Butterfly days

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By Nancy Oakes

While another tropical storm brews in the south, I'm looking at notes I took after the last storm. When I described being at home during that storm, I wrote that I didn't see any wild animals around the cabin. That's true. A day or two later was a different story.

Red-spotted purple butterflies have apparently hatched out recently around my place. This medium-sized butterfly has a coal black background color with iridescent blue on the top side of its wings, and no surprise, red spots in patterns along the outlines of the bottom side of the wings. I have a hard time distinguishing it from the slightly larger black swallowtail and spicebush butterflies. One difference beside size is that the red-spotted purple does not have the extensions of the lower wings called swallowtails.

Anyway, I saw the first red-spotted purple soon after the storm moved away. It sat for quite a while on a white plastic lawn chair placed just to the right of the cabin door. Since then, I've seen red-spotted purples flying around the cabin, sitting on a screened window and perching on the dead leaves in the front yard. Something keeps these butterflies nearby, perhaps a host plant. Their caterpillars eat wild cherry leaves among other plants and this tree grows in the fence row.

Generally I find butterfly observing more rewarding at the turning of the seasons. Beside red-spotted purples, I've noticed a number of orange sulphur or sleepy orange butterflies, a tiger swallowtail, giant swallowtail and zebra longwing. Some wildflowers blooming now that attract butterflies include ironweed, partridge pea, Spanish needle, passion flower, false foxglove, butterflyweed, dotted horsemint, hyptis, and coming on, gayfeather and paintbrush.

I've seen most of these wildflowers in open areas of the wood next door. The last walk I took there right after the storm confirmed my expectations of finding wild buckwheat, beard tongue, elephantoepus, partridge pea, sand squares and a little surprising, gay feather or blazing star beginning to bloom. This bright magenta-flowered plant thrives in overgrown sandy areas despite its delicate appearance. On that same walk I saw numbers of mushroom, especially earth stars; a whole colony of them were emerging in a leafy moist area at the edge of the wood.

I've noticed an increase of parula activity around my home. I hear these tiny warblers singing and at least one came to bathe at the water dishes. While one parula sang, I watched a male summer tanager and a female cardinal splashing in separate water dishes. I've also seen a female summer tanager bathing several times. Cardinals, towhees, wrens, titmice, bluejays and chickadees appear to be faithful visitors to the water dishes. I might get lucky and see some migrating warblers stop at the dishes too. Some early ones to look for are male and female American redstarts. The males are black with red bands on wings and tail; the females have yellow bands against the black. Often they seem to migrate separately, so that one day only males show up and on other days only females appear.

Other birds that were around all summer but kept relatively quiet now begin to chatter, sing and call. I hear great-crested flycatchers "weeping" and white-eyed vireos singing along with parulas. One day a band of chattery birds consisting of parulas, titmice, chickadees and downy woodpeckers flew and talked among the leaves of oaks that I walked under. I wondered what all the fuss was about. Maybe they were just glad for a chance to hunt for insects after the last storm's wind and rain. Until next time, good observing.