Birding Notes

Reflections on birds and other wildlife on the edge of a southern woodland

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Tiger Swallowtails, Silver-spotted Skippers and a Monarch

It’s getting to the time of year when I often watch butterflies and other insects almost as much as birds, since most birds are so quiet. Tiger Swallowtails, like this one Clate captured in a photograph, are the most noticeable butterflies around our yard right now. There’s almost always at least one or two floating through the trees or feeding on the blooms of a butterfly bush.

I enjoy the butterflies purely because they’re beautiful, of course – and often the greatest pleasure is in discovering the delicate colors and patterns of some that appear very plain at first glance. Learning to know them and recognize them is fun, and very similar to the joys of birding. And the colorful, sometimes fanciful and evocative names of butterflies alone might be enough to tempt me into watching them.

Red-spotted Purples are common around our yard – black butterflies with iridescent blue along the back edges of their wings and prominent red-orange spots on the undersides of their wings. Cloudless Sulphurs and Sleepy Orange butterflies flutter along the roadsides and over the Old Field on the edge of our neighborhood. And I might also expect to find Black Swallowtails, Buckeyes, Gulf Fritillaries, Viceroys, maybe an American Painted lady, and smaller, more subtly colored ones like Eastern Tailed Blues, Gray Hairstreaks and Common Wood Satyrs – all of which I’ve seen here in previous summers, but this year, especially lately, I’ve been preoccupied and haven’t been watching for them yet. I’m sure I’ve missed a lot.

Late this afternoon – a hot, humid, sunny day with a bleached blue sky and big white cumulous clouds – I went out to see what I could find. In the yellow-blooming lantana around the mailbox were several Silver-spotted Skippers, Fiery Skippers and at least two Common Sooty-wings. But the surprise of the day was to find a bright orange Monarch Butterfly feeding in the purple blooms of a butterfly bush along with a Tiger Swallowtail, several small bumblebees and a honeybee.


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