Should I or shouldn’t I? This has been one among many debates that have been bouncing around in my cranium for some time. A Nymphalis vau-album once flew right past me and landed on a tree stump. OMG! It was gorgeous and about ten feet ahead of me. This butterfly and I were at the Wildflower Reserve in Raccoon Creek State Park, southwestern Pennsylvania. I carefully made my approach, camera ready. I whispered a plea for Help from above (I really did). I wanted this image sooo much. I began to lower my left knee. It left at a very high speed, heading uptrail.
Several years have gone by, and several hundred trips into the field hadn’t found one Compton tortoiseshell. Here, on July 1, 2012 on Nichol Road trail in that same park, a Compton flew in. Another OMG! Cech and Tudor, in their superb field guide Butterflies of the East Coast, note that this species is “exceptionally skittish and hard to approach.” I knew that by now. So, I first took several pictures from a moderate distance and then began my approach (See the Technique feature found at the top of your wingedbeauty.com screen). Yep. As I continued my approach this Compton sped away. Far, far away and out of sight.
So I do have an image of this northern U.S. species. Like other Comptons this one emerged from its chrysalis within the last handful of days, and would fly until late October or into November. They overwinter as adults, in trees or woodpiles. Come early Spring, they fly again, and seek mates. Eggs are laid, caterpillars feed upon willows, birches, aspens and cottonwoods. Adults emerge from their chrysalis in late June to early July.
You needn’t search for them in July and August. Why? Like other species of butterflies, they abhor the summer heat, and aestivate during those months. Aestivate? This means that they search for a hiding place, and in that safe place, begin a period of hibernation-like rest.
Quite a story, Huh? Of course you know a better image is very, very high on my list. Note: The further north that you go in the eastern U.S., the greater are your chances of spotting a Compton’s. But be nimble, because they are one cautious butterfly!