Akeley Swamp: (Butterflies and) Wildflowers!

Our first attempt to see butterflies at Akeley Swamp was a washout.  We kinda knew it would be, which is why we didn’t bother with cameras.  But the wildflowers were riotous and the potential was great, so we planned to return in a couple of days when the forecast was more promising.

My car thermometer read 47 degrees and the valley was full of mist.  I got there an hour before the other two.  I took a leisurely stroll up the trail and I photographed lots of flowers without the distraction of contrast-y sunshine.

More true confessions:  I don’t hike much in summer because I don’t tolerate the heat well and the bugs absolutely love me.  So, some of the flowers along this trail were strangers to me!  I was delighted by the cool temperatures and the opportunity to learn them.

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Wild Phlox

In spring, I have to tell folks all the time that Dame’s Rocket is not Wild Phlox. I explain that Dame’s Rocket is a 4-petaled flower and Phlox has five petals… But until visiting Akeley in summer, I hadn’t ever seen Phlox – at least not that I remember.

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Wild Phlox

Some of the plants had sparser blooms. I’m still not sure if they are a different variety, or just a younger, less robust plant.  It seems this variety had white blooms, while the other plants had pink.

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This St John’s Wort was familiar to me. I see it all over the place, along roadsides, in fields.  I know several other varieties, too, but didn’t find them at Akeley.  But this one:

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St John’s Wort

This taller, bolder St John’s Wort was completely new to me!

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Alfalfa

I puzzled for quite some time trying to figure this one out. Leaves kind of like clover. Blossoms like peas. Turns out, it’s alfalfa.  Thanks to Kathleen for helping with that ID.

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Mystery Flower

I still don’t know what this one is. If you know, please tell me!
UPDATE:  Duh!  The Mystery Flower is Purple Loosestrife… I just didn’t recognize it with so few blossoms open.  Thanks to the folks on Flickr in the ID Please group for helping me out.  (https://www.flickr.com/photos/jenniferschlick/19572581449/)

There were also plenty of old friends:

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Tall Meadow Rue

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Common Milkweed

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Swamp Milkweed

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Queen Anne’s Lace (aka Wild Carrot)

IMG_5249-Purple Loosestrife

Purple Loosestrife

IMG_5236-Elderberry

Elderberry

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Cardinal Flower

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Chicory

My friends, Barbara Ann the Monarch Mama, and Jeff Zablow of wingedbeauty.com joined me as the fog was burning off and the insects were coming out. Of course, insects, unlike wildflowers, aren’t likely to sit still long enough for me to photograph… But I did get a couple:

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Ebony Jewelwing (a damselfly, not a butterfly!)

I saw three or four species of butterflies. (Jeff saw many more – but then – he’s experienced!) This is the only one that posed long enough for me to get the camera set up and shoot:

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Viceroy

Many thanks to friends who lure me away from desk to go exploring nature!

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Jeff Zablow: scouting butterflies

Jeff will be the First Friday Lunch Bunch speaker at Jamestown Audubon in June 2016! He promises to take us on a Butterfly Walk after his indoor presentation.

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Barb: the Monarch Mama

Akeley Swamp is a part of the Pennsylvania State Game lands. Be careful and wear blaze orange if you hike there during hunting season. It is also designated by Audubon Pennsylvania as an official IBA (Important Bird Area) because it is a stop over for water-loving birds during migration.

Learn more:

Map:

Butterflies

I’ve heard from many about a dearth of butterflies this season. While at Audubon for bird banding, I put the long lens on the camera to see who I could find. I was pleased to find several species!

I kept watching to see if this Monarch (Danaus plexippus) would lay some eggs on the swamp milkweed. A closer look leads me to believe it is a male, however…
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A Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele) also visited the Swamp Milkweed, though it never turned around for a proper portrait.
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Over in the grasses and cattails of Spatterdock Pond I found this Little Wood Satyr (Megisto cymela):
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I kept hoping it would pose with its wings open… best I could get was this out-of-focus shot:
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Speaking of out-of-focus shots, this was the best I could get of this Skipper. I tried to key it out using Kaufman’s Field Guide to Butterflies of North America. I think it might be a Little Glassywing (Pompeius verna), but if someone out there wants to dispute it, I’m wide open! I’m only just now starting to try to know the butterflies!
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There was another skipper over in the meadow which I think is a European Skipper (Thymelicus lineola) – only because Kaufman says its larva eat Timothy and other grasses and that’s what I found it on. But again, if you know for sure, please leave a comment! There are SO MANY skippers and most are orange.
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I found I had a better picture of it from last year!
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Speaking of lots of similar orange butterflies, you should take a browse through the Fritillary section of a butterfly guide! The markings on this one look most similar to the Silver-Bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene).
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We saw their caterpillars this spring, and now the adults are emerging everywhere at Audubon. The Baltimore Checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton) has to be one of the most photograph-able species I’ve seen. They were just sitting – posing, “I’m ready for my closeup.” Even when I had to move away some grasses and leaves to get a clear shot, they just sat there waiting.
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The underside is really pretty, too.  Look at this one playing hide and seek; you can barely see him behind the grass. (Ha!)
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And one last species for the day – a Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa). This one teased me by landing first on my pant leg, then on my shirt. Eventually it flew off to a spot on the other side of the field. I followed and found it clinging upside down.
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Tiger Swallowtail

One year when we attended the Allegany Nature Pilgrimage, it was impossible to pass an entire hour without seeing a Tiger Swallowtail.

Tiger Swallowtail

I’ve been seeing them around here for a couple of weeks now, so I anticipate there will be lots at Allegany State Park where the pilgrimage is held every year on the weekend after Memorial Day.  Since the naturalists are expected to know everything about everything (hahaha) I thought I better read up on this beautiful species.  Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

The females aren’t always yellow!  They can arrive in a couple of different color morphs.  The picture at right is from Wikipedia and shows several color variations.

Wikipedia also suggests that the dark morph protects the female from predation because it resembles the poisonous Pipevine Swallowtail, which probably doesn’t do it much good up here in the northeast.  The Pipevine is a southern species!

Speaking of protection from predation, the early instars of the caterpillar look like bird poop.  Who would want to eat that??

This photo by Todd Stout can be found over at the amazing website devoted to butterflies and moths of North America. Click the photo to go see!

Later instars get all green and bulky and have spots that resemble eyes. The last instar just before pupation is brown. Check out this photo by Tom LeBlanc:

Tiger Swallowtail caterpillar – late instar – by Tom LeBlanc

The caterpillars eat tree leaves from several species of trees including black cherry and willow among others. Adults sip nectar from flowers. There will be two broods of these lovelies up here in the north, three down south. The chrysalis is the part that overwinters.

Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) butterfly pupa

Tiger Swallowtail chrysalis – photo by Dean Morley

I’m sure I’ll have no trouble spotting adults at the pilgrimage. But now that I know so much about the other life stages, I’ll be keeping my eyes open for them! Wouldn’t it be cool to come across a cat or chrysalis?

Read more:

ASP – Day Two

On my second day at the Park I decided to try a more challenging chunk of trail.  After all my troubles with my back and knees this winter, I was a little worried, but I managed OK!  I started at ASP 3 and hiked north along the North Country / Finger Lakes Trail.  This section of trail is very rocky at the beginning and very steep.  My heart was pumping hard!  Toward the crest the snow became deeper and covered the trail making my footing a bit unstable, so I turned back.  Still, I was on the trail for three and a half hours, taking loads of pictures – many of which I’m not ready to show… yet!

If hikes have themes, this hike was all about macros, scat, and butterflies.

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Honey Mushroom rhizomorphs (Armillaria mellea)

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A fallen log, covered with sapsucker holes that were beginning to be covered with moss.

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I’m pretty sure this was fox scat.

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And this is probably from a coyote.

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I have no idea what this is, but there were at least a couple of piles of it and Lolli felt obliged to roll in it.  Very odoriferous!

There was also plenty of deer and turkey scat, which I didn’t photograph…

As the sun warmed up the air, the Mourning Cloaks began their bouncy flight all around me. Most of them teased and would not allow a photo. This poor tattered thing rested long enough for me to close.

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Large-Medium-Small

I took a hike on Saturday along the Chautauqua Rails To Trails – the Nancy B. Diggs Nature Trail section from Hannum Road to Route 430.  It was quite a day for butterflies.  During the drive to the trailhead and all along the trail I saw dozens of migrating Monarchs.

Monarch - Wingspan 3 3/8 - 4 7/8 inches

So large when flying, I have sometimes mistaken them for small birds, Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) are pretty easy to identify.  Most people know about their amazing life cycle, munching on milkweed as caterpillars, creating the most beautiful chrysalises of all the butterflies, then emerging as a large, sturdy adults.  Those born early in the spring may migrate north or stay put.  If the adult emerges late enough in summer, it will attempt a very long migration south to Mexico.  Several generations of Monarchs are produced in a year and somehow that last generation “knows” its way to Mexico.  Blows my mind.

When the trail took me into the woods, another orange and black butterfly caught my eye, not as large as the Monarch, but also a strong flyer.

Eastern Comma - wingspan 1 3/4 - 2 1/2 inches

Eastern Commas (Polygonia comma) produce two generations in a year.  The adults we see at this time of year will hibernate through the winter, then emerge to fly and lay eggs in spring through the end of April.  From these eggs comes the summer generation.  These adults will fly from May through September and will lay eggs that become the winter form.  Caterpillars dine on all members of the elm and nettle families.  Adults eat rotting fruit and tree sap.

I was almost back to my car when I saw the third and smallest black and orange butterfly.

Pearl Crescent - wingspan 1 1/4 - 1 3/4 inches

Pearl Crescents (Phyciodes tharos) produce several generations throughout the summer months.  As winter approaches, third stage caterpillars will enter hibernation.  Adults sip nectar from a wide variety of wildflowers.  Caterpillars munch on asters.

In preparing this post, I found a wonderful website – Butterflies and Moths of North America.  Check out these links:

My Job Rocks

Sometimes, my job just totally rocks:

Tagged and ready for release!

I’m working with the 3rd graders at Fletcher Elementary School this year. Our first unit is butterflies. They will be raising the Painted Ladies that so many kids do, but in addition, they have a bunch of monarchs, too. (Thank you, Barb!!!)

So far, we have tagged and released 9 adults. There are lots more caterpillars and chrysalises in the classroom, so there will be plenty more that get tagged!

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: