The Swallowtails are Back

Yesterday we had two Eastern Tiger Swallowtails in the yard. In the afternoon we visited Wheaton Regional Park, which includes a lot of tulip trees, their larval food plant.  We spotted our first butterfly on a patch of bare ground as we entered the park. Continuing on to the gardens, we arrived at the massive bottlebrush buckeye at the edge of the woods, to find a dozen or more swallowtails and several hummingbird moths visiting the blooms. They were all in motion, but I did manage to capture two in this photo.


Still thinking about butterflies

Yesterday I went off to a nearby garden center, armed with a few of the July discount coupons they handed out to their spring customers. I got a pot of mixed zinnias to fill in some gaps and attract bees, butterflies, and eventually goldfinches for the seeds. There was a small display of perennials for butterfly gardens, including 3 kinds of Asclepias: A. incarnata (Swamp Milkweed), A. tuberosa, and A. tuberosa “Hello Yellow”. Lacking a swamp, I opted for the orange-flowered Asclepias tuberosa, whose tag implied a relationship with the National Wildlife Federation, rather than the named variety. As Samuel Johnson said of second marriages, this purchase represents the triumph of hope over experience, in that I have planted and lost at least 3 of these plants over the years. For now it looks happy and ready to bloom. I’ll be interested to see if it attracts any Monarchs.

As I was leaving for the garden center, I spotted a lovely fresh example of the cosmopolitan Painted Lady, nectaring on a clump of pinks. These plants are not native to the United States, but given the wide distribution of the Painted Lady, there may well be some place where both plant and insect are considered natives.

A recent post on Botany Photo of the Day talks about attracting butterflies with both larval and adult food plants. It points out the benefit of having a variety of nectar sources, when “eight or more species are flowering simultaneously”. Let’s see, right now I have lavender, zinnias, petunias, sunflowers, lilies, pinks, daylilies, crape myrtle, buddleia, coreopsis, black eyed susans, daisies, alyssum, gerbera, gooseneck loosestrife… So more than 8, but not all equally attractive to butterflies. And that’s in multiple beds, so perhaps a bit dispersed.


So far this year I’ve seen no black swallowtails in the yard. We’ve had more small skippers, and the past 2 Sundays brought a silver spotted skipper. But I have seen a few tiny white spheres on the fennel. They looked a lot like butterfly eggs.
 Today I saw this new fennel resident. It certainly looks like an early instar black swallowtail caterpillar! But I still have seen no adults.

Location:Wheaton MD

Bees etc. again

Today worked up to being  hot compared to the week so far, and I was hoping to see more bees and other insects.  I was pleased to see a sweat bee on the azalea again. Below is a highly enlarged shot of a sweat bee on the anther of an azalea flower, as previously described. I was determined to get some sort of record. Nearby, on the top twig of the largest butterfly bush, I was surprised to see a dragonfly, also shown below. We get them occasionally, but we are perhaps a third of a mile from any stream.
Not photographed but also seen:

  • One of the small skipper butterflies perched on the lawn, a yellow-orange one with a lighter area towards the middle of the wing but no distinct makings visible. This is the first skipper I’ve seen this year.
  • Another visit from (probably) a clouded sulpher.
  • Two bee flies (I think), one grappling with a bee (honey bee sized, but I couldn’t be sure of the identification).
  • A low flying stocky yellow insect with black markings flying near the soil in a flower bed. Was it a wasp–perhaps a cicada killer–or something else?

It seems to me that there is not much out there that attracts bees right now. Maybe there is something I could plant that would be blooming right now.


Sweat bee on azalea




More sightings, and a theft

Slowed down by a cold, I’ve ventured out just to stand in the sun a bit. That’s when I noticed the broken robin’s egg on the walk near the back steps. And I’m left with a puzzle: how did it get there?  It was lying in an open area with no overhanging branches, a good 30 feet from the forsythia where I’ve seen robins nesting. Obviously it didn’t simply fall out of a nest. Who carried it there and dropped it? I’ve heard that crows sometimes eat the eggs of smaller birds, so that might be a possibility. But  how far could a crow carry an egg in its beak?  Or is there other nest-robbing wildlife perhaps at night? At different times over the years I’ve seen a rat, a possum, and once, in a nearby yard, a fox.

I was happy to be distracted by a butterfly–one of the sulphurs, the first I’ve seen this year. Possibly the Clouded Sulphur, but I’m not certain. Clover is one of its larval food plants, so it should be happy with our lawn!

Another interesting moment was provided by a tiny green bee on the deciduous azalea, which has just started to bloom. So many representations of bees in action show them deep in the throat of a flower. This one, however, was out on the end of the anther, and as far as I could tell was diligently gathering pollen.  I had never seen this before so will watch for it again.