Yearning for Butterflies

Butterfly June 18

It’s been a slow year for butterflies in the yard. (And in other yards, as noted in the comments section on this recent post.) There were no butterflies at all in May, and in June the only visitors were a few skittish Gray Hairstreaks. They took brief sips from the hydrangea, then flew away in search of better nectar.

As July grew hotter and hotter, I caught glimpses of larger butterflies fluttering high overhead, but they never stopped in the yard. Our new butterfly bush bloomed in vain, and the praying mantis lurking among its branches eventually moved into the nearby irises.

Praying Mantis July 28

Finally, late in July, I spotted a Painted Lady.

Butterfly July 25

Butterfly July 25

A skipper arrived the same day, the first of an unexpected abundance of skippers. In past years these small butterflies were rare in the yard, but they seem to find the butterfly bush irresistible. Now I see them almost daily.

Butterfly Two July 25

I haven’t been able to identify any of the skippers in my photos. The closest I can get is to say they all fall into the sub-group of “closed wing skippers.”  As always, please comment if you can confirm or correct my identifications!

Butterfly Aug 10

Butterfly Aug 10

Butterfly Aug 11

The only other butterfly I’ve seen in the yard was a faded, torn Common Buckeye. I wondered if its wing damage indicated long, perilous journeys or a single stormy event…

Butterfly July 28

While each new visitor is a hopeful sign, I’m puzzled by the conspicuous absence of Commas and Question MarksRed Admirals, Viceroys, sulfurs, and swallowtails. Others are puzzled, too. A short internet search found several articles detailing decreased sightings of butterflies in eastern North Carolina and Virginia:

Most sources blame the long, cold winter and associated rain, and some cite additional factors such as habitat loss and pesticide use. Whatever the cause, I hope it is temporary. In the world’s Field Guide to Small Joys, butterflies fill a uniquely delightful chapter.

Butterfly July 25

Painted Lady Butterfly

This Painted Lady butterfly visited the ginger lilies today. It ignored the new blooms, drinking instead from wilted, overripe flowers.

I wondered if the nectar might be fermenting. The butterfly certainly seemed to lose coordination, as it drank.

After fifteen or twenty minutes of steady feeding, the butterfly spent some time coiling and uncoiling its tongue, as if uncertain about what to do next. Then it sat perfectly still for a while.

When I moved to find a new angle, the butterfly startled and fell from its perch, catching itself upside down on a low hanging set of blooms. I would almost swear it hiccuped. Then it dropped into flight, fluttered sideways a few yards, and staggered off toward the north.

The Butterfly Migration Slows

The red admiral flood has slowed to a trickle. Last night there were only three or four on the fence, and daytime traffic is markedly reduced. While earlier waves seldom stopped in the yard before sunset, today’s travelers seem slow and tired. And hungry.

Yesterday also saw a decrease in the number of question mark butterflies. (See the question mark on its wing? That’s how you tell it from a comma…)

As the migration dwindles, painted lady butterflies increase, though I expect their numbers will never rival this week’s surge of red admirals and question marks.

Finally, in case anyone is tired of butterflies, here’s a Yellow-rumped Warbler enjoying a quick bath…