Last week on Monday I turned 65 and Thursday of that week was my last day of work. I am officially retired now. A few years ago I was really looking forward to retirement, but more recently I really started to dread it.

When you can do anything you want, what’s to stop you from doing nothing? Sleep in late, eat breakfast, take a nap, eat lunch, take an afternoon nap, order a pizza for dinner and go to bed early. Then maybe you die within a month.

Even though this is just the first full week, I can report that I have not fallen into that trap. I am keeping busy but not forcing it. We shall see.

It helps that we have had a little bit of good butterfly weather and I have been getting out and chasing them. This silver-spotted skipper was in my back yard.

This old, battered mourning cloak was at Swede Point Park.

I signed up for the website iNaturalist, and those photos were submitted as a part of a week-long Iowa Bioblitz.

So I am getting out, doing some of the same old stuff I have done all along only in new ways. I do plan to do some new things, too. I don’t have it all figured out yet but I think I am getting there.

Maybe I will find time to yell at kids to get off my lawn…

Posted in butterflies, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Yesterday’s Bugs

Yesterday I went to Elk Rock State Park in southern Iowa to do some butterfly photography. This park has good numbers of a small, seldom seen butterfly called Henry’s elfin. This butterfly is found where its caterpillar hostplant, redbud, occurs naturally.

I found quite a few of the butterflies–not on redbuds, but flying in the trees and shrubs and mudding along the access road and equestrian trails.

This individual is doing two characteristic butterfly behaviors. It is “mudding”, or drinking water from moist soil in order to obtain minerals that will be passed on to assist the caterpillars in their growth. It is also lateral basking. The butterfly positions its wings so that they are perpendicular to the sun’s rays. It was a cool but sunny morning, and the butterflies warm themselves by exposing their dark wings to the rays of the sun.

While it was mudding, it would occasionally walk to change position. It would raise its wings to a vertical position when walking, and even turned around a couple of times. Then it would go back to the extreme angle required for the basking.

Henry’s elfin were not the only insects that were present. There were several of these tiny but colorful grapevine epimenis moths along the trail.

Bee flies and small bees were present as well. As alarming as the long snout of the bee fly looks this is not a confrontation. It is just two pollinators resting on a leaf.

The bee fly uses that long snout to get its meal from wildflowers like this spring beauty.

I saw a few other butterflies as well–clouded sulfur, spring azure, and eastern comma. But the Henry’s elfin were the stars of the show.

Posted in butterflies, mudding, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

It Has Been a While…

2020 was not a good year for me.  The pandemic happened.  It also brought a string of things that prevented me from doing what I love.  A computer crash resulted in the loss of about a year’s worth of photos.  A couple of pinched nerves made it difficult to walk until I had back surgery to correct the problem.  So I took a break from this blog.

Today I took some bug and flower photos for the first time in a while.  I am not in the shape I want to be in but I should get there before too long.  It is too cold for butterflies today, but I have seen some earlier this week.  Dandelions and violets are blooming in the back yard though so I took the opportunity to photograph what I could find.

Violets are under appreciated.

Not sure what type of fly this is, but there were a few on the dandelions.

This seems to be a nymph of some kind of planthopper.

The bleeding hearts are just beginning to bloom.

It felt good to get a few photos in today. It was sort of like catching up to an old friend I have not seen in a while…

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Up Close

If you want to take good butterfly photos, sometimes you have to get really close.

Male pearl crescents and unidentified bees.


Posted in butterflies, invertebrates | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Evening Clouds Through a Short Telephoto Lens

We had an intense thunderstorm tonight, and the clouds were something to see afterwards.  Take a look.

I used a 105 mm macro lens–essentially a short telephoto.  The sky was blue in places, but I concentrated mostly on the dark clouds. 

I did a little bit of lightening and increasing the contrast on these photos.  But I kind of like the dark feel to them.

The Microsoft picture manager software has an “auto-correct” function for this photo which I used.  I am not sure what it does, but I liked the results.  The original was much darker.

Sweet dreams.


Posted in photography | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Hanging Out by the Swamp Milkweed

Big Creek State Park is an artificial lake in Polk County Iowa.  On the north side of the lake is a little used boat access–mostly used by people with canoes and kayaks.  The boat ramp is gravel mixed with mud, and the gravel stays sort of damp.  That makes it a great area for butterflies to visit and do mud-puddling activity.  In addition, there are a couple of small patches of swamp milkweed, which also attract butterflies and other pollinators.

Swamp milkweed is a beautiful flower, and it is hard to take a bad picture of an insect on it.  This is the common cabbage white.

In my experience, while swamp milkweed is attractive to butterflies, it is also attractive to some nice large wasps like this sand wasp, Bembix americana.

This common buckeye was more attracted to the damp gravel.

So was this Eastern tiger swallowtail.

But the milkweed brought in this dun skipper.

The only downside is the slight odor of the mud, which is now my perfume.  A little touch of algae, and maybe a little touch of carrion as well.

Posted in butterflies, common buckeye, Junonia coenia, photography | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Photos from Yesterday and Today

I was able to spend a few hours out in nature this weekend and pretty much enjoyed myself.

First I went to Marietta Sand Prairie in Marshall County, looking for butterflies.  I saw a few.  Nothing rare–meadow fritillaries, viceroy, orange sulfurs, summer azures.  My efforts to photograph them were stymied by deer flies, however.

Deer flies bite, but they are pretty slow about it.  Mostly they fly around my head and cause me to hit myself until I get a headache.  I did not get bit, but I did get chased out of a part of the prairie where I wanted to search.  While I hate the little pests they do have the most magnificent eyes.

I also was visited by a horse fly, here on my shoe.  Somehow I avoided getting bit by it as well.

In the sand blowout area I found this robberfly with a small bee as prey.

Today near the Des Moines River I found several small clumps of dogbane blooming.  From past experience I know this flower to be great at attracting all kinds of flower loving insects.  I was not disappointed.

There were a number of silver-spotted skippers visiting the flowers.  I liked this head-on view.

I spent a lot of time with this particular viceroy.  I got clear views of it but was a little hampered by the wind blowing the flower.


Posted in butterflies, diptera, insects, Silver-spotted skipper, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Butterfly Forecast for Central Iowa–June, 2020

May gave us wet, cool weather following a late spring. We had a few warm days with a surprising number of butterflies, but most days had few on the wing. I expect that to change pretty soon as the season progresses and the days get longer. June is a great month for butterflies, and during the first week or so I will often see two or three first of the year butterflies each time I go out.
In addition to the great flights of new butterflies, June also brings blooms of flowers that are very good at attracting butterflies–milkweeds, dogbane, and purple coneflowers.
The silver-spotted skipper has several broods and can be found most of the summer. They can be pretty numerous in June. They are strong fliers and are easily recognized once you have seen them. They seem to me like little flying fireplugs, hopping around from flower to flower, often landing underneath the flower and extending the proboscis up to get the drink. Common checkered skipper, common sootywing, least skipper, tawny-edged skipper, and Peck’s skipper are all widespread and can be found most of the summer. Watch for any of them on milkweeds or dogbane, or along the edges of gravel roads and trails. Most butterflies engage in a behavior called “mudding” or “mud puddling”, in which they drink water from damp sand. It has been reported that ninety percent of the individuals mudding will be males, and that males do his to collect minerals that they pass along to the females during mating.
Skippers can be frustrating to identify at any time, but three that you might see in June can be especially difficult. Little glassywing, dun, and crossline skippers all can be seen now, sometimes together on the same plant. There are subtle differences, but you have to see the butterflies at the right angle in order to tell them apart.

The three most common swallowtails–black, giant, and eastern tiger, all have good numbers in June and can be seen all month long.  Zebra and pipevine swallowtails are mostly only found in the south east or south west corners of the state.

Cabbage whites along with clouded and orange sulfurs will soon become the most common butterflies to be seen.

The two most common gossamer-winged butterflies will be the summer azure and the eastern tailed-blue.  Both are quite small, but are likely to be present in large numbers.  You should not need to look too hard to find these.  Bronze copper, American copper, and gray copper are a little more difficult to find, but are quite beautiful when seen.  The gray copper is fairly large and can be found in good numbers in the habitats where it is found–moist prairies.  It does not seem to roam too much, so you won’t see it at all unless you are near those habitats.  Although most are pretty rare, hairstreaks can often be found by checking the blooms of milkweeds.  Butterfly milkweed and common milkweed are great for finding the hairstreaks.  The flowers have nectar that is highly attractive to the hairstreaks, but which also encourages them to stay on the flowers for an extended period of time.

Brushfoot butterflies also make quite a showing in June. Watch for silvery checkerspot in wooded areas (although they can be anywhere). Pearl crescents are quite common in more open areas. Gorgone checkerspots can be found in areas with good prairie.
Any place that has willow trees should be good for viceroys. Red spotted purples can usually be found near woodland areas. Great spangled fritillaries can be found in a variety of habitats and are often a backyard butterfly.
Anytime from late June to early July is a good time to look for regal fritillaries. You need to look at a good prairie to find them, and you might only see them from a distance. They can cover a lot of territory in a short period of time. They can be found in a number of prairies in central Iowa, including Doolittle, Liska-Stanek, Neal Smith Wildlife refuge, Rolling Thunder, Medora, and a bunch of others. If you have never been to a prairie in Iowa it is worth your time, but wear long pants, sturdy shoes, and check yourself for ticks afterword. Also, take plenty of water.
There are several butterflies that are gray or brown and mostly inconspicuously colored, and which spend most of their time on the ground or at least under the vegetation. These include the northern pearly-eye, the common wood nymph, and the little wood satyr. They have a tendency to fly down into the weeds when startled, making them difficult to view or to photograph. Still, they can be quite charming. The little wood satyr sort of jumps or twitches when mildly startled, as if getting ready to fly.
Of course, American ladies, painted ladies, and red admirals can become quite common during the early summer. If you are fortunate enough to have a yard you will almost certainly have red admirals. During the long days of summer red admirals will be very active just before sunset, basking on tree trunks, sidewalks, and patios. They will sit at a particular spot for a while, then race off in hot pursuit of another red admiral that gets too close. They provide a great form of entertainment that is not curtailed due to social distancing concerns.
Get out when you can and enjoy the butterflies.

Harlan Ratcliff

Posted in butterflies, clouded sulfur, eastern tailed-blue, mudding, pearl crescent, Silver-spotted skipper | Tagged , | Leave a comment

On a Misty Day

When I moved into my house a little more than a year ago, there were some flowers planted alongside it.  Bleeding hearts!  One of my favorites.

They were getting ready to bloom this spring, then we got a late freeze and snow.  I wasn’t too optimistic that they would recover but they were starting to when we got another late freeze.

But they have bounced back and they look as robust as ever.

We’ve had a misty morning today and that makes great conditions to take photos of the flowers.

I took some photos which I liked, but I thought I would go back and try to take photos of the rain on the vegetation. 

After a lot of playing around and lots of bad shots I got this one that I kind of like:

Starting to feel a little less socially isolated…

Posted in photography, plants | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Getting outside

Yesterday I went to Elk Rock State Park in Marion County, IA to look for butterflies.  I only saw a few–three Henry’s elfins, an eastern comma, a cabbage white, and a red admiral.  Kind of slow, but we had a late snow event that wiped out a lot of the early ones.

It was nice to get out and smell the wild flowers and the forest and–well, there are some equestrian trails there.

I got lots of photos of a single butterfly.  This is one of the previously mentioned elfins.

Maybe not rare, but certainly rarely seen in Iowa.

Posted in butterflies, invertebrates | Tagged | Leave a comment