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Archive for the ‘Butterflies’ Category

Nature photographers need to know their punctuation marks well. Last week I spotted an Eastern Comma butterfly (Polygonia comma) and this week on Monday I spotted its “cousin,” a Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I have always wondered what was going through the mind of the person that chose the official name of a given species. What caused them to focus on a particular characteristic in choosing the name? Was the person who named these butterflies a grammarian?

In the case of the Question Mark butterfly, the best identifying mark is visible only when the wings are closed. The Question Mark has white markings which more or less resemble a question mark (?) on the underside of its hindwings. (Check out the natureblog.org posting “A Question Mark, a Comma, and a Question of Origin,” to see examples of these markings.)

The good news is that there is also a way to identify a Question Mark when its wings are open—the Question Mark has four black spots in a line on each of its upper wings with the outermost spot somewhat elongated, as you can see in the first photo below.

For the sake of comparison, I am reprising a photo from last week of an Eastern Comma butterfly. I flipped it 180 degrees so it is easier to spot the differences. If you look at the butterfly in the second photo, you can see that there are only three spots on each of the upper wings, which makes it a Comma, rather than a Question Mark. (One sharp viewer last week suggested that they should have more appropriately named the butterfly with the three spots the “Ellipsis Butterfly” rather than the Eastern Comma Butterfly.) In case you are curious about the reasons for the “comma,” the butterfly has markings that look sort of like a comma (,) on the underside of its hindwings that are visible when the wings are closed.

 

Question Mark butterfly

Question Mark butterfly

 

Eastern Comma butterflyy

Eastern Comma butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Today I was thrilled to spot another species of butterfly, the aptly named Spring Azure butterfly (Celastrina ladon), while exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This tiny butterfly is only about an inch (25 mm) in size and I was therefore a little surprised to be able to capture some of its details with my 150-600mm lens cranked all the way out to 600mm.

It shouldn’t be long before I see my first damselfly or dragonfly, given the spring-like weather and temperatures today forecast to reach over 70 degrees (21 degrees C).


Spring Azure butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday was a beautiful spring-like day and I went on a long hike at Prince William Forest Park, the largest protected natural area in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region at over 16,000 acres. It felt like the perfect weather for finding dragonflies, but it is still a bit too early for them.

I was, however, quite excited to get my first shots this year of a butterfly, an Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma). I saw my first butterfly, which was probably of the same species, a couple of weeks ago, but was unable to react quickly enough to take its photo, so it did not “count.” During yesterday’s hike, I spotted six or seven of these little butterflies, but only the first one was cooperative enough to stay still for a portrait.

Eastern Comma butterflies are members a small group of butterflies in our area that emerge in the autumn and overwinter as adults. Other species in that group including the similar-looking Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) and the Mourning Cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa). When its wings are open, like the one in the photo, it is easy to tell that a butterfly is an Eastern Comma if it has three dark spots in a row on each of its front wings, rather than the four spots found on a Question Mark. (For more information about the two similar species, I recommend a wonderful article at trekohio.com entitled “Butterflies That Punctuate: The Eastern Comma and the Question Mark.”)

Eastern Comma

Eastern Comma

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At the end of each year I am faced with a decision about whether to do a review of the year and/or select my favorite photos. Some years I have done a selection based on the number of views received; some years I have chosen my personal favorites; and some years I have opted to do no yearly retrospective whatsoever.

This year I went through my postings month by month and selected two photos for each month. Rather than give an explanation for each selection, I have provided links to the postings themselves to make it easier for interested readers to see the images in the context of the original postings that often include additional photos and explanatory information.

This has been a rewarding year for me in so many ways and I have had a lot of wonderful experiences capturing images. Thanks so much to all of you for your support and encouragement. Stay tuned for part two, which should appear in the next few days.

 

Northern Cardinal

January 16, 2019 Cardinal in the snow (https://michaelqpowell.com/2019/01/16/cardinal-in-the-snow-3/

 

winter sunrise

February 4, 2019 Reflected sunrise colors (https://michaelqpowell.com/2019/02/04/reflected-sunrise-colors/)

 

mountains in Germany

February 22, 2019 Mountain views in Germany (https://michaelqpowell.com/2019/02/22/mountain-views-in-germany/)

 

 

Northern Mockingbird

March 30, 2019 Mockingbird seeking seeds (https://michaelqpowell.com/2019/03/30/mockingbird-seeking-seeds/)

 

 

Uhler's Sundragon

April 12, 2019 Uhler’s Sundragon dragonfly (https://michaelqpowell.com/2019/04/12/uhlers-sundragon-dragonfly/)

 

 

 

 

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

June 24, 2019 Hummingbird Moth (the posting was on 2 July, but the photo was taken on June 24) (https://michaelqpowell.com/2019/07/02/hummingbird-moth/)

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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As I was wandering about Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge earlier this week, I was struck by the large number of Common Buckeye butterflies (Junonia coenia) that I observed. Not only were there a lot of them, many of them appeared to be in almost pristine condition, unlike the tattered survivors of other butterfly species that are hanging on this late in the season.

I decided to do a little research and learned from bugguide.net that Common Buckeyes have two to three broods throughout the year from May to October. I had suspected that was the case and that helps to explain the “fresh” condition of the butterflies that I observed. What was a little more surprising to learn was that, “Adults from the south’s first brood migrate north in late spring and summer to temporarily colonize most of the United States and parts of southern Canada.”

I don’t know if the Common Buckeye butterflies in my area will migrate south to avoid the freezing temperatures that will soon be upon us or if they will remain with us. In either case, I love to see these little butterflies and marvel at the way that their colors fit in with nature’s autumn color palette.

Common Buckeye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When they keep their wings closed, some butterflies match their surroundings so well that they are almost invisible. Question Mark butterflies (Polygonia interrogationis) look like dead leaves and at this time of the year there are plenty of fallen leaves littering the landscape.

It was impossible for me to me the distinctive autumn colors of this Question Mark when I spotted it earlier this month at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  I had to back up a bit in order to focus on the butterfly with my telephoto zoom lens and I actually had trouble seeing it when it decided to close its wings. Fortunately it spread its wings a little bit and I was able to capture the second image below.

A month or so ago it seemed like there were more dragonflies than butterflies, but now the ratio seems to have shifted. Butterflies, especially Common Buckeyes, are still flying in good numbers, while the quantity of dragonflies continues to drop.

Question Mark

Question Mark

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Butterflies in October? October has been a crazy month weather-wise in Northern Virginia where I live. Yesterday we had a record high temperature of 98 degrees (37 degrees C) and it feels a lot more like summer than autumn. Therefore it did not seem at all strange that I saw lots of butterflies on Tuesday when I visited Huntley Meadows Park.

I spent quite a while chasing after this beautiful little butterfly, which I think is an Orange Sulphur butterfly (Colias eurytheme). Most of the time the butterfly would perch sidewards and then fly away when I tried to circle around to get a better angle for a shot. I was thrilled when I finallly managed to capture this image with the butterfly’s wings partially open. I also like the way that the light helped to illuminate some of the details in the wings.

I look forward to the cooler autumn weather that will eventually come, but for now I am continuing to enjoy some of the delights of this endless summer.

Orange Sulphur

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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