Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Three Types of Summer's Winged Wonders


This is the time of summer when I go out to the woods and if I see any movement in the trees it is usually a butterfly. The butterflies I see most commonly are tiger swallowtails, dark swallowtails and the occasional monarch butterfly.
Tiger swallowtail (Margo D. Beller)

August into September must be when the caterpillars break out of their cocoons as butterflies. Adult butterflies lay their eggs, the eggs hatch caterpillars, the caterpillars (after eating a lot of leaves, I think) crawl up trees or shrubs to become cocooned pupas and then they hatch as butterflies, which then head south for the winter.

The nice thing about butterflies, besides their many different colors and the way they seem to float in out of nowhere, is they aren't that picky about where they feed. Yes, they have special needs in terms of where they lay eggs, such as the monarch butterfly needing milkweed, but when they need food they will go to any flower, shrub or roadside weed. They will even come to puddles to drink.

I once walked along a road in a strong wind. There was a tiger swallowtail on a Rose of Sharon flower, hanging on for dear life. You would think something so small and delicate would have a problem in wind but this is one strong little creature. 

Butterflies have a lot of fans, which is why you can do a simple search and find all sorts of butterfly clubs to learn more.


When I last wrote about rubythroated hummingbirds, I mentioned the two that were coming regularly to my feeder. I named them Alpha and Beta. Alpha was the more dominant of the two, hence the name. Beta was rather dusky and very skittish at the feeder, hovering over the portal to drink rather than perch as Alpha did.

Much has happened since then.

First, I realized Alpha might have been a male. We had visited our niece in Connecticut and a male hummer had come to her feeder. The male had a dark head, just like Alpha. The next time Alpha visited I had binoculars with me and did not see a lot of red at the throat, although there was a pink tinge. That was the last time I saw Alpha.
A friend's juvenile hummer (Margo D. Beller)
Beta continued to visit much longer and was soon joined by a smaller, greener individual that was definitely a juvenile male. I named that one Delta. Beta would feed in her skitterish fashion and take off in one direction, Delta would feed and head in another direction.

With the heat and humidity I have not spent time on the enclosed porch, the only way I can see the hummingbird feeder, but it seems to me Beta has moved on and what I call Delta may be Epsilon, Gamma or any of a number of hummingbird visitors. Young are fledging and they have to eat. By now the adult males should've been heading south, and soon the adult females and the young birds will be doing the same.

All I know is, at least once a day a hummingbird comes to feed. I still have plenty of food for as long as they come.


One of the things that makes walking with MH so enjoyable is we usually look at different things. I will be looking up in the trees for any bird activity while he will be looking down for snakes, toads and other nonwinged creatures.

But one thing that interests him very much, and is now interesting me, are all the dragonflies.
Green dragonfly blending well into leaf. (RE Berg-Andersson)
You can be in a marsh, in a park, in your backyard and you will have a number of these insects buzzing around, picking off mosquitoes and gnats. If you have clean water, you have dragonflies and the smaller damselflies.

They come in a variety of colors. In the Great Marsh of Concord, Mass., we found a dragonfly that looked like it was red, white and blue. In the Franklin Parker Preserve in southern NJ, in the heart of the Pine Barrens, we found a very large dragonfly that was bright red. We're still trying to identify it.

Usually we find such exotically named creatures as 12-spotted skimmers, white-tailed skimmers, green darners and ebony jewel-wings. There is a state dragonfly association and several Internet sites devoted to field guides and identification. This one even tells you how many different types can be found in each county of New Jersey. In my home county of Morris there are 125!

Like the dragonfly I'm just skimming the surface here. But I am becoming as interested in their colors and diversity as I have been on birds for over a decade. Like the butterflies, these seasonal winged wonders can be easily overlooked, and that is unfortunate.