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.




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.




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


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


August Colors and Details


Sub-adult Wood Frog out and about on a rainy day


White-tail fawn foraging in cultivated fields


Bumblebee feasting on Touch-me-not (Jewelweed)


Teasel at ground level, the 6-foot stalk flattened by flood waters 



Clearwing Hummingbird Moth on Phlox (1 of 2)



Small pool of spring water that has quenched the thirst of 3 dogs during 30 years of trail walking


White Admiral, wings upright and showing its true colors

Photos by NB Hunter (August, 2017). © All Rights Reserved.

Clearwing Moths

Something is missing from the meadows and the many blooming wildflowers that define them in late summer: butterflies. So, Plan B – cultivated Phlox around the house.

A common, reliable summer visitor, the Hummingbird Clearwing is a daytime moth that hovers and feeds like a hummingbird.



Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Dame’s Rocket

It seems that whenever I search for flowering plants to photograph I find myself having to “man up” and admit that I’m fond of aliens. The blooms of Wild Domestic Apple, Autumn Olive, Black Locust and, now, Dame’s Rocket, have all been impressive — and not one of these plants is native to this area.

Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis; Mustard family) is everywhere now, especially on disturbed sites with moist soils – abandoned fields, forest openings and edges, the neglected borders of lawns, etc. Native to Eurasia and introduced over 200 years ago, it is now widely distributed across most of North America. Extensive, nearly pure stands are common and, in late spring, a dominant landscape feature.


A naturalized stand of Dame’s Rocket, showing the wide range of flower colors typical of the species


A nearly pure stand of Dame’s Rocket on the moist floodplain of a small stream

Dame’s Rocket is easily mistaken for a garden Phlox. An alternate leaf arrangement and 4 petals distinguish it from this plant group, which has opposite leaves and 5 petals.


The Forest Invasive Plants Resource Center is keeping a watchful eye on the spreading Dame’s Rocket, monitoring the “invasion” to determine threats to native flora and fauna.  I monitor Dame’s Rocket for it’s natural beauty and, more importantly, the impressive array of colorful wildlife species that are attracted to the prolific, fragrant bloom.


Giant Swallowtail nectaring on Dame’s Rocket, 9June14; an unusual, if not rare, sighting in the Northeast


Flower Spider, an ambush predator, on Dame’s Rocket


Tiger Swallowtail nectaring on Dame’s Rocket


Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Daytime Moths

This has not been a good year for butterfly sightings in central New York. So, rather than dig into my archives for old butterfly photos, I’ll feature one of the few members of the butterfly and moth group (Order Lepidoptera) that I’m seeing daily, in the field as well as around the house: a moth that refuses to act like a moth!

The species is the Hummingbird Moth (Hemaris thysbe), also called Common Clearwing or Hummingbird Clearwing. These moths are very “unmoth-like” in two ways: they’re active during the daytime and, as their name implies, they look and act like tiny hummingbirds. In flight, the mostly transparent wings move so fast they’re barely visible. When nectaring, they hover, just like a hummingbird.


Hummingbird Moth nectaring on garden Phlox, 1 of 5

Hummingbird moths have a long, tongue-like feeding tube (proboscis), an adaptation for nectaring on tubular flowers. The proboscis is coiled in flight, then extended for feeding.





The adults are active throughout the summer and are most often seen in landscape gardens when Bee Balm (Monarda), Phlox and other tubular flowers are blooming. Earlier today I watched one nectaring on Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium), a wildflower approaching full bloom in damp meadow habitats


Hummingbird Moth nectaring on Bee Balm

The larvae feed on a variety of woody plants, especially those in the honeysuckle and rose families (honeysuckles, Viburnums, hawthorns, cherries, etc.). They weave a cocoon on the ground, in leaf litter, where they overwinter (to encourage these plump little pollinators, a little benign neglect in the form of leaf litter around the edge of the yard could be helpful!).

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Perpetual Motion – the Giant Swallowtail!

Twice in the last three years something exotic has unexpectedly fluttered into my life, teased me for a minute or two, and then floated up and away over the tree tops. In each case I was relaxing in a lawn chair on a warm August afternoon, and in both instances I bolted into the house to get my camera and prepare for the digital capture of a subject that was moving constantly and erratically, wings blurred by rapid, perpetual motion.


If you live in the Deep South you will probably get a good laugh from this post, or quickly leave to search for something more interesting. The visitor was a Giant Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio cresphontes), a species that is quite common in the South but unfamiliar to most northerners.  I’ve been chasing butterflies since old enough to walk but had never seen, or heard of, this species until 2011. Soon after that initial encounter, it was featured in the August, 2011 issue of the New York State Conservationist magazine in an article by Terry Mosher : “Swallowtail Surprise”. An older field guide to eastern butterflies lists my location in central New York as the extreme northern fringe of the range of this butterfly but sightings have increased throughout the Northeast in recent years. Climate change is no doubt an influencing factor in this trend. I’m also suspicious that “snow birds” – the millions of humans that migrate North to South in the winter – might have something to do with the distribution of the species.

Surprisingly, the Giant Swallowtail ranges far beyond the flower gardens, pine flats and Citrus groves of the South, occurring from southeastern Canada to South America. Adults nectar on many flowering plants, including Goldenrod and Phlox in the Northeast. The caterpillars (called “orangedogs” in the South) love plants in the Citrus family (in some cases to the point of being a pest), but also feed on a thicket-forming shrub found in this region: Northern Prickly-ash.


The nectaring flight pattern of a Giant Swallowtail is mesmerizing: flight movement is slow, but the wings, particularly the forewings, flutter constantly and rapidly as it bounces, hops and darts from flower to flower. The only pauses in rapid wing motion – mere fractions of a second – occur first when the butterfly is nectaring and again between flower visits.





Appropriately named, the Giant Swallowtail is among the largest butterflies in North America (some claim it’s the largest), with a wing span of about 6 inches (noticeably larger than the familiar Tiger Swallowtail).



“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”          –  John Muir

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.