There is always another way

I was sitting on my porch, feeling sorry for myself.  I lost my camera to a recent break-in.  Then I saw first one then three or four silver-spotted skippers.  Two landed on a decorative paving brick that someone gave us sometime back.

I took their photo with my cell phone.  It was not the same as with the SLR camera.  There is something viscerally pleasing about using a good camera with a fixed focal length macro lens.  Still, I enjoyed the exercise.

Sooner or later I will be buying another good camera.  Until then, I do have an option.


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Forced Early Retirement

I am forced to stop taking bug photos for the time being.

Someone broke into our house, breaking a patio door window to get in.  They took some stuff from us, including my camera.

I will have to spend a bunch of money to get back into the hobby, and I probably will.  Right now I have other priorities I have to deal with though.

I do have a bucket of glass.

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Highly Modified Nature

Yesterday I did some photography along Saylorville Reservoir.  This is a flood-control reservoir on the Des Moines River.


From an ecological standpoint, flood control reservoirs are a really bad idea.  They create environments that are highly modified by man.  Still, there is nature all around if you open your eyes to it.



Viceroys were flying around in high numbers.  Their caterpillar host plants are willows which grow in profusion in the frequently flooded landscape.


This male red-winged blackbird took exception to my presence in his territory, and took to the air to scold and threaten me.


Damselflies and dragonflies were everywhere.  I was looking for a trio of butterflies–bronze coppers could not be found, nor could dainty sulfurs.  Little yellows were present, but I had to look around for them before I found them.  Viceroys, orange sulfurs, and common buckeyes could be found in large numbers.


I especially liked this photo of an eastern amberwing on fleabane.

I walked past the boat loading ramps and had a brief conversation with a fisherman who was leaving before “all the crazies get here.”   I might have been one of the crazies he was talking about.

But I walked along the sand and found a little area that was damp.   There I saw a very tiny blue butterfly.


I was fortunate enough to follow its flight as it darted around.  This is a butterfly I have seen once before, so I was happy that it let me take a number of pictures.7-9-160049

Reakirt’s blue is rarely seen in Iowa.  It is most often found in prairie areas with leadplant, which is its host plant.   I did not see the plant nearby, and I would have been surprised to find it in that habitat.  This area was not where I would have expected to find this butterfly at all.

I have seen this butterfly before, so it is not a “lifer.”  I haven’t seen it in over a decade, though, so it was a really good find.


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Swamp Milkweed and Three Butterflies

I saw this in the road ditch today.


Two great spangled fritillaries and a monarch on swamp milkweed.

I love summer.

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The Eye of the Monarch

In the past, I have posted my opinion that monarch butterflies are one of the more difficult butterflies to photograph.  The key to great butterfly photography is to get the eyes in focus.

Monarchs hide their eyes with little white spots on a black background.


This greatly cropped photo is from one of the clearest photos I have taken to date of the eyes.  Still, they don’t really pop out at you, do they?

If you look closely, right below the back part of the eye you can see the small, vestigial front legs common to all butterflies in the “brushfoot” group.  They don’t show up well, either.

Why do monarchs hide their eyes?



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Butterfliers have a term (probably borrowed from the birders) for butterflies that are difficult to identify.  “LBJ” stands for “little brown job.”

In the last few days I have been photographing some butterflies that can best be called LBJs.  They are grass skippers–small, active butterflies that have a unique way of resting that reminds people of jet fighters.


This is a little glassy-wing, Popmeius verna.


This is the butterfly when its wings are closed.  It has a bunch of subtle little light marks on a dark brown background.  But sometimes the markings are very faint, especially on worn individuals.


On the same milkweed and at the same time there were a couple of these butterflies.  They look very similar, but don’t have the markings.  Or do they, and are they very faint?


This is the skipper at rest.  I think it is a dun skipper, Euphyes vestris.  On about six common milkweed plants along the edge of the road there were at least two dun skippers and a half dozen little glassy wings.

About a week later I found this skipper in our flower garden:


This is a crossline skipper, Polites origenes.  Looks kind of  similar to the other two, doesn’t it?

Here is what it looks like in the jet fighter pose:


I am pretty certain on the IDs of these butterflies–maybe not quite as certain on the dun skipper as for the others.  What tips the scales is that I have a number of photos of the same individuals, so I can see some of the markings from different angles.

These butterflies are sometimes called “witches” because no one can tell which is which.

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A Fly that looks like a Wasp

I have been chasing butterflies lately and have spent a lot of time by common milkweed, which brings in all kinds of butterflies.  It brings in other pollinators as well–bees and wasps, primarily.

On three different occasions I have run across a small fly that looks quite a bit like a wasp.


This is a thick-headed fly, Physocephala tibialis.   I think this is a female.  The abdomen is shaped a little like a clamp–compare it to one of those old-fashioned can openers that have the pointed hook.  And it works a little like that, also.

The female attaches on to a bee (the suspected host is a bumblebee, Bombus bimaculatus), and deposits an egg under the integument of the exoskeleton.  The maggot then lives as an external parasite on the host, gradually eating away at it from the outside.  Apparently it does not kill the host.

But as with lots of other insects, the complete details of the life cycle have yet to be figured out.

These flies are supposedly relatively common, but I do not recall seeing one before this year.

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The Cherry Tree has Butterflies

Our cherry tree has lots of fruit on it this year–Pat has picked a bunch for pies.  Still, there is ripening fruit and over-ripe fruit.  And butterflies.


This is called a question mark butterfly, named for the silver marks on its side.


This is a northern pearly-eye.


This is a deer fly.  It is not a butterfly.  Butterflies do not bite.  Deer flies bite like hell.

But mostly they fly around your head and don’t land.  When they do land, they don’t bite.  Until they do.

This was also in the cherry tree.


As was this hackberry emperor.

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A Day Spent Chasing Butterflies

I went to Rolling Thunder and Medora Prairies in south-central Iowa yesterday.  I will be inviting people along with me on a butterfly walk in a couple of weeks (July 2), and I thought I would check things out before I went.


The star of the show and the butterfly I would like to be able to show people is the large prairie obligate regal fritillary.  I saw them at both sites yesterday but they were flying and difficult to get close to.

Quite a few butterflies could be found and the weather was pleasant.  I started at Rolling Thunder, which is a nice prairie but not as nice as Medora.

Rolling Thunder has a nice stand of common milkweeds at the top of the hill near the parking area.  Common milkweeds are attractive to many butterflies as nectar plants, and are the caterpillar host of monarchs.

I saw monarchs, regals, great spangled fritillaries, pearl crescent, orange sulfurs, least skippers, and a single coral hairstreak.

Then I went to Medora Prairie.  Medora normally has a nice group of butterfly milkweed plants which are a magnet for all kinds of pollinators.   I could not find them, although butterfly milkweed was blooming in ditches close by.  I hope that is just because it is early, but I have heard of people poaching this plant to sell for suburban gardens.  We will see in a couple of weeks.

The prairie is a great place to find butterflies, but the dirt road on the east side of the prairie might be better.   As I walked along the path I spooked a wild turkey, which ran off then flew away.

Dogbane is a milkweed relative that is very attractive to butterflies, and there were large patches of it along the road.


This is an American lady.


The common wood-nymph is plentiful in the prairie, but has a tendency to fly up then hide deep in the grasses where they cannot be photographed.


I take an empty five gallon bucket with me, and I sat on it for a while and watched the dogbane for butterflies.  Then I looked up into the tree above me and saw this lovely widow skimmer.


The biggest surprise of the day was this sleepy orange.  This butterfly is not rare nationally but is seldom seen in Iowa.  It was travelling along the road, and feeding on birdsfoot trefoil (an invasive alien).

Butterflies I saw at Medora include giant swallowtail, hackberry emperor, Delaware skipper, least skipper, orange sulfur, eastern tailed-blue, little yellow, great spangled fritillary, meadow fritillary, red spotted purple, regal fritillary, and a few others.

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You are being watched

We have some huge old cottonwood trees near our place.  As I walked by one, I heard some rustling in the tree and the sound of babies talking to their mother.  I saw some young raccoons and the mother, but I was not fast enough to get their photos before they want back into the hollow of the tree.


But mama poked her head out to watch me.

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