Butterfly – Flutter By

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I always learn something when I spend time with Mary Jane.

If you’ve read any of my blog you’ll know she’s my nearly 99-year-old neighbor. She has a place a little less than a mile from me on our country road.

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She loves her garden. She spends hours caring for it. It doesn’t look like your typical garden. The first time I saw it I thought it was an acre of weeds. I offered to mow it for her and she told me that she didn’t trust me to leave the good parts. She prefers to trim her garden with some folding hand shears while sitting on an overturned milk crate.

The truth is that Mary Jane has an exhaustive knowledge of Ozark plant life. She knows what you can eat, what soothes your skin, what makes a good tea, and what can kill you. She knows what will have a beautiful blossom and what will attract or repel insects. Every year she moves in and out of the greenery with her shears, thinning and opening the space.

When something special happens in the her garden, Mary Jane will give me a call and I will come over with my camera. One of our rites of spring is the arrival of the swallowtails to feed on the sweet rocket. She will cut enough away to make a path to walk through and it makes shooting easy.

One Saturday in April I got the call. I packed my long zoom and my macro lens and headed out. I started with the log zoom. I could easily get within 10 feet and my bird lens was just the ticket. The swallowtails were so busy feeding that you could just find a spot and focus while waiting for a one to light.

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A tiger swallowtail feeding on mottled sweet rocket blossoms.

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A tiger swallowtail with a spicebush swallowtail in the distance.

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Spicebush swallowtail in the rocket.

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The swallowtail is the only butterfly that flutters while it feeds, this can make it a challenge to photograph them.

After about a half hour shooting I noticed that Buffy, one of Mary Jane’s cats had followed me and was watching the scene. I decided to put away to zoom and see if I could get close to him. I took out the Macro – it can take a fair portrait.

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I was glad that I had changed lenses when I spotted this guy. He let me get incredibly close.

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The zebra swallowtail was not bothered by me in the least. He moved methodically from flower to flower.

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I didn’t notice the ladybug on the right while I was shooting.

Sometimes I can get so wrapped up in catching the shot of the insect that I forget how really special the sweet rocket is. The structure of this flower is really beautiful.

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Tiger, another of Mary Jane’s cats, couldn’t have been more bored with it all.

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This sweet rocket butterfly garden lasted only a few days. Another of the Ozark’s micro seasons. I thought the swallowtails were gone until next year. About a week later I got another call from Mary Jane. It was about noon, but I was at work and couldn’t get there for a few hours. Once I got there I had about an hour to shoot before dusk. The swallowtails were back, this time at the mock orange bush, something Mary Jane planted to draw butterflies. She sees a garden as more than plants, it’s what the plants bring.

This night I had to use the long zoom. The mock orange was taller than me and these tiger swallowtails were easily spooked. Shooting upwards let me get some of the evening sky into some of the shots.

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As the sun got lower the number of swallowtails really tapered off.

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Towards the end of the evening the butterflies were in the interior of the mock orange.

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As the sun set we stood in the garden and Mary Jane pointed out what she would thin next, what was coming up, and what was blooming now. If I’m completely honest, I still couldn’t see it, it looked like weeds to me. I don’t have the vision.

I looked back at the mock orange and asked Mary Jane if she knew where the butterflies went after sunset. She said they went to sleep.

Roadside Attractions

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I live off of a county road in the Ozarks, a couple of miles from the pavement, deep in the woods a few miles from town. Everyday when I drive to work I pack up my camera gear – I pull out my camera and zoom and place it on the passenger seat, leaving it ready to shoot in case I see something amazing. This seems to happen daily and I do my best to catch it. These shots are all along the route of my daily travels to and from work.

The shot above is Krishna, he’s our neighborhood peacock. He showed up about 3 years ago, we don’t know of he was dumped or if he was attracted to the area by a female at a neighbor’s house. We tried to find his owner for about a year. When the female died, Krishna became fascinated with the glass windows on an old Grange hall on the highway. He puffs up as he tries to impress his own image on the glass doors. Another neighbor has adopted him, but he still crosses the road every day to take on that handsome guy in the window. On this afternoon he was avoiding me so I got low and shot through the weeds.

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This is a box turtle, the woods are full of them. I found this guy out on the road not far from the mailbox. When I see one in the road I like to stop if I can to set them on the other side of the road. These guys have no natural enemies except for automobiles. In the spring they are on the move and on any day you can encounter a dozen on the way into work. I read once that they travel on a path that is instinctive, a lot like salmon swimming up the correct stream to spawn. I found one in my wood shop one day last spring. I picked him up and took him outside and he ran right back into the shop to the same spot about 30 feet into the building. I put him back outside and pulled the door closed and he pushed against it for hours. I finally opened the door so he could go in, he was there a few days and moved on.

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This is a European Starling in the parking lot at work. They invade the siding and soffits every spring to nest until their babies are ready to fly. This one would dive bomb you if you got too close. They are often seen as pests here in the states, and it’s really not their fault. They were introduced into Central Park in the late 1800’s by a literary group who thought that every bird mentioned by Shakespeare should live in the park. They are not native to the America’s but they thrive here. They like to kick other birds out of their nesting sites and hijack them for their own.

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This is a cute little squirrel that I saw driving through town a few weeks ago. He’s cute because he is nowhere near my house. I think God made squirrels cute because they are so destructive. I have a pair of grey ones in my shop, I cannot get them out. They destroy everything they are evil, don’t be fooled. Evil, pure evil.

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I found this guy on my porch one night. His eye is so amazing. It’s like layers in a painting. I used a flashlight to get him lit like this. My dogs like to push on these guys so they jump. They will follow them all over the lawn on a spring night.

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This morning as I turned out of the driveway I saw a couple of deer crossing the road ahead of me. He stepped through the brush about. 20 feet away. I slowed down and opened the window and he froze. We watched each other for several seconds. I notice that if a deer is not running, just crossing, they often stop to check you out. After 15-20 seconds he made a puffing sound and took off into the woods. I see deer like this almost daily. Lots of fawns right now too.

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This robin was on a limb over the road. I have photographed robins in 6 states this spring so far. They are pretty calm birds and are large enough to get a good focus. Now that I am looking for birds I see these guys everywhere. I shot this one from the driver’s seat of my Jeep.

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I saw this water turtle I a couple of weeks ago while running errands in town. There is a small lake on a loop and I spotted him on a log floating. I was about 30 feet from him so I stopped the car and stepped closer. He let me get off a couple of shots and he dove out of site.

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I’m fascinated with cardinals, this isn’t a very good shot. I’m working on it though. They are very skiddish so they are tough to catch. This one is at a local amphitheater – his mate was in the woods fit above him. I have some at my house and have put out some feeders hoping to attract them and get them more comfortable with me, I hope to get a couple of good shots before summer is over.

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Swallow tails are a fixture in the Ozarks in the spring. This one was on the side of the road in the sun. I’m amazed by their color and the texture of their wings.

These are just a few of the things I encounter every day. What did you see on your commute today?