Katydids or didn’ts

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I saw this fella on the hood of my Jeep a couple of weeks ago. He hung on through my 15 mile commute, he seemed to be there for a couple of days – at least I thought it was the same guy, they all look alike to me.

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Then suddenly he was gone. Early last week he (or his twin) was back, clinging to the windshield for dear life – but with new and improved wings.

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After posing for a few shots he took off and I followed him up and over the jeep soft top.

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At this point he changed directions and came at me.

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He jumped onto my hand – which freaked me out a bit so I brushed him onto the ground. Immediately I felt bad, after all I was his ride. I thought I would pick him up an put him back on the Jeep. Bad idea – he made the loudest noise! I ditched him there in the parking lot.

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.

Lunas in the Porch Light

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I moved to the Ozarks about a decade ago. I no longer live in the city and have a neighbor 10 feet away. I bought an old farmhouse on 7 acres about 5 miles from town. Close enough to be able to get the things you need to get by, far enough away to see stars at night. My first year was all about learning the rhythms of nature through the seasons. Peepers and whippoorwills start talking in May, tree frogs in June, cicadas in July and August Рit all goes quiet again in October.

My first spring here I noticed that if a light was on in a room at night that flying insects would congregate on the windows – sometimes lots of them. If ladybugs get into the house they will hit their shells against the table lamp or TV looking for the light. One night I heard a very loud flutter against the living room window – it sounded like a bird crashed! I heard it again and saw something the color of a tennis ball swirl in the light and heard the window shake. I went outside and thought it might be a great green parakeet or something – but the flight pattern was so circular and random.

The next morning I went outside and saw the culprit – it was a Luna Moth. Now at the time I had no idea what that was – it’s color was amazing, but it was huge, larger than the palm of my hand! It was so beautiful that I watched for it to arrive the next night and it did. It only visited me for a few days and it was gone – until the next spring.

What follows is my photo study of this years visitors. Typically a moth lasts for 10 days and dies. A new generation arrives about 10 days later and after it dies they are gone for the year.

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This shot is taken from inside my screen door – their bodies look a lot like the pupae stage of the moth.

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Their bodies are covered with scales that look like fur

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They vary a bit in size and vividness.

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That crazy flight pattern is how the males find the females – those antenna pick up the scent

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Their tales flutter wildly when they fly

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This shot was taken with a 40 year old Macro lens on a bellows

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They eyespots have a translucent center.

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This guy got into my house and I was worried he would hurt himself before I got him out the door.

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I would leave my porch light on in the day time so that this one would stay.

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This one fell off the screen as I tried to close it – he rested on my step for about an hour.

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The edges of their wings almost look like woven tapestry to me.

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Sometimes the lower wings have a scalloped shape.

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This one was smaller than the rest and he stayed perched inside my smaller light fixture on the back porch.

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This image was also captured with a manual macro lens and bellows – in it you can see the scale structure clearly.

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This is another macro and bellows shot of just the antenna.

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So now they are gone. Summer is on it’s way in the Ozarks.