Thursday, August 26, 2010

Counting Butterflies

Recently I had a comment on my post on the Durham Butterfly Count about how do you count butterflies? Well answering this in comments just did not seem to be the best way to answer this.

First having the knowledge to ID each and every butterfly comes with practice, a lot of practice. Some get the IDs easily others no so easy. We always have a team leader that knows the butterflies so everyone in the group does not need to be an expert. Many that come along it is their first time on a butterfly count, still they can be quite helpful and learn along the way.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Swamp Milkweed.
These guys stole the show on the Durham Butterfly Count. They were everywhere, our group tallied 394 of them. At one spot with lots of yellow composites along both sides of the road I was walking fast and counting them as I went. Just getting the ones I could see and hoping not to over or under count, it is actually estimating them. If I had moved slowly I believe they would have been more confusing to tally from mixing back and forth. Some you will always miss and others might get counted twice, so the missed ones make up for the counted twice ones. That roadside composite patch on both sides of the road for 200 yards I tallied up 130 Eastern Tiger Swallowtails. Down the street a massive roadside patch of Hercules Club I estimated 55 tigers on them.

Zebra Swallowtail on Brazilian Verbena. This verbena grows wild along our roadsides and is a big butterfly attractor.  Zebras on our previous counts have mostly tallied 1, this year 16!

Above and below is the Silvery Checkerspot. The yellow flowers above are narrow-leaved Sneezeweed. This plat is very drought tolerant and a good butterfly magnet. We walked about 3 miles in the Flat River Impoundment and probably 2 -21/2 miles of the gravel road was completely full of sneezeweed. We counted the butterflies on it as we approached it, not looking back or where we had been already. Record numbers of the Silvery Checkerspot were found this year as well.

These two butterflies, the Viceroy above and Red Admiral on Swamp Milkweed  below were a challenge to count. The impoundment has Black Willows growing in the ditches. One had to look for moving wings or butterflies flying in the willows then set binoculars on them. We would find Viceroys, Red Admirals, Question marks, Eastern Commas,  Hackberry Emperors and Tawny Emperors in the willows. I know we missed a lot of them, over counting them was not an issue in the willows.

Here is the Variegated Fritillary above on sneezeweed and Common Buckeye on a blade of grass below. Both of these can be flying all about you and your crew! Best to count them as you see them in front of you then hope they don't sneak in from behind. Buckeyes this year seem to be everywhere, normally open areas are the best places to find both of these species.

Here we have the Cloudless Sulphur above and Little Yellow below. Cloudless Sulphurs are very large and look like a pat of butter when in flight, easy to ID on the wing once you learn them.

The Little Yellow is sometimes missed on our count, it comes up from the south and might not make it here at all. We had 3 total of them on the count this year. It is small and yellow, not orange like the very common Sleepy Orange which is slightly bigger.
Well I did not get to the skippers! I bet a lot of you are glad of that. Skippers take a lot of practice to learn them and some a photo is a great idea to make sure you are right.

Next stop the Wilmington NC Butterfly Count this Saturday, I'll have to leave by 5AM to make it there by 9AM. For those of you that want to get involved with a butterfly count please check the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) for a count near you.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Stinging Caterpillars!

I found 5 of these saddleback caterpillars, Sibine stimulea on my Zebrine Banana on Sunday. They will sting you real good, just ask Meg. Meg sat on one once and another time touched one on Eastern Redbud by mistake. I have found them here on redbud several times, it grows like a weed here. Those horns have a venom and the pain can last for days so please stay clear of them when ever possible. These are about 3/4 inches long BTY.

This Saddleback Caterpillar is covered in wasp larva! Doubt it will live long enough to become a moth.

Below is an Gray Hairstreak butterfly on cantaloupe blossoms from our garden. I had the tiny camera one half inch from it for 3-4 minutes to get this photo, sometimes they do pose for you, it never flew off either.
Black Swallowtail news from Meg's Classroom. The 19 Black Swallowtail cats taken in are now 16 chrysalises and two of the eggs that hatched are still cats. She has 16 children in the class so one butterfly for each child to release back into nature.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Durham Farmers Market

Over the years the Durham Farmers Market has grown quite a bit. Every year seems better and busier than the last. I visited it today at 10am a bit late but still a lot of goodies to be had.  Anyway I wanted to share some photos I took at the market today.
Above is Bluebird Meadows. That is Stuart in the front and Alice in the back. I read their blog and it is in my side bar. They had as usual an amazing display. I see them fairly often as they are living at the bottom of our road while the house on their farm is being built. Below is a close up of some of the produce at the Bluebird Meadows Booth.
Another local farm we buy from is Tim and Hilga's Four Leaf Farm which is down the street only a 1/3 mile from here. Some of those peppers are right now in our fridge!
Here is a display from another booth of squash, okra, beans and cherry tomatoes. Will be eating some of those squash and cucumbers not shown in this photo.
Just when you think tomatoes are about gone!
Getting as photo of this corn from Brinkley Farms was dangerous. The corn was moving quick. One of the main reasons I like going to the farmers markets is you just can not get fresh corn like this at the grocery store.
Good old North Carolina peaches! No Georgia or South Carolina peaches here, the market requires all produce to be local produce.

Now from our garden

We now have gourds! There are 4 of these 4 inch (so far) gourds and 4 more of the small ones like in the lower center of the photo.

Our Zebrine Banana tree is still growing strong, now nearly as tall as me with leaves over 3 foot long (one meter).

Black Swallowtail news! Megs classroom as of Thursday had 12 chrysalis from Wednesday and Thursday and continues to have more babies from the fennel cutting she is bringing in. Needless to say the second graders all of them are watching with both eyes open.

We are running out of fennel. Usually around here a good part of the caterpillars get eaten by wildlife such as Praying Mantises. I tend to not interfere as part of being a wildlife photographer is letting nature take its own course.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Black Swallowtail Cats Going To School!

We had an exciting day to say the least on the Durham Butterfly Count. My party of three ladies and myself found well over 1000 butterflies and 45 species in all! We had a total of 396 Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, not a record for the count but likely as many as the other 4 parties found combined.  Also we had 53 Silvery Checkerspots and Will by himself found 50 as well blowing away the normal 12-15 found on the previous counts. Usually 1 Zebra Swallowtail is a lucky find on this count, we had 16 of them and Will had 4, so 20 in all!

The bad news is Meg and I both found maybe 500 seed ticks on our pants. I have never seen seed ticks in these kind of numbers around here. The places I have been where seed ticks are found someone usually brings tape to get them off our clothes. We dowsed them in bug spray to get rid of them and then took a very strong shower after the count.

OK now to the title posting about Black Swallowtails. Meg now teaches second grade and as many of you might know second grade usually teaches about life cycles. Tonight we gleaned around 20 of the 38 Black Swallowtail caterpillars in our garden to take to class tomorrow! Our Bronze Fennel finally brought in some Black Swallowtails, we only saw 2 today on the count.

These 4 Black Swallowtail caterpillars we all lined up on the fennel this evening, ready for school! We left these in the garden as they were eating a fennel in a place we don't want fennel. Fennel is very invasive be careful if you do plant it as it grows very well in the gravel driveway where it is hard to dig up. I usually toss out 2 out of 3 plants in the garden every spring.
male Black Swallowtail on verbena, from years past in our garden.
female Black Swallowtail on thistle.
Learn more about Black Swallowtails on my main web page at this link. Note when you get to the Black Swallowtail page you will find a second page link on the bottom left and links to similar swallowtails as well as all my pages do.

One other thing I wanted to mention about raising butterflies in the classroom. There are a lot of butterfly farms that sell kits of Painted Ladies and Monarchs from places far away for schools to raise. A lot of butterfly watchers do not approve of bringing in distant populations of butterflies and mixing them into local populations. At least we know these Black Swallowtails were of a local population and once mature releasing them back into the wild will not harm or alter the local population. Good thing Meg has me the butterfly guy as a partner isn't it?

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Banner Swallowtail Year!

It was back in 2001 the last time we had a banner year with Eastern Tiger Swallowtails. The Durham Butterfly Count tallied 1800 Eastern Tiger Swallowtails in 2001, so years we are lucky to get 50. On Monday Meg and I counted 21 Eastern Tiger Swallowtails in our garden. I believe that is a new record here. The flowers they are using here in the garden are Butterfly Bush, Phlox, Joe-pye-weed and Miss Huff Lantana.

I have noticed two different blogs, well actually three blogs that recently got the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail mixed up with the Spicebush Swallowtail. You can check out the links I just posted in the last sentence or read on.
I'm giving you this from my shoulder, a photo I took on my birthday of a dark form female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Notice the tiger stripes on the forewings is an easy field mark. This dark tiger got stuck inside our screened porch and I caught it barehanded and took it outside to be released. It spent 10 minutes checking me out before it flew off.

Here is the dark form female tiger on my finger!
The photo below is where people get mixed up.

This is a male Spicebush Swallowtail.
Notice the large blue-green roundish spots near the marginal edges of the hindwings. It does look a good bit like the dark form female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

The normal female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoying Joe-pye-weed.
Notice the blue in the hindwings, this is how you tell the females from the males

Here is a male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on my phlox!
Note the absence of blue on the hindwings

This Monarch was on Joe-pye-weed at the butterfly garden in Little River park about two miles from here. Pretty happy with the evening nature light on these photos taken with my little G11 camera!
Above is a gourd blossom from our garden. Wish us luck the last time we tried to grow these we did not get any gourds.

Those of you that live nearby Durham might be interested in the Durham Butterfly Count it is being held on Sunday August 15th. I'll be leading a team of butterfliers and our garden will be part of the my route. Here is a message from Jeff Pippen about the count:

Pack your binoculars -- Sunday August 15th is the 2010 NABA Durham
Butterfly Count. We routinely see between 50-60 species, vying for the highest
species diversity of any count in the Carolinas.  The Durham count circle
harbors numerous excellent butterflying locations, so we can use all the eyes
we can get!  Beginners welcome (see below).

We will meet in the NC Museum of Life and Science parking lot on
Murray Ave in Durham at 8:45a.m., Sunday 15 August.  We'll divide into groups where
beginners will be teamed up with experienced leaders, who will already know
their coverage areas, and we will try to depart the parking lot by 9am.
Butterflying may involve slowly driving/walking down dirt roads, hiking powerlines,
searching fields, wetlands, etc.  Weather permitting, we'll survey
butterflies until late afternoon and then reconvene at 4:45pm at the Museum for a
compilation of sightings.

Fast food restaurants may or may not be available, depending on your
coverage area, so I encourage participants to pack their own snacks, a lunch,
and LOTS of beverages as it's usually pretty toasty outside this time of year.
And I always recommend hiking boots, long pants, a hat, sunscreen and
Note that there is a mandatory $3 per person fee to participate
(levied by and forwarded to NABA for printing/compiling costs).

If you need directions to the museum, check out their website at  Click on "visit the museum" and scroll down to
the directions.  (Heck, the website is worth checking out anyway!)

Please contact Jeff if you plan to participate, so that I can coordinate
groups for the count.