Butterfly Update

Louise, who lives up north, wanted to know more about all these butterflies we see in the autumn here in the southern part of the US. So, I went and looked up whether the butterflies we see here migrate or stay here, and what times of year they are seen most. I got all this off Wikipedia. And I went on and on. I guess I better also put this in the Master Naturalist blog!

Gulf Fritillary

Dione vanilla have been seen to migrate twice a year (in Florida). But they only go from south Florida to north Florida. Here is the chart of their distribution here in Texas (from iNaturalist). You can see they are here year-round but peak around the beginning of autumn, when all those yellow flowers are out.

Gulf fritillary appearances

There have been lots of observations around where I live, so they are pretty common, but beautiful.

Common Buckeye

This one, Junonia coenia, I see a lot but only at some times of the year. It’s also seen year round here but has a spring peak as well as a fall peak. I’m getting the idea that autumn is a big butterfly time here!

Common buckeye appearances

These do migrate, but seem to be here all year, because it isn’t too cold, I guess. Here’s what research says:

Common buckeyes move to the south along with tailwinds directed to the north or northwest after the cold fronts from September or October. They are sensitive to the cold and cannot spend the winter in northern regions that will experience extreme cold temperatures. However, they will migrate back from the south during the spring. It was spotted in California in late summer, early fall of 2022.

The butterfly gardener’s guide. Dole, Claire Hagen. Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Botanic Garden. 2003. ISBN 978-1889538587OCLC 52223505.

Pipevine Swallowtail

Battus philenor is not as common this time of year. It’s also more of a forest butterfly than a prairie one, which explains why I saw it at Tarrin’s – lots of wooded areas near her ranch. This one is also more of a warm-season butterfly. I probably saw one of the last adults for this year. I see lots of observations of caterpillars right now on iNaturalist.

They must not migrate, since I didn’t find any information on that. I do want to note that they need the pipevine plant to lay eggs on, and I found a member of that family at my neighbor Sara’s place earlier in the year. Yay!

Observations near me. The top one is our place.

Queen

Danaus gilippus is most definitely a fall flyer. It’s only found in the southern US and is more common in South America. This one, like the monarch, uses milkweed plants as its host. It sure is pretty.

Queen butterfly sightings

Painted Lady

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) is another one with two peaks. One thing I’m noticing, though, is that even the ones with a spring peak have a larger one in the autumn. So, that explains something that Louise was asking about: many butterflies seem to be autumnal!

Painted Lady sightings

Painted ladies are the most widespread of all butterflies and are found worldwide. I hadn’t known that! They are resident in places like where I live, but also migrate to northern areas in the summer.

Common Checkered-Skipper

Common Checkered-Skipper (Burnsius communis) is one I can’t get verified, but the ones I see sure look like the ones in the picture. It doesn’t seem to have been studied as much as many of the others, though it’s really pretty with its blue body and lacy pattern on the wings. And yep, it’s another one that is seen mostly in the autumn.

Checkered skimmer sightings

Variegated Fritillary

Euptoieta Claudia is common in this area. They seem to be prevalent all year except in the dead of winter. I think they’re pretty, too.

Variegated fritillary

They use passion vines as their host, which may explain why we see so many here. I have LOTS of passion vines! They also like disturbed areas and open fields, which we have plenty of around here. They produce multiple broods per year, which may explain the prevalence during all the warm months.

This is such a pretty photo

Dainty Sulphur

Dainty Sulphur (Nathalis iole) is a tiny yellow butterfly, the smallest of the bunch, it turns out. We have lots of sulphurs around here, and they are very busy little fellows, so it’s hard to get photos. This one seems to go away in the hotter months. I do recall seeing them all winter, since we always have something blooming, like chickweed, which is one of its favorites.

Dainty sulphur observations

This one is also white and other colors, so now I know that all those teeny ones I see are the same butterfly. I learned something!

Thank you for holding still

Fiery Skipper

Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus) is another small one. They are incredibly numerous around here and are very busy little things. I enjoy watching them skipping around. Well, when I read the article on them, it became clear why I see so many! They love Bermuda grass. Guess what all the pastures around here were planted in? Bermuda grass. The beloved coastal Bermuda has pretty much made life difficult for the native grasses around here, but I guess that makes the fiery skippers happy. It makes them a pest in Hawaii, though. I say, eat away, skippers!

Fiery Skipper Sightings

I also learned why the butterflies I see that are identified as fiery skippers look so different. They are sexually dimorphic, with the males much brighter than the females. I’m suddenly becoming a butterfly expert as I write this.

Gray Hairstreak

I am trying to figure out what butterflies I see earlier in the year. Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) is one I know I see in spring. Even this one peaks in the fall, though. It’s tiny, but holds still enough that I can get photos. Thanks!

Gray hairstreak
It held still

American Snout

These guys, American Snout (Libytheana carinenta), just migrated through here, so I know they are migratory. But they are most often seen in autumn, like all the others so far. Migrations happen after droughts that are followed by heavy rains, which explains the one last week. The Wikipedia article says sometimes there are so many that they darken the sky. Wow. Funny looking, too.

American snouts

Pearl Crescent

Another beauty, Phyciodes tharos is more of a spring and summer butterfly that’s found all over North America. It’s very common in this area.

Pearl crescent

Hackberry Emperor

Asterocampa celtis is one of the summer butterflies around here, probably because of its ties to the hackberry tree (which we have plenty of). I guess it shows up when the trees start blooming.

Hackberry emperor

This is a weird butterfly. It’s rarely seen visiting flowers (I see it on trees, duh). And it doesn’t pollinate the trees:

Species in the genus Asterocampa are regarded as being “cheater” organisms, since these butterflies do not pollinate flowers when they feed from them. This species can more accurately be described as parasitizing their hosts and plant food sources since they extract nutrients without providing any benefits to the host.

Neck, Raymond W. (1983). “SIGNIFICANCE OF VISITS BY HACKBERRY BUTTERFLIES (NYMPHALIDAE: ASTEROCAMPA) TO FLOWERS” (PDF). Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society37 (4): 269–274.

How about that?

It’s on a tree

Eastern Giant Swallowtail

I’ll stop with Papilio cresphontes, since I finally found one that isn’t most common in the autumn. This one is more of a summer butterfly. It’s always great to see one of these gracefully flitting around.

Giant swallowtail

This is the largest butterfly in North America, so I’ve shared with you both the largest and the smallest today! The caterpillars are pests to citrus growers, but they are just beautiful sights as far as I’m concerned.

A Rare Sighting of Wonder

Yesterday, my friend Mandi dropped by to pick up the baby blanket I finished recently, so her imminent little boy will have a nice warm blanket, perfect for Texas summers. Ha. Well, it will be perfect for cold air-conditioned rooms and draughts. Drafts. Whichever.

We spent most of our time over by the horses, because she needed some horse time and I had to feed the equines. I showed her the new and improved tack room, into which I am slowly moving my things.

Vlassic is fond of the chair, which Mandi shared she had tried to give away or throw away multiple times, but must have been waiting to serve as the tack room chair all along.

She also got to enjoy watching me work with Drew briefly. He acted like a doofus at first and was running off to eat grass with no regard to me, but once I got him into the round pen, he remembered what he was supposed to be doing and was just fine. I didn’t want to work with him too much, since he’d had so much time off and had been sick, but at least he got a few jumps and circles in to remember his job.

You starve me, human (he now is on the other pasture with more grass).

When we were done, we walked over to the hen house to gather the day’s production (they are in extra-productive mode right now, with 6-7 eggs a day, which is not bad for just eight hens).

I saw something in the corner of my eye and looked up. There, whirring and spiraling, was a flock of birds. They weren’t geese, since they were the wrong shape and there was a noticeable lack of honking. The birds were not in any particular formation, either, which also ruled out cranes or ducks. They really weren’t making much noise at all.

This is pretty much exactly what we saw, only from someone else near Dallas a few weeks ago. Image © Russ Hoverman Creative Commons.

Of course, I didn’t have any binoculars. I even had left my phone elsewhere! That’s not like me! So, I memorized what they looked like. To me they looked like seagulls, not something you see often here, due to a lack of sea. I took note of the black wing stripes.

An idea of what the formation looked like. Image © Russ Hoverman Creative Commons.

After that, we just watched them fly. They sparkled in the sun as they turned and spun. We were in awe. There must have been a hundred or so, shiny, white and swirling. We watched until they flew out of sight, heading northward.

Screenshot of Merlin Bird ID

When I got back to my phone, I immediately pulled up one of the most helpful bird-watching apps I’ve found, Merlin Bird ID from Cornell Labs (an institution I happily give my charitable donations to). This app has you input a few facts about the bird you saw, then gives you a list of possible birds it could have been. What’s really GREAT about the app is that it knows exactly where you are and has a huge database of past bird sightings for different times of year to draw from.

And that was the key to my bird identification. The app knew what tends to migrate at this time of year in the center of the United States. We were witnessing the migration of Franklin’s gulls (Leucophaeus pipixcan) from South America as they head up to the Great Lakes and marshes in the center of North America. How lucky we were to be outside and looking up in time to see that!

This is the kind of thing that makes life worth living for a naturalist. I’ll remember the sight for the rest of my life.

As it is, life goes on. The gutters are functional now and they got a little test yesterday when we got actual normal rain without any tornadic events.

They go into the ground now. Fancy.

In more Hermits’ Rest news, today the guys are building an entry deck for the pool house. That is going to make bringing things in and out much easier than trying to step on a couple of cement blocks, from which Lee almost fell yesterday, anyway.

Deck in progress. Getting it level was not easy.

It’s currently hard to work, because cattle in the next field are having some sort of moo-off. They can be impressively loud when they are in a cow-tizzy. The dogs are doggedly protecting us from these invisible monsters.

Shut up, cows.

And just for laughs, yesterday I put my new pool float in the hot tub. It was mighty comfortable. I was told it looked like I was on a tiny version of the Lazy River ride in Schlitterbahn (a water resort in Texas), where you get in an inner tube and float around and around in a circle of river water. I don’t care. It was fun (yes, this was also the image from yesterday’s little bitty blog post).

Have a great Friday Eve.

Book Report: The Warmth of Other Suns

Rating: 4 out of 5.

You’d think I would have finished a couple of books by now, since I’ve been mostly alone in Utah for two weeks. But, there has been knitting, and that does take away from reading time. And the book I have been reading is over 600 pages. But, I finished The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration today! It’s the 2010 first book by Isabel Wilkerson, who wrote Caste, the book that has moved me so much.

I took the photo with sun shining on it.

Many people told me I just had to read this book, and I’m glad they did, since it provided a lot of context for my life, both in the American South and my 20 years in Illinois. I would recommend this book to everyone, but especially to Black friends, because it really does a great job making sense out of both the people who migrated northward from the 1930s to the 1960s, as well as to those who stayed and stuck it out through really awful times.

For sure, reading about the struggles of “colored” people, as Wilkerson correctly calls the folks living before the 1960s, makes it clear how hard the parents and grandparents of the current generations of Black Americans worked to get us to where we are now. Whenever I think there’s been no progress, I can think of the people in this book and realize that yes, things ARE better now for Black citizens. They just aren’t good enough (as the Caste book explains and anyone with eyeballs can see for themselves).

The table runner I’m working on is certainly stripey.

I was a white child in the Deep South, and I recall how separate the worlds of our races still were in the 1960s. What I didn’t see were some of the really, really awful things a child wouldn’t see, such as how hard it was to buy a house, get an education, or get a non-menial job for the colored folks where I lived. No wonder so many people left, hoping it would be better in the North.

But wow, I now know how things got the way they were in the big cities back then, how hard it was to live anywhere but crowded areas, how quickly a neighborhood would empty of White folks (and their businesses) once integration occurred. I remember it happening in the South, where my dad told me his brothers kept moving to get away from Blacks, only that’s not what they called them. I didn’t think it was like that up in the North, where people were free. Or so I thought. Now I know.

Why we aren’t out having fun today. Ugh.

Wilkerson follows three different people and their families, who moved to Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles in this book. I like that she humanizes what could easily have been a dry, intellectual discourse, by sharing the lives of real people. The three are fallible, human, and above all, honest about their lives, and Wilkerson does an amazing job of interspersing their stories with historical background and generalizations about migrants to the North all over the US. The human element just keeps you drawn in and helps you get through the sad stories of beatings, lynchings, cruelty, and unfairness.

One thing is for sure, anyone who reads this book and learns the stories of the people in the Great Migration will not be able to figure out when the heck America was ever “great,” at least for large segments of the population. And that is why more of us should read this book, because it puts our history into perspective. We can be proud of the hard work our citizens have put in to make life better for others, but seeing what a battle it’s been clarifies WHY we still have to work so hard for all of us.

I now understand what was going on during the years I spent visiting Hyde Park in Chicago, whereas at the time I was just a frightened young woman wanting to safely get from that integrated oasis to downtown and transportation. I understand what was going on with the trains going through my hometown. I understand why it was so hard to integrate the schools there: people were scared of each other. People are still scared, perhaps for different reasons, and I realize not much has changed in that respect.

But, when I think back to how I lived 20 years next door to a Black family and had nothing but good neighborly experiences, how my children had friends whose parents had migrated from all over the world, how no one looks sideways at people dating members of other races and cultures, and how many bright and talented Black folks DO get a chance to shine now, I feel a bit better. I have no illusions that we are a “post-racial” society. But I have hope.

By reading this book, any reader will have the context to understand how and why we got to where we are in 2020. Now to keep working together to build a better world. Like my dear husband told me last week, even when there are setbacks, we have to keep trying. We’re all worth it, aren’t we?

Whew, sorry I got so pedantic there. I’ve just been thinking a lot, here by myself. Now I will go to the convenient exercise room and do my walking. Indoors.

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