Thursday, August 22, 2019

Visits By Butterflies

One perk for us stay-in-Princeton types in the summer is the fabulous display of native flowers--the tall, lanky sort that are like slo-mo fireworks, growing, growing, then bursting forth with a show of color. My backyard is filled with them, and I make a point of going out there not only to appreciate their extraordinary work, but also to see what sorts of insects they attract. Achieve a certain stillness, forget all the other things left undone, and a whole new world may open up. In its own miniature way, insect life can be as surprising and compelling as a trip to exotic lands.

Butterflies are a good entry point. Mimi, a friend of this blog, sent me an email, excited about having seen a common wood nymph. She didn't have a camera the first time, but it returned and she was able to get a photo with her phone. Thanks, Mimi! She noted that it was hanging out around the black-eyed susans, morning glories and beebalm, and that the host plant is purple top, a common native grass in our fields.

I haven't seen a wood nymph, but have had visits from a common buckeye, maybe because we have bottlebrush buckeyes in the garden. This one's visiting a boneset, a plant that hosts a whole ecosystem of insects and spiders this time of year.

The upswing in monarch numbers has created more opportunities for magical moments. (This one's visiting ironweed.) Their flight is extraordinary to watch. There's the strength, speed and agility they display when chasing each other, and then there's the way they navigate a garden. A couple evenings ago, one came and stayed awhile. The garden surrounds our patch of grass, so to stand on the lawn and watch a monarch weaving in and out and over the flowered landscape, seeming to check out every plant yet rarely landing and then just for a sip, is like standing at the center of a merry go round. There's a whimsical, carnival ride quality to its flight, as it darts, then coasts, then darts again, changing direction on a dime. It flies with extraordinary confidence, yet seems unsure where it wants to go. This may simply be a matter of my not understanding its motivations. Whatever its aims, there's a feeling of blessing when a monarch comes to the garden. It lives up to its name, for long with the whimsy is a regal, ambassadorial quality, as it graces each plant with its presence before moving quickly on to the next.

Maybe this year I will finally learn the different sorts of swallowtails. This one appears to be a male two-tailed swallowtail, visiting a giant cup-plant in our backyard.

From the link, it looks that females have more blue.

Another magical moment this summer came unexpectedly while clearing trails at Herrontown Woods of debris. Deep in the woods, I lifted a stick and up flew what seemed like a large moth, the size of a monarch but white, pale like a luna moth but squarish in overall shape. It flew up into the canopy and disappeared. Its presence was reassuring, a sign that something of nature's depth persists in our altered world.

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