Giant Swallowtails 2018

Historically, a Giant Swallowtail sighting in the Northeast was a rare and exciting event  because the primary range of the species is the Southeast, where caterpillars forage on the foliage of citrus trees and related host plants. That seems to be changing. Increased sightings of these large butterflies in the Northeast over the last decade provide strong evidence of range expansion. My photographic records are a case in point. I saw my first Giant Swallowtail in Central New York in August, 2011. To date, I have 7 sightings in 8 years. Six were in August, on Phlox, and one was in June, on Dame’s Rocket.

Visits from these beauties are always a surprise encounter, followed by a brief, somewhat frantic, photo shoot. This one appeared in the heat of the afternoon on August 23. It “hopped” and fluttered around a large patch of cultivated Phlox, feeding intensely on the nectar of the tubular flowers. It’s not “fresh” – the hindwings are tattered and the long, spoon-shaped tails missing – but it’s a summer highlight that I won’t soon forget!

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All rights reserved.

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Summer Flowers and Visitors

The dynamic relationship between sequential summer blooms and insect visitors is fascinating, especially when the visitors are butterflies and moths. Like the invertebrates, I follow the sequence of bloom. But, I’m searching for rewards other than nectar!

Knapweed (Centaurea), dominant in abandoned fields and open habitats in July and August, is a popular source of nectar for bees, butterflies and many other insects. In good light, a macro view of the mix of vivid colors can be spectacular.

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Cultivated Phlox is a preferred food source for the Hummingbird Moth (Common Clearwing; Hemaris), but is also a good choice for attracting a variety butterflies to the backyard.

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Joe-Pye-Weed (below) and the goldenrods are breaking bud now, attracting the next wave of insect visitors!

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Photos by NB Hunter (July and August, 2018). © All rights reserved.

 

Summer Fly Fishing

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My mind is busy as I inch my way along the bank of a small trout stream on a summer morning. Immersed in the sights and sounds of the stream and riparian landscape, I wonder if mayflies are hatching and hungry trout are laying in wait; I give thanks for the opportunity to experience cold, unpolluted water on a smoldering hot summer day; and, I always anticipate a surprise encounter – perhaps a heron, beaver, deer, butterfly, or maybe an interesting spider web.

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As I approached the scene above, I noticed fluttering along the rocky shore: orange and black, but too small to be a Monarch. It was a Viceroy butterfly, puddling in the mud at water’s edge.

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My main goal (not always clear when I carry my camera) is to locate surface-feeding trout and fool them with a crude imitation of their natural meal.

This is late July and August, when the Trico (Tricorythodes) mayfly hatch is at its peak. Clouds of molting duns and mating spinners appear above riffles soon after daylight on warm, muggy late summer mornings. The grayish or transparent wings appear white when backlit, leading frustrated fishermen to describe the hatch as the “white curse”. Frustration enters the picture because these tiny mayflies, just a few millimeters long, are difficult to imitate and even more difficult to present as naturals to spooky trout in calm, clear water.

” … the Tricorythodes hatch is an angling revelation, offering some of the most reliable, challenging and fulfilling angling of the year.” (from “Hatches: A Complete Guide to Fishing the Hatches of North American Trout Streams” by Caucci and Nastasi.

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A Trico spinner captured in a spider web during its mating flight

Tricos die and fall to the water as spent spinners after mating. Trout then sip them from the surface film. The telltale “ring of the rise” has been at the center of fly fishing stories and literature for centuries.

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It’s logical to assume that a fish might expend more energy than is gained when feeding on tiny Tricos. To make it worthwhile, trout hover near the surface in narrow feeding lanes and calm eddies where currents funnel large numbers of spent or dead spinners.

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When all is said and done, spent Trico spinners can be found in spider webs. The dry fly in the center, tied on a size #24 hook, is a crude and over-sized imitation, but also approaches the practical limit of fly tying and fly fishing. Surprisingly, it can be very effective when trout are feeding aggressively and have not experienced heavy fly fishing pressure.

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The Trico hatch brings closure to my fly fishing season, but also fuels anticipation and planning for the seasons ahead. I’m a catch-and-release fly fisherman, so I just might have another chance at this beautiful brown next year, when it’s bigger and wiser!

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A brown trout and tight line during a Trico spinner fall

Photos by NB Hunter. © All rights reserved.

 

Milkweed: plant it and they will come!

In recent years milkweed has received much attention as habitat for dwindling populations of monarch butterflies. Most of the more than 100 species in the Americas are tropical, but one species in particular is a staple of monarchs in the North: Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).

My backyard milkweed project started in 2015 with a few transplants from a nonproductive, roadside location. Establishment was slow, but they’re now flourishing. Vegetative reproduction by root sprouts has created a colony of about 30 stems and the large, fragrant flower clusters are insect magnets (according to the US Forest Service, over 450 insects are known to feed on some part of the plant, including flower nectar). I focused on the Lepidoptera, attempting to document the variety of butterflies and moths that benefit from flowering milkweed. Multiple benefits from a single management action is a best-case scenario. The value added from a colony of milkweed is much greater than monarch habitat.

I’ve observed 9 or 10 species of butterflies and moths thus far, as well as countless bees, flies and other insects. This is a sample!

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Honeybee

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Monarch

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Tiger Swallowtail

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Cabbage White

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Ctenucha Moth

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Fritillary

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Tiger Swallowtail

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White Admiral

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Monarch

Photos by NB Hunter (early July, 2018). © All rights reserved.

The Wonderful Month of June

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A favorite freestone stream in the mountains, alive with aquatic insects and foraging trout

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A massive White Pine with centuries of stories locked within

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Tiger Swallowtails “mud-puddling” to ingest nutrients and improve reproductive success

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A chatty House Wren, rewarding me for the nest box I hung on a garden post

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Taking a grooming timeout while guarding the nearby nest and solitary eaglet.

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird incubating 1-3 eggs; they’ll hatch in about 2 weeks

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An egg-laying Snapper; she dug her nest in roadside gravel near her swampy habitat 

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A month-old whitetail fawn learning about mobility

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Wild mustard colonizing a fallow field on a dairy farm

Photos by NB Hunter (June, 2018). © All rights reserved.

Searching for Spring in 2018

Despite the cold, late spring, I started searching for wild flowers in late April.  The search is a rite of spring, even if there’s snow in the air and it makes no sense whatsoever.

The flower buds of willow shrubs were on hold (April 27),

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As were the new shoots of False Hellebore after a freezing rain (April 29).

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Desperate for color in a wintry April landscape, I detoured to the edge of a wetland and discovered a reliable indicator of the advancing season: Skunk Cabbage (April 29).

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Finally, the weather took a serious turn for the better. The season of renewal erupted, with April events spilling over into early May. Migrating birds, black flies, wildflowers, baby animals, mud…..Spring!

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Bloodroot

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A Rails-to-Trails recreation path, with willow shrubs in bloom (May 5)

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The early blooms of willow shrubs (May 3), a lifeline for hungry bees

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Marsh Marigold (May 5)

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A tumbling brook, swollen by melting snow and frequent rain (May 5)

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White Trillium (May 5)

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Red Trillium (May 5)

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Happy Earth Day

Celebrating Earth Day with images from April, 2018.

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Starlings searching for spilled grain on an active farm

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Mallard at rest on a wintry spring day

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Ring-billed Gull foraging in a flooded field

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Mature whitetail after a long, cold rain

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Turkey Vulture cleaning up a road-kill

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White-throated Sparrow with a kernel of corn

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Breeding Wood Frog in a vernal pool – today – a month behind schedule

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Wild turkey (a young gobbler or “jake”)

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.