You should have seen it. Thousands of Bergamot blooms carpeting Doak field, Raccoon Creek State Park, Southwestern Pennsylvania. I’d been there several mornings that week. Bergamot in bloom means summer butterflies. Lots of them. Bergamot and Bee Balm are true nectar pumps (my own term) and their aroma must really travel, because they are a serious butterfly destination.
And that’s the way it was that July 31st day, 2014. Tiger swallowtails, Great Spangled Fritillaries, Spicebush Swallowtails, Hawkmoths, a Monarch, some Skippers, legions of Bumblebees and other fliers mobbed the Bergamot. I moved from the center of the 100+ acre field to a spot I knew along its margin. I chose a robust looking Bergamot plant and remained there for many minutes.
A large blackish Swallowtail Butterfly flew in. Wait, this was different. Can it be? Turn, turn pretty lady, let me be sure. She was nectaring and moving her wings violently, as she hovered over each bloom. The field guide in my brain was working at super-high speed until . . . Yes! Pipevine Swallowtail. OMG! it is! It is! She was fresh, Very shmeksy . . . . That iridescent blue field extending forward from those coral orange spots, all flashy bright. I shot slides on my traditional film camera: Pop, pop, pop . . .
I know my scream of Joy! could be heard in Pittsburgh. Maybe even in Cleveland. Did y’all her it at Madison and East 57th Street in Manhattan?
It all happens so quickly. Got to my favorite trail at Raccoon Creek State Park (Beaver County, PA) really early on this sunny May 2014 morning. Parked the Tundra and hiked the ½ mile to that stretch of the trail that has been so good to me over these years. So now it’s 8:25 A.M., and the sun is just beginning to warm last night’s cool forest air.
I set myself in place, and waited. Which butterflies might fly in from the forest, and select flat leaves, to sun themselves? Remember, flying around with reduced body temperatures is tough for butterflies. It slows them down, and at reduced speed, they are vulnerable to swifty birds and other predators.
Within 10 minutes, several male Tiger Swallowtail butterflies flew in and began to sun bathe. These males were fresh, could be from a new flight.
This guy was a dandy! Then I got a look at his hindwing markings. Hot blues and reds. Nice, very nice. I shot, shot, shot. Here he is.
The common name is Tiger Swallowtail butterfly. I’ve added the word ‘Spectacular’ because that was the thought that shot through my mind when I made my approach. Bedazzling colors. Fresh, strong, vibrant. We were on the trail minutes after 8 A.M. He and others flew out of their nighttime tree roosts, and each found a flat surface to begin that slow, steady warm-up. I love those few minutes. They enable me to make careful approach. Approach that 15 minutes later would be impossible to do.
His ventral wing design reminded me of the primary reason that I have for photographing butterflies. I’ve lived in New York City. I’ve frequented Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Doyle Galleries alot. The workmanship displayed here . . . exceeds the finest work of the finest jewelry houses. The origin of this beauty, ah that is quite a question.
Papilio Glaucus enjoyed early on a June 2014 morning. What will he do over the next 9 to 10 hours? Fly madly, almost non-stop, searching for a mate.
On April 27th, just days ago, I visited this same field at Raccoon Creek State Park, in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Spring growth had not accelerated yet, and almost the entire 100 +/- acres were covered with 3” tall plant stubble. Evidence of planned field husbandry could be seen here and there, most easily noticed were areas of controlled burn.
We are looking at a section of the field during the first week of July. Fast forwarding to that time in this place, how much fun it is to be greeted by American Coppers, Orange Sulphurs, Tiger Swallowtails, Duskywings, Silver-spotted Skippers, Spicebush Swallowtails, while at the same time enjoying the silent company of Apis Mellifera and Bombus Pensylvanicus (honeybees and bumblebees). Unexpected overflights of a larger Darner simulated our pride and sense of well-being when we are lucky enough to spot a US Air Force jet flying near the horizon. Would you look at that, a Monarch!
Adding to the warmth of the day, time and place would be spotting another naturalist headed my way, and could it be? Yes! It’s…………You!
NB, I’ve received my Fuji film, back-up Canon camera, and the first of what I hope are, several airplane tickets. Good to go.