Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Monday, September 27, 2010

Butterfly Photo Project

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

I've been subjecting my Facebook friends to a stream of butterfly photos all summer long. It's part of a project that I started last spring. I'm sometimes called upon to give talks for various community groups. A particularly well-worn presentation is one titled Butterflies of the American Prairie. I've been giving variants on this talk for many years. It's still in 35 mm slide format. Many of the images are quite old, and very few of them are actually my own photos. This year I decided to change that by upgrading the whole talk to a PowerPoint presentations using fresh photos that I have taken myself.

Karner Blue (Lycaeides melissa samuelis)

As I got into this project, I realized that I had a few good images from last year, such as this Karner Blue from northwest Indiana. This photo is what got me thinking about my project.

Hoary Elfin (Callophrys polios)

I began way back in April. My goal was to get all of the images that I will need to create a digital version of my talk. This Hoary Elfin was photographed on April 30 at Illinois Beach State Park. This is a very rare species in Illinois, and flies for just a few weeks in late April and early May.

Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

As the summer progressed, I was able to collect more and more images. Sometimes I went out specifically to take photos. Field work also offered some good opportunities. I spent a lot of time this summer doing butterfly surveys for one of the large Cook County agencies. They wanted me to take lots of photos, and I obliged. Some of them turned out to be useful for my project.

Eastern Tailed Blue (Everes comyntas)

My conservation work has allowed my additional photo opportunities. Sometimes I'm taking pictures of the species that we are working with, as is the case with this Regal Fritillary picture.

Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia)

Other times I found opportunities to snag shots of species that we aren't working with in the lab. That was the case for this Little Yellow, which we found while collecting Regal Fritillary moms for egg laying.

Little Yellow (Eurema lisa)

It's been a rewarding effort. I tried to do a lot more butterfly photography a decade ago. My parents had given me a very nice camera for my fortieth birthday. I always felt butterfly photography to be a struggle. My macro lens was amazing, but I had to get right on top of an individual butterfly if I wanted to use the lens' capability. Butterflies typically do not cooperate with that behavior.Depth of field was always a huge issue for me. The greater flexibility that the digital format offers has really liberated me, and I'm enjoying the photographic opportunities that are opening up.

Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phileus)

The season is rapidly ending, however the project isn't done yet. I now have enough images that I can put together a digital version of the talk. There are a bunch of species that I need, and still others that I'm not yet fully pleased with. I'm very fortunate that I started this project during an extremely good year for butterflies, and look forward to filling in many of my gaps in 2011.

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Regal Afternoon

Land of Regal Fritillaries

There is nothing like spending a beautiful early autumn day collecting Regal Fritillaries for egg laying. Vincent, Robin, and I went out on Thursday, and had the opportunity to spend a picture-perfect day along the Kankakee River near the Illinois/Indiana border. We were a bit late this year. We managed to collect six females. Every fritillary that we saw was a female, which is an indication that we are getting pretty far along in the season here. I did not photograph any of the Regals that we saw. There weren't many and we really needed to focus our efforts on getting the moms collected for egg laying.

Little Yellow (Eurema lisa)

We got to see lots of species of butterflies. I was able to continue my summer project of getting digital images of local butterfly species. I was especially happy to be able to get a shot of the Little Yellow. This species has had a population explosion in northern Illinois this year. I've been trying unsuccessfully all summer to get a decent image of it.

Great Tiger Beetle Habitat

You can't see an image like this one without thinking about tiger beetles (well, at least I can't). I saw four species on Thursday: Punctured, Bronze, Festive, and Big Sand tiger beetles.

Big Sand Tiger Beetle (Cicindela formosa)

Festive Tiger Beetle (Cicindela scutellaris lecontei)

I was seeing Festive Tiger Beetles last week in Michigan. Ted aptly noticed that the one in my photo looked very green. This was true of many of the individuals that I saw up there. The one above is the more typical red color of this subspecies. Others in the Indiana population are much more blackish, including the one below.

Festive Tiger Beetle (Cicindela scutellaris lecontei)

Meanwhile back in the lab, we have set the six Regal Fritillary moms up for egg laying. Each female is placed in a white paper bag with strips of paper towel, a sprig of violet leaf (the caterpillar food) and a moist piece of paper towel. The females generally lay eggs all over the edges of the paper towel strips.

Paper Towel Strips, Violet Leaf, and Moist Paper Towel

Each Bag Contains a Female Regal Fritillary for Egg Laying

We have yet to get any eggs out of these girls (not unusual, it generally takes a few days for them to start). Still, we have no mortality yet and all six females are feeding well. We are hoping to put some of what we learned this past year into practice with the result of greater survival of the larvae over the winter.

A Regal Fritillary Mom Feeding in the Lab

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Monday, September 06, 2010

Farewell to Summer

Labor Day weekend. The end of summer, the end of white shoes and belts, and the beginning to the progression into winter. Leon and I took Friday off, and were joined by our friend Michael in celebrating the end of summer in Michigan. We went camping in the Saugatuck region. Unfortunately, the weather was not overly cooperative. Although the only truly terrible weather was a robust thunderstorm the evening that we arrived (fortunately, after the tents were pitched), much of the weekend was rather marginal. Friday was drippy and therefore a day to hang around camp and go into town for a bit of shopping.

Oval Beach

Dunes Behind the Beach

On Saturday we hiked on the shore and in the dunes at Oval Beach. It was cloudy and very windy- at least 25 mph off of Lake Michigan. It made for some impressive surf. There were lots of gulls and a few sandpipers hukered down right on the lake shore because of the wind, and I was able to get a couple of decent photos of the sandpipers.


Sunday was by far the best day of the weekend. It was sunny and pleasantly warm without being hot. We went for a great hike at the Allegan Game Area just west of where we were staying. I've been there before as part of the Imperiled Butterfly Workshop, and wanted to show the place to Leon.

Allegan State Game Area

This part of the world is very sandy with lots of black oak. As I have previously mentioned, there are lots of Allegheny mound-building ant here. I had Michael stand next to one of the mounds to show just how large they are.

Michael L. with Ant Mound

We say some pretty good butterflies and, not surprising for such a sandy area, lots of tiger beetles. We also saw a and wasp (Bembyx americana) digging in the soft sand. I got some video.

American Copper(Lycaena phlaeas)

Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus)

The Festive Tiger Beetle (Cicindela scutellaris lecontei) was the only species that we saw- but they were abundant. I have both collected and photographed this species before, but have not been happy with the photographic results. The abundance of the species and relatively cool temperatures allowed me to do better this time.

Several Shots of the Festive Tiger Beetle
(Cicindela scutellaris lecontei)

At breakfast yesterday, we noticed migrating monarch butterflies filling the skies like autumn leaves. This weekend featured many signs of the change of seasons. I guess I'm ready to say goodbye to the summer of 2010. It's been a fine one.

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