Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Looking Beyond Birds.....

One of the things that birding has done for me is to give me a greater appreciation of all the things I see when I'm out hiking around. Don't get me wrong, I still reach for my "bins" first and foremost, but when the birds aren't around there's still so much to see, identify and (for me) try to photograph. So here are some of the other natural gifts I truly enjoy. (BTW you can click on the pictures for a larger view)

Skippers can be really difficult for me to i.d. I'm not a butterfly expert by any stretch of the imagination, but this is one of the first ones I learned. You really don't forget the Silver-Spotted Skipper when you see's fairly large and that white patch is sure to catch you eye as it flits from plant to plant. Even just hanging out on cow vetch you can see colorfully patterned he is.

On the other hand, there's a whole group of butterflies that always make me get the book out....and some of them are quite distinctive! The satyrs seem to consistently confound me -- they're all gray or brown and have these spots underneath. This Northern Pearly-Eye at least was accomodating enough to sit and let me photograph her, then get the field guide out and confirm the identification. One thing I learned about this species is that they don't visit flowers.
This satyr (the Appalachian Brown) is somewhat uncommon, so we spent a ton of time checking the id and taking photos so we could be absolutely sure of the species (and I hope we're right.) I have this irrational fear that there are billions of butterfly experts out there just ready to pounce on me for my poor identification skills....that's part of why I've resisted posting butterfly shots until now. So even though it's tempting to go with the "safer" species and post the picture-perfect Monarch or Tiger Swallowtail, I decided to go with the more subtle ones.

And then there's the beautiful plant communities you come across. And they don't fly away while you try to ID them either! This Wood Lily was poking up through some wet grasses along a powerlines cut-through when we were atlasing in Quabbin. There were several of them, but the variation in colors from orange to this purplish one was striking.
It's really when I take a photo and go back and look at it that I'm amazed at the structure of the plant. I guess when I'm photographing it I'm thinking about whether or not it's in focus or backlit, and I don't really appreciate what I'm seeing. I sometimes worry about that -- does my photography interfere with my "pure" observation and enjoyment of nature?
Another group of butterflies that can be difficult for me are the anglewings. This Question Mark didn't provide too much opportunity to see under his wings to determine if the marking looked more like a question mark or a comma. The clincher was that tiny dash on the forewing (right above a spot) that separated it from other commas. Again, I'm amazed with the subtlety and patterning of nature.
One of the fun finds of this past weekend when birding in Rutland State Park was to come across a group of Obedient Plants (physostegia virginiana). When reading about them in the plant guide, it said that if you push the flower to either the left or the right it will stay there.....and it did! (Hence the name Obedient plant) Of course Mark made some wise-ass comment about the plant clearly not being named after me, but I have no idea what he was talking about.
Okay, so maybe this isn't one of the more subtle species of butterflies, but I wanted to share it because here in the northeast you often see the two variations of this species -- the Red-Spotted Purple and the While Admiral. And there are lots of variations. If you check your butterfly guide you'll probably conclude that this is actually an intergrade, but still looking more like a White Admiral. Any way you look at it, it's a handsome butterfly.

I know some of you (and Mark for sure) may be getting tired of looking at yet another shot of Lupines....but I can't really go on about the beauty of plant communities and not show a different shot of the lupine fields at Singing Brook Farm in Hawley. I really can't help but be in awe of these fields of flowers......only 3 basic colors (blue, white and pink) but the variations make it look like a veritable rainbow.

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