Three Swallowtails: Big, Bold, Beautiful

During these dog days of summer, the fields of Eliza Howell Park are alive with flowers and butterflies. Swallowtails are the largest butterflies in North America and three different swallowtail species are now flying in these fields and feeding on the flowers. They are big and hard to miss when one is walking among the flowers.

And they almost beg to have their picture taken.

Two swallowtail species are often found in the park during the summer – Black Swallowtail and Tiger Swallowtail. The third, Giant Swallowtail, is a more southern species that appears only occasionally. I didn’t see it until August 4 this year, when this picture was taken.

20190804_103526

As the name suggests, Giant Swallowtail is the largest of the three (with a wingspan of about 5 inches).

Swallowtails use their long proboscis for taking nectar and the best chance for someone to get close to view and/or photograph is when they are feeding. The “swallowtail” name comes from the “tail” extending in back from each hindwing, giving the appearance of a forked tail similar to that of some swallows (such as the Barn Swallow).

At first glance, Black Swallowtail and Giant Swallowtail look somewhat alike, especially when both are in the spread wing position. This picture is of a male Black Swallowtail.

20190804_141118

In addition to the fact that the Black Swallowtail is smaller (wingspan of about 4 inches), the yellow lines are in different locations on the wings.

The Tiger Swallowtail is also yellow and black, in fact it gets its name from the black and yellow striped look. It is easily distinguished, however, as it is more a yellow butterfly than a black one.

20190803_130033

While there is some variation among individuals in size, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (to give its full name) is usually larger than Black Swallowtails but smaller than Giant Swallowtails.

Butterflies often look different when their wings are folded or partially folded. It is interesting to compare the next two pictures. First a Giant Swallowtail.

20190804_121758

Then a Tiger Swallowtail.

20190803_114746

Of the three, the only one in which the difference between the male and female is major is the Black Swallowtail. Here is a picture of a female, followed by one of a male.

20180907_143915

20190804_110214

Butterfly watching is usually enhanced by being able to recognize differences among species. But that ability can come gradually.

My main reason for writing about these three swallowtails is simply to highlight what is happening now in Eliza Howell Park. The season is short (especially for the Giant Swallowtail), but it is a special time of the year when one can watch all three of these big, bold, and beautiful butterflies on the same day.

 

Advertisements

Marvelous Monarch Morning

Monarch butterflies were active early on a recent late July warm and humid morning in Eliza Howell Park. I began to see them before 8 a.m.

Black-eyed Susan is now in bloom in the park. Based on past observations, it is not a flower I think of when I see Monarchs, so when a Monarch stopped on one to nectar, I approached for a picture.

20190728_115712

Given the numbers of Monarchs flying in the peak of the summer flower season, I decided to record in pictures some of the different flowers Monarchs came to rest on this morning. The second flower was definitely no surprise; I have often seen Monarchs on Red Clover.

20190728_115725

Monarchs are perhaps the best known North American butterfly – large, colorful, easy to spot, often discussed in terms of their migration practice and in terms of their declining numbers. One additional point is that Monarchs will often allow someone to get close while they are feeding on nectar, as long as the approach is slow and without any quick movements. These pictures were all taken with a phone camera.

Eliza Howell Park has several new benches. I was tempted to sit in the shade and watch the Monarchs, but I needed to be on my feet to get close.

20190728_084118

Butterfly Weed is a Monarch favorite, a flower in the milkweed family that serves both a feeding plant for adults and a host plant for caterpillars.

20190728_100036

Another flower that I have previously noted as a Monarch favorite is Purple Coneflower. One of the several Monarchs flying around in the “prairie wildflower field” stopped just long enough for a quick picture.

20190728_124506

I cannot be sure, of course, because there were several butterflies in their irregular flight patterns, but I think that each of these pictures is of a different Monarch.

The last picture I took this morning is of the butterfly on Boneset. Boneset is not one of the more common flowers in Eliza Howell and not one that I have ever associated with Monarchs in the past.

20190728_115923

Five pictures of Monarchs on five different flowers in about 2 hours = a Marvelous Monarch Morning.

I came away with a better knowledge of the flowers in the park that Monarchs select as food sources. After some 1300 Eliza Howell nature walks, I continue to learn something new almost every time.

 

The Lady Has a Favorite

Over the past two to three weeks, I have been noticing the amount of time the American Lady butterfly has been spending around and on Red Clover in Eliza Howell Park. The attraction is obviously very strong.

20190707_114837 (1)

The American Lady, which is usually seen with its wings closed or only slightly open, has been present in large numbers this year. It is distinguished from the Painted Lady, in part, by the two large eyespots on the underwing.

20190701_160038

Red Clover, with its pink flowers, is also abundant this year. It is a plant native to Europe and parts of Asia and Africa, which was brought to North America and has become naturalized here. It has often been grown as a fodder crop and is valued for its ability to enrich soil by fixing nitrogen.

20190612_131733

This has been a great year for both Red Clover and American Lady in EHP. I suspect that the widespread clover is the primary reason there are so many American Ladies. The clover is, without a doubt, the Lady’s favorite flower.

The relationship between the two is not an exclusive one, of course. The clover welcomes other pollinators, not only bees, but other butterflies. I have seen visiting Red Admirals and Monarchs.

20190713_170100

20190713_170258

And the American Lady also likes to check out other flowers from time to time. Here it is on coreopsis.

20190618_162352

It is fascinating to observe the American Lady’s strong preference for Red Clover, but I am left with a question: What was the American Lady’s favorite flower before Red Clover was introduced to North America?

Nature Discovery Day Is July 13

On Saturday, July 13,  there is a great opportunity for visitors to the park to become more familiar with the wildflowers, butterflies, birds, mammals, trees — and more – of Eliza Howell Park: 9:00 – noon. Free and open to everyone.

Resized_20190527_141858_9041

There will be exhibits, activities, and options of guided walks designed to point out some of the natural wealth of this Detroit park. The park entrance is on Fenkell east of Telegraph. The event also includes an opportunity to learn more about the U-M wildlife motion-activated camera project (which includes Eliza Howell Park).

Among the highlights of mid-July are the meadow/prairie wildflowers. Among those catching my attention recently are these.

20190705_121638

Clockwise from top left: Foxglove Beardtongue, Black-eyed Susan, Butterfly Weed, Common Milkweed

The event is organized by Eliza Howell Park Partnership (EHPP), a coalition of persons with different organizational affiliations and a common interest in highlighting Eliza Howell as a place for observing and enjoying nature in an urban environment.

Guides will be present to assist in identifying the varieties of flowers, as well as the specific species of butterflies they attract. These are among the common butterflies at this time of the year.

20190705_123112

Clockwise from top left: Monarch, Common Ringlet, Red Admiral, Pearl Crescent.

While I am often unable to get a picture of a butterfly I see, it is never difficult to find flowers waiting to be photographed.

20190705_122050

Clockwise from top left: Staghorn Sumac, Chicory, Wild Bergamot, St John’s Wort.

Eliza Howell is the kind of nature park it is, in significant part, because the Rouge River runs through it. For those who wish to take it on Saturday, a short walk to the footbridge provides a good view of the shaded river.

20190705_122423

Back in the field, one flower not to be missed is Wild Bergamot, a mint family flower, sometimes called beebalm, that has only recently begun its summer blooming season. It is a magnet for a variety of insects. In this picture, the visitor is a Hummingbird Moth.

20180712_155601

Many mammals are more active at night than during the day. The cameras used in the UM wildlife camera project have located and identified some of the mammals of the night, as will be reported on July 13.

Two that I have recently seen during the day are White-tailed Deer and Groundhog.

20190708_104019

I thank EHPP for providing this opportunity to witness and enjoy the natural wealth of the park.

 

Common but Not Common: Black Swallowtail

On May 22, I saw the first Black Swallowtail of 2019 in Eliza Howell Park. Black Swallowtails are nectaring butterflies, usually seen going from flower to flower. About the only flowers available in the field on May 22 were dandelions.

20190522_165306

Black Swallowtails are regulars in the park, often seen anytime from May through September. They are regulars, frequently seen, “common” in this sense. But the reason I take their pictures so often is that they are not “common” in the sense of routine or plain or unremarkable. They get my attention repeatedly.

Like many other butterflies, they are attracted to wild bergamot.

20190524_175547

And they like clover.

20180907_143915

The “swallowtail” name comes from the two tails extending in back, similar to – or reminding someone of – the tail of the Barn Swallow. The male and female are slightly different in appearance, the females having smaller yellow/white spots but larger blue patches than the males.

These common but remarkable butterflies are often in home gardens as well as in the park. In our garden, they frequent coneflowers.

20190530_103750

Black Swallowtails do not migrate, but overwinter as chrysalis. Females lay eggs on plants in the carrot family (parsley, carrots, Queen Anne’s lace, etc.). This caterpillar is enjoying eating its way up a parsley sprig.

20190524_165017

Naturalists often refer to animals and plants that are seen frequently in a particular location as “common.” Sometimes they are even named “common” – for example, “common milkweed” and “common buckeye.” A number of years ago, while on a butterfly walk in Eliza Howell, a companion said when viewing the common buckeye butterfly: “How can anything that beautiful be called “common!”

Here is a common buckeye that was close enough for me to get a picture of last year in Eliza Howell.

20180911_135735

His words are on my mind as I reflect on the black swallowtail. Its regular presence does not diminish its distinctiveness.

Spring Butterflies: Five of the Earliest

Butterfly season peaks in the summer, but a few begin to fly on warmer sunny days in the spring. Of the approximately 30 different species that I see each year in Eliza Howell Park, there are five that are always among the earliest to appear.

1.Mourning Cloak

mourning cloak

Photo by Margaret Weber

Butterflies have different ways of surviving the winter. Some few migrate; some overwinter as chrysalis and complete development in the spring; some hibernate as adults. Mourning Cloak is one that hibernates, under bark or a log, and emerges, as soon as the weather is warm enough, to feed on sap and rotten fruit and to get minerals and moisture from the soil. It looks much less colorful when the wings are folded.

2.Eastern Comma

20180404_171922

The butterflies that overwinter as adults locally are the earliest to take flight in the spring. Eastern Comma also hibernates and it, or Mourning Cloak, is usually the very first I see. Early in the spring, it feeds on sap and decaying organic material. Even later in the year, it is rarely seen on flowers.

The underwings are brown with a white mark in the general shape of a comma.

3.Spring Azure

Resized_20180724_122719_1731

The Spring Azure is a blue butterfly that overwinters as chrysalis. It is very small and, when seen flying or with the wings open, the blue is striking. Whenever it allows me to take its picture, however, it has its wings closed and shows no blue at all. Early in the spring, the azure does not visit flowers, but later in the season it (or the subspecies Summer Azure) does. This picture was taken later in the year and is likely a Summer Azure.

4.Cabbage White

Resized_20190322_142031_1838

One of only two non-native butterfly species that have become widespread in North America, Cabbage White also spends the winter as chrysalis. When the wings are open, the dark spots on the wings are evident as is the black on the tip. The name comes from the fact that Cabbage White caterpillars often feed on plants in the cabbage family.

5.Red Admiral

20190322_141831

The Red Admiral is one of the butterflies that migrate south for the winter. When the wings are folded, the insect is drab-looking, with only a small bit of orange showing. It too will take sap and decaying organic material until flowers bloom and then it is usually seen nectaring. The picture was taken in the summer.

—-

In July, when thousands of wildflowers are blooming in the fields of Eliza Howell, butterflies are numerous. During April, before the flowers bloom, there are only a few on some of the warmer sunny days. But for those of us eager to see butterflies again and to delight in the very fact that they are appearing again, the season begins.

Thinking April during Winter Walks

I enjoy nature walks in the winter in Eliza Howell Park, especially when there is snow on the ground, but for 2-3 months the seasonal changes are minimal. Plants and many animals are dormant and the number of birds present is the lowest of any time during the year. Nature’s year begins later in the calendar year in Detroit, in March rather than in January.

So, during my quiet winter walks, I sometimes find myself thinking ahead and anticipating some of the special times that will be coming later this year, some of the best times to visit the park to observe, and perhaps to photograph, annual natural phenomena.

The first “don’t miss” days marked on my calendar are late April. (There will be a public nature walk on Saturday, April 27, at 10 a.m.)

In late April, the earliest of the summer breeding birds will have returned from their winter grounds and, like this male Red-winged Blackbird, will be claiming their territories and proclaiming their interest in a mate.

20181231_134725

     Photo by Margaret Weber

Sometime in the second half of April (the exact time is temperature dependent), American Toads will return to their breeding pond in EHP and spend a couple of days and nights in loud calling and in mating / egg-laying. In 2018, the weather was too warm in May and the pond dried up before the tadpoles were fully developed, so it will be especially interesting to see what happens this year.

20180224_161930

     Photo by Margaret Weber

Late April is also the beginning of the blooming wildflower season in the park, with a variety of small species found along the paths in the woods. The timing of this is also weather dependent, but on the basis of my experience over the last decade, the last week in April is usually a good time to see them. This collage of Violets is made up of pictures taken in 2018.

20180504_130142

The Mayapple does not usually bloom as early as April in Eliza Howell, but it is fascinating to observe how it emerges. There are several patches where its progress can be observed in the late days of April.

20181231_140117

Of the approximately 30 butterfly species that can be seen annually in Eliza Howell, the first ones usually show up in late April. The tiny Spring Azure, pictured with the wings up here, is a lovely blue when the wings are open.

20180423_123020

April is also the month when the earliest bird nests can be found (the Red-tailed Hawk nest earlier). Most song birds build their nests later (the annual Detroit Audubon field trip to Eliza Howell to observe nesting bids is in early June), but I often find a couple by late April.

These pictures were taken in April, 2018. The one on the left, a nest on the ground, is Killdeer. The one on the right, in a shrub, is Northern Cardinal.

20181231_135658

My walks continue all winter and I usually find something noteworthy each time, but the changes from one week to the next are nothing now like they are when spring has fully arrived. To avoid missing special developments – such as first butterflies, first wildflowers, first bird nests – it’s time to mark the calendar.