Happy Feathery Friday

Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe

Great Spangled Fritillary

How do you pronounce it?  With the accent on the first syllable or the second?  Either way, it is a gorgeous butterfly.

Great Spangled Fritillary on Milkweed

This giant beauty often tricks the kids into thinking it’s a monarch because of its size and similar coloration. Monarch Sips from Joe Pye WeedBut when you pay attention, you see the markings are completely different. Fritillaries love to sip nectar from a wide variety of plants from late June through early September. Three months. Maybe a little bit more. That’s it. Hmm…

Whenever I see a butterfly or moth, I get curious about its life cycle.  Oh, I know they all start as an egg that hatches to become a caterpillar.  A butterfly caterpillar will pupate as a chrysalis, a moth in a cocoon.  Then the adult emerges, mates and lays more eggs.  We all learned that in grade school.

What I get curious about is how they spend the whole year… especially… what do they do in winter?

The Great Spangled Fritillary lays eggs singly on or near violets in late August or early September. The larva hatches in two to three weeks and eats a portion of its own egg case. Then, without eating another thing, it burrows down into the leaf litter and enters a state of diapause. This is how it will spend the winter.

When spring comes, the larva will make its way to munch on violet leaves and flowers – but only at night. During the day it burrows back under the leaf litter, away from the host plant.

Caterpillar by Tom Murray
Caterpillar by Tom Murray – click photo to go to source

The caterpillar will attach itself under a rock or log and pupate; the adult will emerge in late June after two or three weeks.

Now do you know what I’m curious about?  I learned all this by reading books and articles on the Internet.  I want to know – who figured this out, and how? Monarchs are so “public” in all stages of their life cycle. As caterpillars they munch boldly in broad daylight. They pupate right before our eyes dangling in plain sight from a stem. They emerge and nectar and migrate and lay eggs – all as if it is a show for our pleasure.

But the Fritillary – public only in its nectaring… lays eggs close to the ground… I’ve never seen that. The caterpillar munches secretively – at night – then disappears during the day… Who discovered that? The chrysalis – hidden under a log or rock… Who thought to look there?

In my next life, I want to be that scientist.

Learn more:

Visiting Camp

Now that Maddie can drive, I don’t get to visit Camp Timbercrest as often.  But I have been down a couple of times to pick up Emily on evenings when Maddie has to stay.  Last night, I went straight to camp after work hoping for some good evening light…  Clouds confounded me much of the time … but I got a couple of shots that aren’t too bad:

American Goldfinch
It was really fun to watch several American Goldfinches flitting around in the grasses. They really seemed to like the Timothy Grass best. It always amazes me how they can perch on a stalk of grass and it doesn’t bend to the ground; they weigh so little.  There must have been nests nearby, but I couldn’t find one.  (Goldfinches are the last bird to breed in our region.)

Twelve-spotted Skimmer
This Twelve-Spotted Skimmer kept flying just out of reach, or behind some grasses. Finally I got a clear shot. In the field, I thought it was a female. But when I got it home on the computer, I can see the white spots starting to come in, so now I think it is a male teneral.

Song Sparrows and Indigo Buntings refused to come out into the light, or close enough, or sit still… But they were fun to watch.

A Cooperative Bird

As we come around the corner, a binocular-clad couple tells us that we are about to see a Green Heron in the next pond.  I’m nervous that the flip-flop-flip-flop of Patty’s sandals will startle it.  Maybe we will be lucky enough to see it take off…

But no…  This bird has no fear…  it doesn’t mind putting on a show for group after group of people walking by.

Green Heron

I know that Green Herons are tool-using birds.  I’ve read that they will wiggle bait of various kinds on the surface of the water to lure small fish, which they then nab.  I’m hoping we’ll see some of that action…

We see the stealthy walk and the intense, focused gaze.  We watch as he grabs and swallows tidbit after tidbit… no baiting necessary.

As we watch, another couple joins us… camera-clad this time… They snap pictures, too.

Too bad we all have busy schedules and places to be…