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Archive for the ‘Butterflies’ Category

I was a bit surprised and absolutely delighted to see my first Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) of the year yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I love to see these colorful butterflies, but each year it is a bit of a hit-or-miss proposition, as habitats for Monarchs continue to be threatened and their numbers seem to be declining.

Monarch butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Although I enjoy photographing large, colorful butterflies, like the Zebra Swallowtail that I featured in a recent posting, I also love to photograph smaller, more nondescript butterflies. I spotted this pretty little Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus) during a visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and chased it about as it gathered nectar from several early spring wildflowers.

There are over 3500 species of skipper butterflies worldwide, according to Wikipedia, and the Silver-spotted Skipper is one of the few that I can reliably identify. Many of the others that I see are so similar in appearance that I have to pore over identification guides to try to figure out what kind they are. Often I end up guessing and am wrong just about as often as I am right in identifying a skipper.

Silver-spotted Skipper

Silver-spotted Skipper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was thrilled to capture this image of an Eastern Comma butterfly (Polygonia comma) during a recent visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. When its wings are closed, this butterfly blends right in with the bark of the trees on which it frequently perches, so it was nice that it chose to perch on some green leaves.

Eastern Comma

Eastern Comma

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Zebra Swallowtail butterflies (Eurytides marcellus) are amazingly skittish. They fly all about, approaching plants as though they were planning to land and then change course at the last moment. I was thrilled during a recent trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge when this beautiful Zebra Swallowtail landed on a small wildflower and stayed still long enough for me to lower my monopod and focus on it.

I was shooting at the extreme end of my long telephoto zoom lens and was not sure if I could capture the fine details of the butterfly—the lens is supposedly soft at 600 mm. I was delighted when I saw my shots on my computer to see that I had managed to capture the beautiful red markings that really pop amid the zebra stripes pop on this swallowtail. Even the long antennae and the “tails” of the butterfly are pretty sharp.

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was delighted yesterday to spot this beautiful Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the first one that I have seen this season. At this time of the year I am always struck by the pristine look of the newly emerged butterflies—later in the season they will become tattered and faded.

In my area we have four different black swallowtails—the Black Swallowtail, the Spicebush Swallowtail, the Pipevine Swallowtail, and the dark morph female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between the species, but in this case it was really easy. Male and female Black Swallowtails can be identified by the black dot inside the orange dot in the middle of the bottom of the hind wings, as you can see in this photo. Several years ago I came across a wonderful posting by the Louisiana Naturalist that has side-by-side comparisons of these four species and tips on how to tell them apart.

Last Friday, Jet Eliot, a wonderful writer and blogger who lives on the West Coast, wrote a fascinating blog posting entitled Swallowtail Butterflies that looked at some of the swallowtails in her area as well as others that she has encountered during her worldwide travels. The photos in the posting by Athena Alexander are astounding and Jet’s prose is informative and inspiring. I encourage you to check out the posting and leave you with this wonderful snippet from Jet—”I am often buoyed by these dancing kaleidoscopic creatures who start out so immobile and teensy and dark, and as each day turns to the next, they somehow know what to do. Soon they have mysteriously blossomed into delicate splendor.”

Have a wonderful weekend.

Black Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Quite often the simplest of subjects can be incredibly beautiful, like these little white butterflies that I photographed last week. Many folks might dismiss these nondescript creatures as moths or simply ignore them. It really is worthwhile to slow down and look at them closely.

The butterfly in the first photo is a Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) that was feeding on a patch of what I believe is purple dead nettle. Although it looks like a macro shot, I captured the image at the 600mm end of my telephoto zoom lens.

I took the next two pictures with an actual macro lens, my trusty Tamron 180mm lens. The tiny Eastern Tailed-Blue butterfly (Cupido comyntas) has a wingspan of about an inch (25 mm) and I was thrilled to capture so much detail of its beauty, including the little “tails.”

Beauty is everywhere.

Cabbage White

Eastern Tailed-blue

Eastern Tailed-blue

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Recently I did a posting that featured Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies (Papilio glaucus)—see Swallowtails in the forest.  None of those butterflies seemed to be involved in searching for nectar and seemed content to take in minerals and water.

Last Friday I returned to that same location in Prince William County, Virginia and discovered that the butterflies were taking advantage of the few small flowers that were blooming. In the first photo, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail was nectaring on the small bluets (Houstonia caerulea) that are sometimes referred to as Quaker Ladies. The butterfly was so low to the ground that it looked like it was dragging its “tails.”

The butterfly in the second image is a dark morph Eastern Tiger Swallowtail female. Females of this species are dimorphic—there is a yellow variant that looks like the one in the first photo and a dark variant that looks like the one in the second image. The dark morph female was almost flat on the ground as she gathered nectar from a very short dandelion.

As more flowers begin to bloom, I am sure these butterflies will have a better selection of sources of nourishment, but the early arrivers have to make do with a really limited menu of choices.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Monday I saw a surprisingly large number of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies (Papilio glaucus) as I explored a stream in Prince William County, Virginia. I used to associate these butterflies with gardens, because that is where I had previously seen them most of the time. Over the past years, though, as I have searched for early spring dragonflies, I have gotten used to seeing these colorful butterflies alongside the streams, often congregating in groups to drink and extract minerals from puddles (see my blog post from last year called A kaleidoscope of butterflies for more information and a photo of this phenomenon).

These swallowtails seemed content to fly about continuously, searching and exploring, but rarely perching. When they did come to the ground, they often landed in patches of fallen leaves, as you can see in the second and third images. I was happy when one of the butterflies opted to perch on a fern, which made it a little easier for me to photograph it.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I note the transition to spring in small ways, quite often in the reappearance of familiar species of plants, insects, and other living creatures. I was delighted on Monday to discover that tiny Virginia Spring Beauty wildflowers (Claytonia virginica) have already started to push their way up from the forest floor in Prince William County. According to Wikipedia, the individual flowers bloom for three days, although the five stamens on each flower are only active for a single day.

On the same day, I spotted an Eastern Comma butterfly (Polygonia comma), the first full-sized butterfly that I have been able to photograph this year. I was not able to get very close to the butterfly, but you can see the beautiful orange pattern of its inner wings in the middle shot below.

The final image shows a Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) that I spotted last week. This species seems to be found only in shallow marshy areas and I rarely encounter one, so it was exciting to be able to photograph it.

We all celebrate different signs of spring at this time of the year (or of autumn if you live in the Southern Hemisphere). What indications do you look for that signal the change of the season?

Spring Beauty

Eastern Comma

spotted turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was happy on Monday to photograph my first butterfly of the year, which appears to be the appropriately named Spring Azure butterfly (Celastrina ladon). Earlier this season I have spotted several Mourning Cloak butterflies, but was not able to get a shot of any of them.

The Spring Azure butterfly is only about an inch (25 mm) in size, but has some wonderful details that I was able to capture. It is fairly nondescript in color until it opens its wings and reveals a beautiful shade of blue—you get a small glimpse of that wonderful blue in the second image.

I had to pursue this butterfly for quite a while before it finally landed. An outside observer might have have wondered what it the world I was doing, but chasing butterflies always makes me feel like a child again.

It won’t be long before I see much bigger and more colorful butterflies, but this one is special to me as the first butterfly of the spring that I was able to photograph.

Spring Azure

Spring Azure

Spring Azure

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The situation in Ukraine is growing increasing grim as Putin’s attacks become more indiscriminate, causing countless civilian casualties and unimaginable suffering and devastation.  Please pray for peace.

#sunflowersforukraine

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am happy to see that some butterflies are still with us as we move deeper into November. Eastern Comma butterflies (Polygonia interrogationis), like the one in first photo, overwinter as adults, rather than as eggs or pupae as most butterflies do, so there is a chance that I will continue to see them for a while longer if the weather does not get too bad.

Common Buckeyes (Junonia coenia), like the one in the second photo, cannot tolerate cold temperatures. Some of them, according to Wikipedia, migrate to the south for the winter and then return when the weather warms up in the spring.

I was most surprised this week to spot the Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) in the final photo—it had been a month or so since I had last seen a Black Swallowtail. This species spends the winter in the chrysalis stage, and adults emerge in the spring to seek out host plants.

We are nearing the end of the butterfly season, but I am delighted to share my walks in nature with these fragile little creatures for a little while longer.

Eastern Comma

Common Buckeye

Black Swallowtail

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I am shocked and delighted by the number of butterflies that I continue to see at the end of October, despite the cooling temperatures and decreasing number of hours of daylight. Last Thursday, 28 October, I spotted a Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) and multiple Variegated Fritillaries (Euptoieta claudia) and Common Buckeyes (Junonia coenia).

The dominant browns and oranges in the color palette of these butterflies seems to be a perfect reflection of the autumn season, when the colors in nature seem more muted than they were during the spring and the summer. For me, though, there is an inner warmth and comfort in these colors, like the feel of a well-worn flannel shirt or the taste of an autumn soup.

Monarch

Variegated Fritillary

Common Buckeye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was delighted and a bit surprised on Monday to spot this Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  thought the Monarchs had all left the area by now to head to warmer locations. When I posted this photo is a Facebook forum, I learned that viewers also have been spotting occasional Monarchs recently in other parts of Virginia.

Although the calendar tells us that we are well into autumn, we are still reminded from time to time of the beauty of the summer days that are gradually fading from our consciousness. Time moves on inexorably.

Monarch butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This past Saturday I visited Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in nearby Vienna, Virginia with several photographer friends and was pleasantly surprised to see that a lot of flowers are still in bloom. Those flowers kept the bees busy as well as an assortment of small butterflies, including this Variegated Fritillary butterfly (Euptoieta claudia).

This is a species that I do not see very often, so I was happy to capture a mostly unobstructed shot of it when it opened its wings—I am more used to seeing the somewhat similar Great Spangled Fritillary.

Variegated Fritillary

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I had given up on Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) for the season, so I was thrilled when I spotted several of them on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I do not know if these are local butterflies, but I like to imagine that they are temporary visitors who stopped in to visit during their magical migration journey to warmer locations.

I photographed these two butterflies in different parts of the wildlife refuge. I thought about using only one of the two photos for this posting, but decided that I really like the impact that the images have as a pair, presenting a kind of yin-yang contrast in light and shadows and overall mood. What do you think?

Monarch

Monarch

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As we rush towards the end of September, the number of butterflies is continuing to drop and many of the ones that I see are faded and tattered. Yet somehow, despite the obvious signs of age and infirmity, they manage to adapt and survive. I photographed this Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

For folks of my generation, the title of this blog will immediately bring to mind the memorable song by that name as sung by Gloria Gaynor in the late 1970’s.

“Oh no, not I, I will survive
Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I’ll stay alive
I’ve got all my life to live
And I’ve got all my love to give and I’ll survive
I will survive”

Black Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was delighted to spot this beautiful Common Buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia) in a patch of goldenrod on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This angle of view over one of the opened wings provides us with a really good look at the butterfly’s distinctive patterns and colors and we can also see its extended proboscis as it sucks nectar from the bright yellow goldenrod.

Common Buckeye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It has been a while since I last saw a Monarch butterfly, but I continue to see lots of similar-looking Viceroy butterflies (Limenitis archippus), like these two little beauties that I photographed in the past few days at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico and parts of southern California each year and may already left our area, while Viceroys do not migrate. I suspect that we will continue to see Viceroys for another month or so before they die off. Viceroy butterflies overwinter here as caterpillars and in spring we will start to see them again.

I just glanced over at a calendar and noted that today is the first day of autumn for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. I have noted already some changes in the weather, though we are still having more heat and humidity that I would prefer.

 

viceroy butterfly

Viceroy butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is always a little tricky taking photos in the bright sunlight, but I like the way that this photo turned out of a Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes)that I encountered last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Why do I like it? It is often really difficult for me to describe precisely why I like a particular photo, particularly when it is one of my own, which makes it almost impossible for me to assess it objectively.

I love it when viewers take the time to describe their reactions. When I posted this image in Facebook in the Nature Lovers of Virginia group, Patricia Holt made the following comment that absolutely delighted me.

“This photo is a pleasure. I love the way the lower flower is a darker hue mimicking the darker spots lower on the butterfly. The way the spots on the butterfly are narrower at the top than the bottom contrary to the flower petals. It struck me how there’s a vague sense of a mirror image but not. Definitely the light and you have captured a feeling of balance as in yin yang. So pretty!”

As is generally the case, I recommend clicking on the image to get a better look at some of the wonderful details in this image.

Have a wonderful Friday.

Black Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It is always special to get a shot of a Zebra Swallowtail butterfly (Eurytides marcellus). Normally they are in constant motion, rarely perching for more than a split second. I spotted this one on Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and was struck by its pristine condition—so many butterflies that I see at this time of the year are tattered and faded, but still surviving.

I suspect that this one butterfly might have only recently emerged. According to information from the Maryland Biodiversity Project, Zebra Swallowtails in this area fly in several broods, from mid-April, early July, and again in early September.

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The thistles  in bloom must have been absolutely irresistible to butterflies on Saturday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I was delighted to spot an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) and a Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly (Speyeria cybele) feeding almost side-by-side at a small patch of thistle plants.

I love the color combinations in these shots that contrast the warmer tones of the butterflies with the cooler colors of the flowers and the background. I also really like the texture of the thistles that appear to be hard and thorny, but are actually quite soft to the touch.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Great Spangled Fritillary

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love it when I can get a shot that simultaneously shows the exterior markings and internal colors of a butterfly, especially when the butterfly’s outward appearance is somewhat drab. That was certainly the case with this Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) that I spotted last Saturday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. When it kept its wings closed, the butterfly blended right in with the dried vegetation in the background. As it opened its wings, the butterfly gave me a glimpse of the beautiful warm tones of its orange and brown interior.

In case you are curious about the name of this species, it comes from the white markings on the hind wing that some scientist decided resembled a question mark. The similar-looking Eastern Comma butterfly has a smaller “hook” and does not have the “dot” of the question mark. That dot is sometimes faded or missing, but fortunately there is also a way to tell the two species apart on the basis of the pattern of spots on the interior of the wings.

Question Mark butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some days I am guilty of overanalyzing my images, trying to figure out why I like or do not like them. Today, I decided to simply present this shot of a pretty Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) that I spotted yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as it fed on what looked to be some kind of sunflower.

I remember so well the words of the old Shaker song, “Simple Gifts” that I sang as part of a high school chorus:

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be;
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed;
to turn, turn, will be our delight.
Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Have a wonderful Sunday.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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With all of the recent rain, I have not gotten out as much as I would have liked—today’s weather forecast noted that we have had rain during nine of the last ten days. So I decided to share another photo today of a Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) from my visit last Friday to Green Springs Garden.

In a previous posting entitled Monarchs at last, I showed Monarchs feeding on brightly-colored flowers. The background in today’s image is much more muted and the butterfly appeared to be relaxing rather than actively feeding. I love the way that you can see the butterfly’s curled-up proboscis from this angle, looking almost like a very large nose-ring—yeah, I imagine this to be a punk rock butterfly.

Have a wonderful Friday.

Monarch butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It was definitely exciting to see my first Monarch butterflies of the season last Friday at Green Spring Gardens, but I was equally delighted to see some other beautiful butterflies that day. The one in the first photo is an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) on a flower that I later learned is a Mexican sunflower. I am pretty sure that the butterfly in the second image is a Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus), although the angle of this shot keeps me from being absolutely certain. I am not sure what kind of flower it is feeding on, but it sure was pretty.

Although I spend a lot of time in streams, fields, and marshes, I enjoy visiting gardens from time to time. It is stimulating to all of the senses to see all of the bright colors and smell the fragrant flowers. There were plenty of bees too and occasional forays into the flowers by goldfinches and hummingbirds. It was a good day.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Spicebush Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Several times recently I have noted with regret that I had not yet seen any Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) this summer. On Friday my luck changed and I was absolutely delighted to have multiple encounters with Monarchs during a visit to Green Spring Gardens, a country-run historical garden only a few miles from where I live. Obviously I had been looking for Monarchs in all the wrong places.

I felt carefree as a child as I chased the butterflies all over as they flitted from flower to flower. It was a hot, humid day and it was not long before I was drenched in sweat, but I was content in what I was doing.

I will let the beauty of the Monarchs speak for itself through these photos. I will only add that it was definitely worth the wait.

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge grows so high that I have to point my camera almost straight up to get a shot of the butterflies that seem to really enjoy this flowering plant. Although it is a somewhat uncomfortable shooting angle, it allows me to include the sky in some of my shots, as was the case with this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) on Monday.

I seem to be in an artistic mood recently. I noted this morning that this is the third consecutive posting in which the colors and shapes of my subjects have been of equal or greater importance as the subjects themselves. There is something about the first image especially that just seems so beautiful to me. I really like the way that the different elements in the image work together to create a harmonious whole.

In the second image, I deliberately violated one of the “rules” of photography and placed my primary subject in the center of the frame. Why? I wanted to emphasize the symmetry of the butterfly when it spread its wings. I think the photo works pretty well, though perhaps not quite as well as the first image, which has a slightly more dynamic feel to it.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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We have four different species of dark swallowtail butterflies where I live, so I naturally assumed that this butterfly belonged to one of those species when I first spotted it last Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I was wrong. When I got closer, I was able to see that it was instead a Red-spotted Purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis astyanax).

When you examine the photo, you might come to the conclusion that I should have my eyes checked, because the butterfly clearly has no “tails.” However, it is difficult to make that call when the butterfly is in motion, as this one is. Moreover, at this time of the summer, many butterfly have wings that are tattered and torn from encounters with vegetation and predators and I have encountered many tailless swallowtails in the past.

You may never have seen this species, because its range is limited to the eastern part of North America. Red-spotted Purple butterflies are not found in gardens, but are most often seen in woodlands and along streams and marsh lands—we share a fondness for these types of habitats.

I love the beautiful coloration of the Red-spotted Purple butterfly, though I must confess that I find the spots on its wings to be a bit more orange than red and the dominant colors on the wings look more grayish-blue than purple. Maybe the lighting was bad when the scientist named this species or perhaps he was slightly color blind. But what’s in a name? By any other name, the butterfly is just as beautiful.

Red-spotted Purple

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am still waiting to see my first Monarch butterfly of the year, but was nonetheless excited to spot this similar-looking Viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus) recently at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The butterfly was looking a bit tattered, but its flight abilities seemed unaffected. Every year I am shocked anew at the ability of butterflies to function with significant wing damage.

The Monarchs and Viceroys have the same orange and black coloration, though the Viceroy is a bit smaller in size. The main visual difference between the two species is the black line across the Viceroy’s hind wings that is not present in Monarchs.

This is a modest little shot of this butterfly, but I really like the curve of the vegetation that is serving as a perch and the wonderful shadow that the butterfly is casting onto that vegetation.

Viceroy butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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How close should I try to get to my subject? How much attention should I pay to environmental elements when composing a shot? When is the decisive moment to grab a shot when the subject is in motion? These were some of the thoughts swirling through my head when I spotted this Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

There are several dark swallowtails in our area, including the Spicebush Swallowtail, the Pipevine Swallowtail, the dark morph of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, and the Black Swallowtail. Sometimes it is hard to tell them apart, but in this case I spotted the black dots inside of the orange dots in the area between the wings, one of the identifying marks of a Black Swallowtail.

The first shot was one of the earliest shots that I took and I remember staying far enough away from the butterfly to be sure that I included the curl of the leaf coming out of the stalk of vegetation. I also tried to time my shot to catch the butterfly with its wings spread wide and was mostly successful.

I moved in closer and captured the second image, which shows more of the details of the butterfly. Although the camera settings remained the same, the background is more out of focus than in the first shot, because depth of field tends to get shallower when you get closer to a subject. I also tried to shoot from a slightly higher angle by standing on my tiptoes—you can see more of the vegetation over the butterflies left eye in the second image than in the first.

I chased this butterfly around as it flew about and waited patiently for it to perch again. I captured the final image when it landed on a different kind of plant. Normally a shot like this when the subject is facing away from you is not a good shot and is derisively referred to as a “butt shot” by many photographers. In this case, however, I was struck by the way that the angle of the butterfly’s wings complemented the angular shape of the plant’s leaves and I like the abstract feel of the image that I captured.

Black Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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