Gossamer wings…

Butterflies always mesmerize me – enough so that I’ve been known to instantly stop in my tracks to admire and observe. So much beauty in such a delicate fragile package. A true miracle of nature.

I try to put names to them, but even more importantly I like to focus on their behaviors. Some flit by your face and do a few circles around you like some Eastern Tiger Swallowtails have done to me quite often. Though once in awhile, one lands and does a nice pose.

Even the underside of their wings are colorful with vivid orange and blues with a black stripe along the body.

Some butterflies are so absorbed in their acquisition of nectar that they’re practically oblivious to humankind, unless that is, you get too close, move suddenly or create a shadow over them. So…maybe they’re not so oblivious. Perhaps that’s what makes the photography such a challenge.

Zebra Swallowtails are rather notorious for flitting quickly and avoiding photos, at least in my experience. They’re a very beautiful butterfly, perhaps because I so rarely see them, although they are found in the eastern U.S. Their host plant for laying eggs is the Pawpaw tree as this is the only kind of food the caterpillars will eat, which is somewhat similar to the Monarchs requiring milkweed.

There is another type of Zebra butterfly; this one is the Zebra Longwing. While somewhat similar, it’s overall shape is quite unique. They are typically found in southern states in the U.S. plus parts of Mexico and Central America. Its grace and beauty are unparalleled.

Zebra Longwings are unique not only in looks but also in lifespan. Most butterflies lifespans are just one month or less, while the Zebra Longwing can live up to six months because they eat not only nectar but also pollen. They collect pollen and externally secrete a substance to combine with the pollen to make it liquid so they can drink it. The pollen helps extend their lifespan.

Of course, there are exceptions to standard butterfly lifespans. The Monarch lifespan can be 2 to 6 weeks except for the last generation which (I’ve read) can live about 8 months. This is the generation that migrates south in the fall and north in the early spring. There are other butterflies that overwinter as adults in Ohio including the Mourning Cloak, Eastern Comma and Question Mark.

And…here’s a photo to exemplify that Zebra Longwings and Monarchs play well together.

There are many beautiful and unique butterflies out there. Take this Question Mark for example. It’s shape is very similar to the Eastern Comma with the most distinguishing feature the pattern of dots on the forewing, and even then it’s easy to confuse the two. Both the Question Mark and Eastern Comma feed on nectar and enjoy the liquid from rotting fruit. It’s a super sugar charge for them.

The White Peacock is another beauty on the wing found in predominantly south Florida and southern Texas in the U.S. and also in Mexico and Central America. This beautiful creature feeds on nectar from plants such as Spanish Needle which was plentiful in many parts of Florida. This gorgeous beauty unfortunately has been in battle and lost part of it’s wing.

Another butterfly found in southern states is the Queen. It’s a majestic beauty with mahogany brown wings illuminated by white spots and outlined in black. Stunning! The Queen and the Monarch can easily be mistaken for one another due to their similar coloring, but they also have another factor in common. They both feed on milkweed and are toxic if birds should decide they look edible.

And not to be outdone is the Spicebush Swallowtail with it’s vivid black and blue coloring. As the name implies, it’s hostplant is the spicebush though I’ve read they also like white sassafras as well. The adults favorite source of nectar is Jewelweed, Joe-pye weed and honeysuckle.

And here’s a second photo of the Spicebush swallowtail that shows rather dramatically the “tail” in swallowtail.

Another colorful butterfly is the Common Buckeye with its toasty brown and orange coloring with eye-catching eye spots, though this photo isn’t a good rendition of that with it’s faded coloring and tattered edges. This little one has seen better times.

One of the largest and most magnificent butterflies is the Eastern Giant Swallowtail. It has a wingspan of up to or more than 6 inches. It is actually the largest butterfly in North America. Nectar plants for this butterfly include milkweed, butterfly bush and zennia. Once you see this beauty flying about, you just may be out there planting things that attract it. It’s pretty memorable to see.

The photos of the butterflies I’ve shared with you in this blog were taken while in Florida this past winter. Their beauty brightened my winter adventures and brought smiles to the face. I hope they brought smiles to your face as well.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.

Wekiwa Springs

Ever seen a Sherman’s fox squirrel? Probably not unless you visit northern Florida or southern Georgia where they call home. Come along on this journey of Wekiwa Springs State Park and neighboring natural areas of Apopka FL to see what wonderful colorful creatures abound.

The Sherman’s squirrel is a bit larger than other squirrels and prefers sandy areas with long-leaf pines. Coloring can vary though they typically have a black head with white ears, nose and tips of feet. They are a bit elusive, like this one who thought it was hidden by laying flat on a branch above me.

Squirrels aren’t the only thing to inhabit trees. Red headed woodpeckers are a special sight to behold with their bold red head and striking black and white coloring. They’re particularly special for me as their numbers have decreased in Ohio and are not seen nearly as often as they once were.

Pileated woodpeckers are also of the same coloring but larger in size with quite different vocalizations. We were very lucky to have multiple sightings of these dramatic birds in most of the Florida state parks we visited this past February and March.

But shore birds were the most dramatic and amazing on most of our explorations. Whether paddling in canoes or on the shoreline, birds abound.

An immature Little Blue heron explores the shore seeking breakfast. Very intent and focused.

While not too far away a Green heron is also scouting the banks as well. These little guys are shorter and stocker than most other herons, and generally not posing quite as well as this one.

One of my all-time favorite birds (and the most difficult for me to get a photo of) is the Belted Kingfisher. This male was quite a distance away, but halted its flight long enough for my quick photo.

The Glossy Ibis is one bird I don’t see quite as often as the others, but when the light hits the feathers just right, it’s easy to understand how it got it’s “glossy” name. According to what I have read, I believe this to be a breeding bird which can be identified by the pale lines extending from the bill to the eye.

Another fisherman this day was the Snowy Egret with it’s distinguishing markings of black legs and yellow feet – though this photo does not show that. I believe this bird to be an immature as its legs are a dull yellowish green.

And then there’s this little cutie. Small, and a bit on the chunky side with not much of a tail to speak of, you might think this is a duck but it’s not. It doesn’t have webbed feet but rather has “lobes” on it’s toes (which to me, if I had to describe it, looks rather like it has little paddle toes) which surprisingly makes it a good swimmer. It’s small, actually smaller than a crow in size. This is a breeding Pied-bill grebe which you can tell by its whitish bill which has a vertical black stripe. Normally the bill is a yellowish brown.

And speaking of breeding attire, here’s a Great Egret in it’s breeding attire with long plumes of feathers over its back and neon green skin between bill and eye area. It’s a large bird – about three foot tall. Very elegant looking.

Then there’s this beauty – a Tri-colored heron. It’s a mix of grayish-blue, white and almost lavender in color. This is a non-breeding heron indicative of it’s yellowish legs and without breeding plumage.

And of course, we have the Great Blue heron – the largest heron in North America. Majestic. Regal. And when disturbed, you hear the ear-piercing call that sounds almost prehistoric.

These beautiful brown/cinnamon colored ducks with their dark gray bills and legs are Fulvous Whistling ducks – a new one for me. Beautifully colored. No ID on the black and white ducks accompanying them because they turned their heads in all photos taken. Too busy preening feathers – one does have to keep up appearances.

Here’s a beauty – a Ring-necked duck, a breeding male. Magnificent colored bill with black tip. Looks almost like artwork. It is…nature’s artwork.

And yet another type of duck. These are Blue-winged Teals. I’ve read they’re smaller than a Mallard. They fly great distances, migrating between Canada and some as far as South America. They’re some of the latest ducks to fly north in the spring and earliest ducks to fly south before winter.

And looking out over the water, observing all the water fowl below, is a Bald Eagle. Truly majestic and magnificent. We saw quite a large number of Bald Eagles in Florida State Parks, with some parks having 11 or more nesting Eagle pairs.

And so, whether you’re hiking wonderful trails like this one in Wekiwa Springs State Park…

Or biking trails like this one…

Or exploring magnificent water vistas like this one (yes folks, that is an alligator partially submerged there)…

Wonderful nature adventures are awaiting you in Wekiwa Springs State Park and the natural areas of Apopka Florida.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.