus syriacus, must be enticingly delicious.  We watch the hummingbirds stop by these shrub several times a day.  Other, smaller butterflies and bees flew in and out and around while our Swallowtail feasted.

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These beautiful trees are easy to grow in full to partial sun and reasonably moist, but well-drained soil.  They self-seed readily and grow with little attention from a gardener.  We let them grow in several places around the garden because they are so beloved by our pollinators.

You will find many different rose of Sharon cultivars on the market.  We’ve found many different ones growing around our garden, with new seedlings showing up every summer.  Rose of Sharon trees begin to bloom when they are just a few years old.

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We may lose a tree or two a year, as they aren’t very long lived and grow on fairly shallow roots.  The largest one in our garden tops out at less than 20′ tall.  This is a good landscaping tree that won’t endanger foundation or roof if planted close to the house.  Growing it near a window provides hours of summer entertainment as the pollinators come and go.

Although it’s not native to Virginia, Hibiscus syriacus has naturalized here, and fills an important niche in our summer garden.

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It is both beautiful and generous, and we enjoy watching the many winged and wonderful creatures that it attracts throughout the year.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

. . .

“Similar to a butterfly,

I’ve gone through a metamorphosis,

been released from my dark cocoon,

embraced my wings,

and soared!”

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Dana Arcuri

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