A BUTTERFLY BONANZA!
Recently I returned from a trip to southwestern Ohio to visit my sister-in-law Amy, who is recovering from hip replacement surgery. She is mending beautifully and determined to get back on her feet —only a few days after returning home from the hospital the visiting nurse said she was doing as well as their typical patient at three weeks out!
While Amy was resting I would grab my camera and head into her garden and the surrounding fields because here was a Butterfly and Hummingbird Bonanza! I encountered dozens of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, typically feeding and frolicking in groups of threes and fours, and many differing species of butterflies. For the most part, the butterflies that I photographed are the same species of butterflies that are found on Cape Ann and throughout New England. Having no expectation of encountering myriad butterflies, in both range of species and in legions of each, I had not planned accordingly and only packed my Panasonic Lumix. I love this camera, but like all cameras it does have certain limitations. Lesson learned—that is to say—always travel prepared for anything to happen!
Amy is a working architect and, as time and her work schedule have permitted, she has (along with her recently deceased dear husband Tim) redesigned and restored her lovely old farmhouse and gardens. There are several cozy porches and a deck under construction in which to sit and observe the wildlife dramas that play out almost daily.
What makes Amy’s garden so inviting to the pollinators? The old farmhouse is approached by traveling down a crushed limestone driveway. On either side of the drive are fields, either overgrown with wildflowers, or maintained as mowed grass. The fields meet the forest edge. There are several neighboring houses along the drive but privacy is afforded because the houses are sited a fair distance apart and because there are naturalized arrangements of native trees and shrubs. Flower borders are planted in close proximity to her home and also further afield. Beyond the flower borders is a large vegetable garden, approximately twenty feet deep by sixty feet long, with a row of sunflowers bordering the back length and a cheerful patch of zinnias running along the fore edge. Beyond the vegetable garden is a vigorous crop of blackberries and beyond that is a clump of wildflowers, including common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), which were covered in Monarch caterpillars, and the tall growing New York Ironweed (Veronia noveboracensis), which was in full bloom. All of these elements provide clues as to why Amy’s garden is a haven for the butterflies and hummingbirds. Additionally, adjacent to the house is an old peach tree, which bears great quantities of fruit. Because Amy has been under the weather from her hip injury she was not able to maintain the peach tree this past season. The peaches were falling to the ground and rotting—not really a bad thing as you will soon see—imagine the not intolerable odor of vinegary peach juice.
The combination of the atypically lengthy stretch of hot, sultry weather, punctuated by soaking rain storms, along with the salt and mineral-rich limestone driveway, flowering plants, wildflowers, surrounding woodlands that provide shelter and larval food for caterpillars, hummingbird feeders, and rotting peaches—all work in tandem to create a paradise for the pollinators—bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
In the morning I would find Buckeyes, Question Marks, and Red-spotted Purples drinking salts and minerals from moist patches in the driveway. Hungry families of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were noisily nectaring from the flowers and feeders; one feeder is sited beneath the peach tree and the other about twenty feet away, under the lilacs, a hummingbird superhighway of sorts, with inviting nectar flowers along the route. The male and female hummingbirds are both territorial and, when encountering anything out of the ordinary (my camera and I, for example) will threaten by whizzing and whirling, albeit harmlessly, close to your head.
By mid-day the hummingbird and butterfly scene was full underway. Spicebush Swallowtails at the Rose-of-Sharon, tiger swallowtails, yellow sulphurs, Eastern Tailed-Blues, Monarchs, checkerspots, and angelwings nectaring at the zinnia patch, phlox, and lobelia, and most remarkable of all, were the number of butterflies that were drawn to the pungent lure of rotting peaches. By late afternoon dozens of Hackberry Emperors, Red-spotted Purples, Question Marks, and Red Admirals were to be found intently imbibing from the fermenting peaches, and by day’s end, I believe they were drunken butterflies, making extraordinarily easy subjects to photograph. I would be down on my hands and knees with the lens held so closely it was nearly touching them, and several times that did happen as they fluttered or hopped onto the camera’s lens. In the lingering remnants of late day’s light, the hummingbirds were there again at the feeders and flowers, and all manner of swallowtails in the wildflower meadow were nectaring from the New York Ironweed.
The three different species of butterflies in the above group of photographs have a unique relationship. The Red-spotted Purple and Spicebush Swallowtail (both palatable to predatory birds) are thought to have evolved to mimic the Pipevine Swallowtail (center photograph), which is highly toxic and foul tasting.
I was sad to say goodbye to my sister-in-law but glad to return home to my family. My unexpected yet welcome encounter with the butterflies of Southwest Ohio reminded me once again that butterflies are a symbol of transformation, joy, and beauty throughout cultures the world over. Perhaps Amy’s butterflies mirror the transformative journey to which she has embarked.