Red-banded Hairstreak

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I had been thrilled to see butterflies on our walk, but I was ecstatic to see this tiny hairstreak. It has been a bad year for photographing hairstreaks. They’re not terribly common in some of the places I photograph regularly. The frequent grass trimming and lack of appropriate food keeps the numbers low. But there are usually at least a few flitting about, and this year I’ve seen a grand total of two. So when I saw the brilliant flash of blue and red, I squealed.

“What?!?!” my friend asked, no doubt thinking I’d seen a doubloon or at least something poisonous.

“It’s a hairstreak!!” I bubbled, while slithering through the middle of a flower garden on knees and elbows to get closer.

“Um, ok!” my friend responded, having picked up that a “hairstreak” was some type of butterfly. Pal and fellow photographer that she is, she gamely turned to keep an eye out for incoming wedding guests and anyone official who might not appreciate having a small woman with a large camera become embedded in the zinnias.

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Hairstreaks got their name from the thin tails on their back wings. These hairlike extensions resemble antenna to predators (see the white tips), and help trick anything wanting tiny butterfly for its meal into going for the wrong end.

 

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The most impressive and colorful part of this disguise is, to me, the eye spots and brilliant patch of iridescent blue scales on the hairstreak’s wings. When feeding or resting, the hairstreak rubs its back wings together, making the highly visible blue dots appear and keeping the antenna in motion. A little pearlescent showy display never hurt a butterfly trying to separate himself from the crowd and attract a mate either, and neither does the pheromones released by males from rubbing their wings together.

It was a great photo shoot. Well worth a few stares from passing bridesmaids. 🙂

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Painted Ladies

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This year, painted lady butterflies migrated in such numbers that they showed up as a 70 mile cloud on radar over Colorado.

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We didn’t have the numbers that Denver reported, but the painted ladies were happy to pose for photographs. 🙂

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Painted ladies are migratory, but the patterns aren’t always consistent and the numbers certainly aren’t. In that respect, they’re a wee bit like me… as I consider booking holiday travel and hum “should I stay or should I go?” For me, there’s dozens of factors to consider: traveling with a few random medical conditions is a little tricky. Scary as that is, we probably know even less of the factors that influence butterflies’ migration. Wind? Weather patterns? Availability of food? Lack of predators this year… and if so, why is that? Sun or magnetic fields or some sort of chemical trail or what as a navigation device? Either way, they seem to be better with their navigation that I am sometimes. I got us lost on the way home.

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One Thing I Learned

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I was innocently reading a web page and abruptly ran into a challenge: What have you learned from being chronically ill? What has changed for the better? The challenge was given with the protestation that this wasn’t about being all Pollyanna about the miseries of being chronically ill, but when they looked back on their journeys, there had been positives.

I know there have been in positives in my life due to chronic pain and illness, and one of the changes I’m embarrassed to admit. Most who follow my blog might, by now, have picked up that I like nature. Maybe, perhaps, I’m a wee bit nuts about it! I enjoy taking pictures of colorful but still very buggy bugs routinely. I was raised to enjoy the outdoors and when my dad handed me a Nikon film camera when I was a tween and started to explain the magic of photography, I was hooked. But when I first moved over 2000 miles from my tiny coastal village to a large landlocked city, I had a pretty horrendous attidude about their version of the “outdoors.”

It was a city. It had parks. With smooth asphalt paths and a few carefully marked, well-traveled, wide “nature trails”—code for something that often had little educational signs periodically and maybe even pooper bag dispensers. The trails were all easy, and almost everyone on them believed that they were really experiencing nature or “hiking.” I did one park’s trails 3 times before lunch one day and then gave up, disgusted. I went through three different sporting goods stores before I found one that had hiking boots. The stores did have ATVs though, to make it easier to pack out after a successful hunting trip—or perhaps to pack in an adequate amount of beer for the trip. There was some good hiking several hours’ drive away, but I had been used to literally walking 10 minutes from my house and finding my way around a preserve on trails that no one had ever bothered to label. Even in my master’s program, everyone escaped into the mountains every chance they got and some also for some chances that probably weren’t really chances but just phosphenes from squinting too hard for a second. Didn’t matter. They were “outdoorsy” and proud of it, and that didn’t just mean ties with pictures of deer on them.

Now, I did think that it was cool that there were accessible trails and playsets and treehouses scattered about, but I’m ashamed to admit that I thought pretty much every trail in the city was accessible. I had a plenty of scorn and very little consideration for anyone who believed differently,

And then I went from having a condition that was supposed to be permanently fixed to having a condition that was less fixed to having multiple surgeries and diagnoses and needing help to make it to the bathroom. My world drew in on itself, and I was so sick I didn’t even notice the suffocating snugness of it until it was practically skin-tight. I couldn’t walk far at first, but eventually I began to stagger around one of those little looped asphalt paths. Those tiny jewel-like parks meant a lot more to me.

A lot of my butterfly photographs are taken at parks like those, a couple hundred acres of playing fields and playsets. Some of them have woods and natural areas—fields left to grow wild, ancient trees with the scars of past disasters still visible in their trunks. With a bit of care and a long-range lens, many of my photographs give the impression that I’m much farther in the wilderness that I actually am.

I learned that not all the trails I had thought were “accessible” were really accessible at all. I learned that there were many different ways to appreciate nature, and not all of them involved putting on a pack and hiking. My world had shrunk to me like a cotton shirt that had accidentally been washed on the hot cycle—now, with the help of friends and parks and ramps and door paddles and elevators, it began to slowly stretch out again. I appreciated the kindness of the people who graded the difficulty of the trails and made some short loops—bugger my old self, so proud at being able to do them all in a morning! My old self was an ass. The one place where there should be plenty of room for everyone—our parks—I was perhaps the most judgemental about sharing in any meaningful way with people less fortunate than I.  There was room at those parks both for people wanting to take a nature walk and for people like me to lap them. The only place that hadn’t had room was my mind.

I’m still learning. I hope not to stop learning any time soon, either. I hope I’m not so arrogant now as to think that I’ve mastered the art of empathizing with others, or that I’ve suddenly solved the problems of accessibility in public nature preserves. I also still find myself thinking that many people in the city need to redefine what they think of as “wilderness” and “hike” yet, too. I’m not quite so far from my old self as I’d like to be! But neither, thanks to chronic illness, am I the same smarmy, scornful girl of five years ago who mocked trails that were less than a mile and had handrails. For that, I am grateful.

Monarchs

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These are from the second week in October. I was so thrilled to find monarchs! Here they migrate south for the winter, and although they do have a flight in October it’s still pretty rare to get a good picture. The unusually warm weather for the first part of fall helped

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Monarchs live the longest of any butterfly in my area – up to 10 months.

 

 

 

Skippers

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Somehow I ran out of summer. Just like that. The trees are starting to change from deep summer green to the lighter green of early fall, with the first yellows and reds starting to peep through the curtain.

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Thankfully we haven’t had a hard frost yet, so when I grabbed my camera and went for a walk one evening there were still skippers dancing on the flowers. Wonder of wonders, a few even held still long enough for me to snap a few quick photos.

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The conundrum of summer and fall is that the butterflies like it warm, but I have a hard time with heat. When it gets cool enough for me, only the few and the brave are left. Here’s hoping the weather remains at that perfect fall balance for a few more weeks.

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Spicebush Swallowtails

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The spicebush was one of the first butterflies I took a picture of when I started this journey three years ago, and so holds something of a special place in my heart. My  sister, with that clear-eyed insight and hard-edged compassion she’s always had, realized I needed something. (Compassion, you might think, is not hard-edged at all; no, it should be soft and warm. Not so. When properly applied, without pity or condescension, it has the density and force of a cheerfully-thrown brick.)

Never much one for gardening herself, she knew my love of dirt and flowers. She hauled me off to the local stores, where we spent a few giddy hours picking out brightly colored things. By the next evening I had a balcony garden, complete with flower boxes, chairs, fairy lights, and a citronella candle in a fat blue pail.

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We sat out there, eating ice cream, smacking at the mosquitoes who apparently considered citronella “seasoning,” and watching fireflies. We were both college students, but — “think of it as my birthday present to you,” she said, and dumped a check onto a bookcase.

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Although it must have been odd to a butterfly to abruptly happen upon that bit of fanciful color suspended three stories in the air, they quickly adapted and visited my little garden routinely over that long summer. One of those first pictures turned into the front image of my blog. I’ve moved from that place, and the fairy lights are bagged and boxed, awaiting their next destination. But I’ll always associate spicebush swallowtails — always flitting forward even while feeding, their iridescent wings flashing defiantly in the sun (they only resemble a toxic butterfly, but they aren’t poisonous themselves, you see) — with hope and overwhelming kindness.

 

Skipper on Ironweed

 

DSC_0030There’s an inherent risk with bug photography.

The story behind these shots: I hadn’t been completely sure if I would be able to go out and take pictures the day these were taken. Busy day, strong winds, etc. But I brought my camera. What I forgot… bug spray.

I got a few shots of skippers and a blurred picture of a giant yellow swallowtail for the cost of over 60 bug bites. That’s the point when I stopped counting as I sprayed, creamed, and bandaged the worst of them before heading into class.

Oops.

Do bug photography, prepare to get bitten.

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First Fall Monarch

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I was at the end of a walk, feeling a little tired and disappointed about not getting very many good pictures for all the weight of the camera I’d lugged along, when suddenly a bright orange shape winged above my head. The first monarch of fall. It landed high on a tree and tested its wings against the wind. Shiny, almost tentative, and with nary a scratch or peck on its scaled wings, it must have been a relatively young butterfly.

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I grabbed a couple of quick shots before my long-range lens – and my arms! – gave out, then headed back with the start of fall’s glorious copper flame dancing over my head.

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Flying Sulphurs

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I rarely catch butterflies in flight. Each beat of delicate gossamer wings somehow shoots them in another direction with the randomness of a toddler on pixie sticks.

Some days, though, if you want to take a picture of a butterfly, you have no choice but to follow the dancing, capricious flight through bramble and briar.

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And then, at the end of a merry and largely fruitless t- but enjoyable – chase that left my boots full of seed pods, the sulphur went back to the neatly paved path. 🙂

A sulphur on sulphur.