Pic for Today: Black Swallowtail. Happy Sunday!
Yesterday I made my first pilgrimage of the year to the Timber Point / Timber Island section of Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge just south of Bidderford Pool. You might remember that I highlighted this is a new addition to the Wildlife Refuge in a few posts last fall. They only made a decision on how to use the property in the early winter, after the predictable period of study, recommendations, public comment, (the expected bit of controversy), etc. The property includes an large building, formerly a guest lodge, and the NWR system does not have the funds to renovate it for use. They have decided to bring only the exterior up to code, and post “interpretative personnel” there for an expanded range of activities and programs during the season…the minimalist approach. We will see how that goes. The property consists of the tip of a rocky peninsula leading out to low-tide-only crossing to Timber Island. Both the headland and the island are rocky outcrops, with lots of big boulders. On the mainland much of this is covered by a mature oak forest, with some open fields and old ornamental trees right along the water. On the inland side of the trail/access road there is an extensive fresh water marsh. Timber Island was pretty much clear cut, and is now home to a dense thicket of pine and bramble, with some fresh water marsh. All in all, a prime piece of habitat for birds and mammals and bugs, and a great addition to the NWR system!
It is not very big and you can explore the accessible parts on the point in a couple of hours. If you time your visit for low tide, you can cross to Timber Island and do a loop around the rocky shore and the edge of the pine forest. That will add at least an hour to your visit. It is not the most exiting place in the world, but I have only been there 4 times now, and on each visit I have had at least one significant sighting…and it is a great place to get out and walk. The highlight of yesterday’s visit might have been this male Black Swallowtail butterfly, caught sipping from the Honeysuckle that lines the trail in open areas most of the way down the point. The Black Swallowtail is a common butterfly over much of North America, but certainly a beautiful bug. This panel shows off both top and bottom views of the wing patterns. The Black Swallowtail is a partial mimic of the Spicebush Swallowtail…a poisonous cousin…the female on both upper and lower surfaces…the male only on the under-wings. This mimicry, apparently, provides the much more common Black with a measure of protection from predators.
As with the puddling Tiger Swallowtails I posted last Monday, this was a particularly fresh male, probably only emerged a few days to a week ago. It showed little wear on the wings and both “tails” were intact. I rarely see them in this kind of pristine condition. :)
Nikon P900 at 800mm equivalent field of view. 1/500th @ ISO 125 @ f5.6. Processed and cropped in Lightroom. Assembled in Coolage.
Many of us (humans) have a fascination with butterflies. The beauty and delicacy of the wings…the slow dancing flight…make them the angels of the bug world…so much so that most people do not really think of them as insects, and if they do, they don’t think of them the same way they think of other insects. Butterfly collecting is not what it once was…due partially to ecological awareness…and perhaps more to the advent of the digital camera and lenses long enough to photograph butterflies in the field and field guides to “butterflies through binoculars”…but a “butterfly house” is still a major attraction for any zoo or park. Many of the birders I know now will now confess to being butterfliers too. We love our butterflies. One of the new features of Timber Point this year, in fact, is several large plantings of “Monarch” habitat along the trail, with signs for protection. The Monarch, you might know, is a long distant migrant butterfly that is in serious decline due to habitat (host plant) loss. There is not much there yet, on Timber Point, but I assume they are Milkweed plantings, since Milkweed is the host plant of the Monarch. They have even brought in a portable pump to make sure the Milkweed gets a good start this year.
And of course, conservation and restoration is the most sincere expression of love. Love that does not “take care” of what it loves is not love at all. We respond to the love of the creator not because we are created, but because we are cared for…and we experience, once aware, that care in every moment of our lives. And of course, the creator cares for the butterflies too. We are uniquely privileged, when we take an hand in conservation and restoration, to share that care. What a gift! Happy Sunday.