Monday, April 8, 2013

Flower Hill Farm Butterflies of 2012 ~ Little Wood Satyr, Common Ringlet and Common Wood Nymph

The more I learn about butterflies, the more I understand just how enchanted our gardens and nature, in general, truly is. With satyrs and wood nymphs all about the grassy meadows and fields who could ever dream of using poisons? We share our gardens and land with a complex and varied living community and we can attract these magical creatures into our lives by learning about their needs and pleasures. 

By planting the necessary host plants or being sure not to yank them out of our gardens in the first place and not being such fastidious gardeners or farmers, we encourage a more balanced and diverse wildlife habitat. We need to allow our gardens to be somewhat disorderly by leaving some detritus lying about, for what might appear to a gardener as messy may be life saving to a hibernating caterpillar or butterfly. Some even go the extra mile for butterflies by creating butterfly houses or hotels. 

When I look out into the gardens and fields, I am overwhelmed at times when realizing that there is so much life hidden from me. Over the years . . .  spending time just 'being' in nature and the gardens . . . quietly listening . . .  I began to see and feel that I am entering into another realm . . .  one that is evolving from my constant control to that of a richer and more natural environment . . . a wondrous world that speaks to me. I continue to receive such joy in knowing my little hillside this way. 

These butterfly portraits are but a part of that joy . . . an incredibly inspiring exchange when gardening with and for wildlife. All three of these featured Brushfooted butterflies are in the subfamily of Satyrs and these were all first sightings, by me at least, here at Flower Hill Farm in the spring and summer of 2012.

Little Wood Satyr Megisto cymela, is abundant here in Massachusetts and might be seen by the hundreds if the habitat is right for the butterfly to become prolific. This Little Wood Satyr might have been laying eggs when I capture this portrait . . . you can see the tiny round globular eggs in the photograph above and then circled below . . . it is hard to determine the color which is a pale green. 

Little Wood Satyrs choose a habitat along the edges of woods where fields and meadows lay nearby. Flying from May till the beginning of August, these tiny, dark-brown, one inch and three quarters wingspan butterflies do not seem so drunken as their namesake. Perhaps they do become a bit intoxicated from sipping aphid honeydew or sampling a variety of tree sap within a wood. I cannot say, for this was our first meeting and the butterfly did not dawdle.

Nectar from flowers is rarely favored by this butterfly or so it seems from the lack of documentation. My only sighting is of the Little Wood Satyr near the ground and the other images I have seen are similar. 

Orchard grasses and some sedges may be considered hosts for the caterpillar. The females fasten their eggs towards the tips of a blade of grass or even on the ground nearby its preferred grass. Leaf litter is essential for their survival, for they overwinter as last stage instars beneath debris along the ground. 

As I write this piece, I see beyond my French doors hundreds of robins scurrying about the ground lifting all sorts of dried leaves. Sometimes it is hard to love both bird and butterfly. 

The Little Wood Satyr was a first sighting for me here at Flower Hill Farm in July of 2012. 

Common Ringlet Coenonympha tullia, has a wingspan of 1 - 1 7/8 inches and is noted for the rusty orange coloring on its upper wings. There will always be one small eyespot looking back at any observer too.
These little satyrs might be sighted all over New England, Canada and even in Japan and Italy, and  may also be seen in groupings of hundreds in the right habitat.

This sighting of the Common Ringlet was in May of 2012 out in our south field and also a first for me here at Flower Hill Farm. They might be flying, with their unique bouncy flight, about open fields and meadows, with some shrubberies, or along wooded, country roads from late May through the beginning of July and then from the end of July to the end of August.

Again, various grasses seem to be the necessary host plant. The butterfly appears not to be too picky and will sample a number of flowers for nectar. They too overwinter in various larva stages.

The free spirited Common Ringlet decided to immigrate from Canada to New England as recently as the late nineteen sixties and are now plentiful across the state of Massachusetts.

Common Wood Nymph Cercyonis pegala, is the larger of the three satyrs featured here, with a wingspan of about 2 - 2 7/8 inches. The eyespots painted on an yellow-orange background are dramatic within the dark brown wings and make these butterflies easy to identify, though there are variations on this design that might be confusing.

Common Wood Nymphs may be seen flying about from July through the early part of September in open meadows, bogs and along sunny forest corridors. As the name implies these little beauties are pretty common here in Massachusetts. The caterpillars eat various grasses and later as butterflies sip from a diverse array of flowers along with rotting fruit and even fungi.

Common Wood Nymphs overwinter here in New England too. Right about the time our first icy frost clings to leaves and carpets the ground, and when just out of its egg, the first instar caterpillar will crawl or drop down into the center of its host plant and hibernate throughout the winter.

Little Wood Satyr, Common Ringlet and Common Wood Nymph all members of the Subfamily: Satyrs

Again in present time . . . hopefully our last snowfall has come and gone and now we truly long for spring to stay.

Soon there will be a myriad of sprouts stirring and breaking through the crust of earth or armored calyx and surviving caterpillars will begin munching their way to becoming butterflies.

Robins were with us all winter. Hundreds of the rusty-red breasted birds are now running along the newly exposed ground, about the fields and gardens, like sentinels. I am afraid the caterpillars will have to be very clever in their camouflage with so many beaks lifting leaves and other debris.

 Our resident Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has returned.

The Bluebirds are more actively guarding their chosen nest box. 

Bulbs are dotting the garden floor. 

Spring brings more light while stimulating life and imagination. A new growing season begins along with all the excitement of returning birds and song filling the fresh, soon to be, verdant landscape. I feel blessed and honored to be steward to this land and wildlife habitat.

It is at this time of year, when there seems so much promise, that I feel most enraged and saddened about all the injustice and cruelty to our planet and all life on it. I so truly wish it could be different, that all peoples could peacefully mark their days by what bird or butterfly returns to their small paradise. I am lucky to have, for awhile, this plot of earth that is ever giving while allowing me to express my love for nature. It is my hope that in some small way my sharing it brings joy and inspiration to others. 

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