Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Flower Hill Farm BUTTERFLIES OF 2011 ~ Mourning Cloak and Red Admiral

Mourning Cloak Nymphalis antiopa is the first butterfly to appear in April here at Flower Hill Farm. It hibernates as an adult and will awaken sometimes earlier, when the temperatures rise and stay warmer for days . . .  as they often do in March.
They might crawl out from under a piece of bark or out of a small hollow opening in a tree.
I was surprised to learn that a Mourning Cloak butterfly can live up to ten months.
This male or female is perched on the ground and as you can see, there is hardly a sprout of green up yet. 

Mourning Cloak butterflies lay their eggs in such a way as might alarm those who care for their preferred host trees or shrubs. Their off-white ribbed eggs are fastened in large numbers of up to 250 placed often in rings around the main stems of host plants or trees. They prefer willows, poplars and birches but will also feed on maples, ash, roses and other trees and shrubs.
The caterpillars remain together chomping on the leaves and it may cause a most unaesthetic appearance for a small time, but the tree or shrub will not die from these native caterpillars that must not be confused with the invasive non-native gypsy moth caterpillars.

Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta is also a migratory species like its cousin the American Painted Lady. I rarely see one of these lovely creatures. This May portrait is the only capture I have made, and it, sadly, is not a very good one.
If the migrating period is a success and you have nettles growing about your land or gardens, you might just have a visit from a Red Admiral . . . once referred to as Red Admirable.
Here on our hillside, these butterflies will lay a single egg, finely crafted into an exquisite green dome, upon the leaves of a variety of New England nettles. The caterpillars fasten the outer edges of a leaf together with silk and feed within the protected enclosure.
It will also make its chrysalis using this method . . .  hidden within the last leaf it folds. When it emerges as a butterfly, its sustenance tastes vary greatly from tree sap to decaying fruits and excrement. As my photo reveals, these butterflies also indulge in sipping nectar from flowers.
This Red Admiral might be a male that has migrated up from the south and has yet to find his mate. I truly have no knowledge for identifying the male from the female. Males will find a good look-out perch to wait and eye an area for a female. After three generations here the fall butterflies will again fly south but there is not enough research to know of their successful migration flights to a warmer climate. We know so much about the Monarchs migration, so hopefully more research will result in understanding these beautiful butterflies too.
You might help by going to the link above and sharing your information. 

Winter is a time for watching the sun and noting the remarkable turning and tilting of our earth, as we notice the sunrise moving from south to north painting brilliant sky paintings as it goes.
The Winter Solstice . . . around the time of the photograph above . . . and the Summer Solstice . . . close to the time of the photograph below . . . mark the times when the sun has climbed to its lowest and highest positions in the sky. The shortest and the longest days of sunlight occur on the solstices. 

Sunrise over the northern part of Walnut and Carey hill nearly one month after the Summer Solstice.

Now, the sun is spilling a wash of light stretching longer each day, as it continues to move farther away from the Winter Solstice towards the Spring Equinox, where light will be equal to night and onto the longest day with Summer Solstice.
These images showcase a few minutes as the sun rises over Walnut hill a few days ago. It is a winter ritual to stand and watch this new beginning and celebrate the amazing brilliance of color splashed across the clouds and sky.

You can still see the edge of blue belonging to the Mount Holyoke range in the bottom right corner of the photo above.
 In December the sun was rising more to the right, directly over the Mount Holyoke Range, as seen in the photo further above . . .  just below the Red Admiral photograph.
Now in March, the sun is cresting more to the north and left . . . climbing over the southern part of Walnut Hill.

We are in that time of year that is akin to a bucket filled with uncertainty like piling a stack of wood in the dark and when placing the last few small logs the entire pile tumbles down. You might believe you could feel your way through anything . . . but March, with the fluctuating degrees of chill and heat, can drag you down at times . . .  casting off a sudden six inches of snow that soon turns to hard packed ice.
The waxing moon pulls the mercury in the thermometers down into the single digits.
This years rising and falling of temperatures has been kind to our Maple Sugar Industry here in Western Massachusetts. It has been an early and lasting season so far, according to my friend and neighbor Roger (seen above in a 2010 photo - today we have much more snow.)
The sweet sap is running and before long spring will have her say and kindly bid farewell to winter . . . until another day.
Old man winter does so like to tease and may step back into the waking landscape with its frosty touch.
Hopefully Mourning Cloak butterflies will not be caught without their antifreeze!


africanaussie said...

those eggs sure are strange looking - I wonder how much we destroy in our gardens without knowing what delicate balance we are upsetting. You are right that we will latch onto one species and yet no nothing of the others. thank you for this information. I love your sky photos too.

Country Gal said...

Awesome post and photos ! Daylight savings time is this Sunday . I am counting the days till then and till spring ! Have a good day !

Andrea said...

Admirable admirals. I didn't know they are migratory too. I haven't seen a maple used for producing syrup, i wonder if the production is just like the tapping of rubber tree for latex, scarring the phloem vessels. You have lovely skylines again at the Flower Hill Farm.

Last weekend i saw a citrus seedling in our area in the province with maybe 7 swallowtail larvae. If only i will not be leaving for the city i will try cultivating them to capture the stages as you did. It is just not possible as I am home only one night for the weekend. How are you now Carol, miss you!

sweetbay said...

Those Mourning Cloaks are gorgeous. I wonder if that's what I saw puddling in the paddock the other day.

Randy Emmitt said...


Enjoyed this posting, the photos were sweet and the sky photos were captivating. We have lots of Red Admirals here, False Nettle grows wild all around our pond and we find cats on it once in a while..

Tatyana@MySecretGarden said...

It's the very first time that I see a Mourning cloak. How beautiful! And I think you have one of the prettiest skies, Carol! Sorry, I don't comment as often as before. We got a new puppy at the end of December, so... it's like a baby. Happy March to you!
And, Happy 8th of March, too (International Women's Day)!

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Carol:
What wonderfully descriptive names so many Butterflies have. The 'Mourning Cloak' is no exception and how well it carries its title!

In our gardening days in Herefordshire we can recall the appearance of a 'Red Admiral' once in a blue moon, as they say. Years ago, when farming practices were not as intensive as they are today, strips of wild vegetation would border the ploughed fields and would be home to all manner of wonderful wildlife. The Butterflies in particular used to love this type of habitat.

The skyscapes you show here are truly remarkable, the colour washes of light giving so many different tints, tones and hues. No wonder you spend your time sky watching!!!

sandy said...

I saw my first mourning cloak last year on April 4, seven days earlier than the year before. With the mild year we have had, I better start looking in late March this year.

Your photos are lovely and definitely speak of spring.
I hope you are back to good health really soon.

Sarah Laurence said...

Maple syrup is March. I love that big ball of a sunset. The Mourning Cloak butterfly is well named.

Tammie Lee said...

another wonderful butterfly post along with rising and setting suns, planets, snow ice and sweet tree nectar. thank you for taking me on a journey.

ruma said...

Hello, Carol.

  I feel the warmth of sky like spring passion.
  The graceful sense wraps your artworks.

 Thank you World-wide love and, encouragement.
 The prayer for all peace.

Have a good weekend. From Japan, ruma ❃

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