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!

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