Posts Tagged ‘butterflies’

Rose Mallow at the Falls of the Ohio

We have had some stellar days of late with the air so crystalline and fresh that it has been an added bonus to be outside.  The temps have been manageable as well.  I began this post more than a week ago, but put it on the back burner until now.  I am no doubt busier now than I ever have been (particularly at work), but I’m still finding the time to be involved with my own art.  And I must confess…if I have to prioritize whether to stay home and work on a blog article or go to the river and participate in life at that level…well, I think you know what my answer will be!  I have enjoyed blogging, but must admit to myself that what I do will never be most people’s’ idea of a good read, especially since there are now literally millions of blogs out there!  I do still hope, however, to occasionally connect with folks who are creative and just plain interested in nature.

Rose Mallow, red coloring variant, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Recently, I went to the river to find a wealth of Rose Mallows in bloom.  That is not always the case and there have been years when I did not see any.  They have become among my favorite flowers that I can find at the Falls of the Ohio.  Their blooms are huge and there is some variation in our native hibiscus.  In a relatively small area, I found a patch of Rose Mallows showing off those colors which can range from a solid hot pink, to a snow-white blossom.  Usually, most of the mallows will sport some combination of white or pink with a deep scarlet throat.  I couldn’t help collecting a few seed pods and scattering their seeds in other locations I frequent at the Falls.  I don’t think this is technically legal since there is a park rule against collecting wildflowers, but since none of their seeds went home with me…I’m hoping I’ll be okay to do this?

Red Admiral butterfly, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Late summer is also a good time to see which butterflies are around.  The Falls of the Ohio certainly has its regular species who inhabit its various ecological niches.  Here is one of the park’s Red Admirals and it is visiting a “willow lick” to drink up the sugary exudence seeping from a wound in this tree’s bark.  These wounds occur in various ways, but the most common one is with collisions with large floating logs that crash battering ram-style into these willows during flooding.  This happens mostly in late winter or early spring and it is not out of the ordinary to have these willow trees be completely submerged by the Ohio River.  These willow licks attract a variety of insects ranging from butterflies, ants, hornets, and many different types of flies.

butterflies on purple loosestrife, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Of course, every year is different from the last one and so far I have to say I think this has been just an average year for butterflies.  Usually, one species will be found more commonly than the other species.  For example, I can remember certain years where the Viceroy was the most common butterfly.  I have also seen it when the small Pearly Crescent or the larger Buckeye Butterfly were the most plentiful individual species.  This year I can’t tell that one species is more numerous than another.  I like visiting the Purple Loosestrife stands particularly in the western section of the park during the height of their blooming period.  I know this plant is highly invasive, but it also attracts a large amount of insects and butterflies in particular.  Multiple species gravitate towards the nectar these plants produce.  It’s interesting to watch different species feeding on the same plant like in the above photo.   A skipper species (on top) and fritillary species (on the bottom) are coexisting on this flower because this resource is plentiful and the butterflies are focused.  What these loosestrife stands also attract are predators.  It’s common to come across large orb weaving spiders and praying mantises waiting to ambush a meal.  I have come to think of these loosestrife stands as being important feeding areas for the Monarch butterflies that migrate through our area and this has mitigated my feelings towards this invasive plant.

Installation view of show at Artists' Own Gallery, Lafayette, IN, Aug. 2016

Artists' Own Gallery, Lafayette, IN....Aug. 2016

Gallery shot at Artists' Own Gallery, Lafayette, IN, Aug. 2016

View inside my exhibit at Artists' Own Gallery, Lafayette, IN, Aug. 2016

Another reason to be feel grateful is that I have another solo art exhibition and it is currently up at the Artists’ Own Gallery in Lafayette, Indiana.  It’s a co-op space and the duties of running the gallery fall upon the member artists.  I was invited by one of the members to show at their downtown, Main Street location.  The exhibit which is entitled “At the Intersection of Culture and Nature” features a selection of my Styrofoam sculptures along with a few more dye sublimation prints on aluminum I had made of site specific projects that are now gone.  It is all stuff I have found and experienced at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  On the morning the show opened, I gave an artist’s talk and had a nice group present to hear more about how this work came to be.  I even sold a few pieces to help offset the costs of printing my photos and renting a van to haul it all around!  I really liked having the opportunity to show off my “Crying Indian” sculpture once again and it looked completely different in a gallery context as compared to where it was first shown outdoors earlier this year at Hidden Hills Nursery and Sculpture Garden.  All the Artists’ Own artists I met were welcoming and I appreciated their hospitality!  The exhibit will remain up until mid September and so if you find yourself in the area…please stop by and enjoy all the great art on display throughout this beautiful gallery.  Meanwhile, back at the Falls of the Ohio…

Styrofoam stash at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Figure idea, head and body, found Styrofoam, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

On my first visit back to the river after my show opened, I had this general feeling of well-being.  I went over to my stash of Styrofoam that I had collected this year and starting putting shapes together.  I soon came up with the requisite head and body for a new and large figurative sculpture I wanted to make.  The large chunk of polystyrene that I used for the figure’s body had been collected months ago, however, it was still a bit waterlogged and heavy to move.

Head of the Grateful Man, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Head and shoulders of the Grateful Man, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Without doing any direct carving, I just accepted the forms that the river had provided for me and went with that.  I did make a few small holes to insert the found objects that would serve as this figure’s features.  The mouth is a piece of wood that looked like a “mouth” when I found it.  The eyes are part of the hull of a Black Walnut that I split in half and inserted into the head.  The nose is a bright orange, Styrofoam fishing float found that morning.  For the ears, I used parts of the sole of an old shoe and then I added a small plastic ring to separate the head from the body which has become my custom over the many years of doing this activity.  The rest is just driftwood picked up on site.Large Figure in Ecstasy, found materials from the Falls of the Ohio, August 2016

The resulting figure is much bigger than me and after I assembled it…I went scouting for a good location to make my pictures.  As you may remember, the large piece of Styrofoam that is the figure’s body was water-logged and so I set it up relatively close to my outdoor atelier.  Although the figure looks to be praying, what I was going for was a trance-like state of ecstasy?  I know I have felt this sensation of being outside one’s self where you feel a part of or kinship with the other living things around you.  Behind the figure is a large log with intact root mass that washed into here during the last good flood.  In this photo, a small flock of Canada Geese does a respectful flyover of their own.

A Canada Goose flyover, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Large Figure in Ecstasy near downed tree, Falls of the Ohio, August 2016

I seem to have started a personal blogging trend where my posts are getting on the long side!  So, this looks like as good a place to wrap this up as any.  By now, my ecstatic figure is probably history and martyred like so many other figures I have left in the park before.  I tell each piece I make and leave behind that this will likely be its fate unless some kind soul takes pity and takes it home with them.  These figures seem to understand.  It’s all about being present in the moment when we are at our most alive.  I have more stories to tell and art to share, but will hold of for now.  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Three Clouds with Figure in Ecstasy, Falls of the Ohio, August 2016


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Landscape at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I have always felt that if you did the research, you must publish your results.  Here it is the tail-end of July and what?? not a single post this month from the Artist at Exit 0!  Of course I have been out to the river on a couple of occasions and had a wonderful time.  So far, it has been a relatively easy summer.  We haven’t had spells of daily high temperatures pushing a hundred degrees that have marked some previous summers.  Knock on wood.  Every year and every season is different and 2016 will no doubt climatically distinguish itself locally in some way before this annual orbit around the sun is history.

Trumpet Creeper Vine, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

According to the WordPress folks, this is Riverblog post #450!  They are much better at keeping count than I am and so I will trust them on that.  I mention this not in the way of a boast, but rather from personal amazement that I have found enough content out in the Falls of the Ohio State Park to help keep it going!  I have a good friend who is also an artist and he used to blog on WordPress.  He stopped writing right around his 500th post!  He became a little disappointed that it was so time-consuming and didn’t lead to more sales or artistic opportunities.  I guess he also got to a point where he had said everything he wanted to say?  This post will combine a couple of river adventures together and is set for the western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  It’s getting to be high summer.  I can tell by the heat and the blooming trumpet creeper vines growing on some of the cottonwood trees.  Have you ever noticed that many of these trumpet creeper flowers have large ants in them?

Purple loosestrife at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Where moist conditions are prevalent out here, you will find great patches of Purple loosestrife plants growing under the cottonwoods and willows.  The loosestrife is by far more common in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio.  Despite being a very invasive species, they do add a beautiful pinkish-lavender color to the landscape and insects (particularly butterflies) seem to love their nectar.

Cabbage White butterfly on Purple loosestrife, Falls of the Ohio, Late June 2016

I am sure to visit this area several times while the loosestrife flowers continue to bloom.  Over the last several years, I have come across more butterfly species feeding off of these flowers including many swallowtail species (Tiger, Black Swallowtail, Spicebush, Pipevine, and Giant Swallowtail).  These flowers are also favored by several different skippers which occupy this strange position between being true butterflies and true moths.  It seems skippers possess qualities of both lepidoptera groups.  Here is a nice Silver-spotted Skipper ( Epargyreus clarus ) I came across also feeding on the odd blooms of a Cephalanthus buttonbush.

Silver-spotted skipper, Falls of the Ohio, Late June 2016

There were other butterflies out on this sunny day, but I didn’t get good pictures of all of them.  I did see my first Red Admirals of the year.  I did manage this image of a Tawny Emperor ( Asterocampa clyton ) butterfly using the camera on my cell phone.  It takes a bit of stealth to get the phone near enough to take a good image without scaring your subject away.  Over the past two years, I’ve become accustomed to taking my cell phone with me on my trips to the river.  I love that the device is so small, lightweight, and fits in my pocket and gives me a few more options than the digital SLR that I have.  I have to imagine that these little digital cameras are just going to continue to get better and even more useful.

Summer time butterfly at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I am also on the alert for any bird movements or sounds in the area.  On this expedition to the Falls of the Ohio I scored big by sighting two new bird species for my life list and getting decent pictures of both to show to any of you unbelievers out there!  After walking in direct sunlight for over an hour, I decided to cool off by walking in the shade of the large cottonwood trees that grow along the edge of the river.  I especially like the way this cottonwood tree fills the whole photo frame.  When these trees release their fluffy, light seeds it can almost appear as though it is snowing in slow motion.  The cotton fluff builds up and forms wind aided drifts on the ground.

Large, Cottonwood tree, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I had directed my reverie up into the canopy of the trees when an unfamiliar bird flew just above my head.  This bird is fast and I got a quick sensation of colors…light blue, white, and green.  I was extremely lucky to get such good pictures of it in full flight.  Check out how the tail feathers help with lift and aerial maneuvering…perfect for high-speed flight between the tree trunks.

The Mosquito bird, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I was elated when I realized that what just went whizzing by my ear is a species I have not seen in the park before.  It has a couple of common names.  Some people refer to it as the Cumberland Mockingbird (Mimus appalachians ) and around here I’ve heard people call it a “Mosquito bird”.  This specimen was actively picking off in midair several small flies that I could detect in the sunshine flying over my sweaty head.  The thought occurred to me that this bird and the Zika mosquito have moved into our area at about the same time.

The Mosquito Bird, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Diving Mosquito Bird, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

The Cumberland Mockingbird seemed to be able to “read” the air and wind currents around structures like trees and high river banks.  I observed it daringly flying and diving very near objects in its pursuit of an insectivorous meal. I saw it chasing another Falls of the Ohio specialty, the Eastern-eyed Click Beetle (Alaus oculatus ).  This is the largest member of the click beetle family and can get 2 1/2 inches long.  It is said that its cryptic coloring is meant to mimic bird droppings.  As it happened this beetle was able to escape becoming the Cumberland Mockingbird’s lunch by hiding under some loose tree bark.

Eastern-Eyed Click Beetle, Alaus oculatus at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

These click beetles always seem to be out at the Falls of the Ohio during the summer months.  They are harmless as adults.  Their larvae grows in decaying wood and are carnivorous.  Our area usually has an abundance of decomposing wood because of periodic flooding and the water-logged trunks that come with it.  I decided to move out of the shade because the mosquitoes were catching up with me and using me for snacks.  Not even an actively feeding Mosquito bird could turn these small flies away from their blood mission.

Dodo of the Ohio, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Dodo of the Ohio in courtship display, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Returning to the sunlight seemed to do the trick of chasing the noisome insects away.  I moved away from the shade of the trees and returned to the intermittent light by the fossil outcroppings nearer the riverbank.  All was right with the world.  A cormorant was swimming in the river as an osprey flew overhead with fish in talons.  I was happily engaged in my little world…when I heard the most unusual animal call of all.  I just had to find out what could make such a mournful noise!  I found a likely spot along a trail and just went quiet and motionless.  If the gods were with me then I had a good chance of seeing this mystery animal which was continuing its two-syllable call as it drew nearer to me.

Dodo of the Ohio with Passionflower and fruit, Falls of the Ohio, July 2016

Dodo of the Ohio and Passionflower, Falls of the Ohio, July 2016

There was a movement low to the ground and a parting of vegetation when a dingy white bird emerged onto the trail in front of me.  It puffed its body up and displayed its tail feathers in a showy fan.  A few wiry blue feathers on his head forms a crest that moves and down with the hopping dancing motion this species requires for courtship.  With a certain amount of fanfare, my first ever “Dodo of the Ohio” ( Pseudo dodo kentuckiana ) let itself be known that it was looking for companionship.  I had also found it in the context of a flowering and fruiting Passion flower vine ( Passiflora ) growing over the sand.  A pair of round, green fruits seemed to be the object of the dodo’s attention.  Our dodo is not at all related to the extinct species, but it is far from being a common bird.  Fortunately, it can fly, albeit weakly.  This at least keeps it off the ground while it sleeps at night.  I watched the dodo for several more minutes before it flew off.  The chance meeting of these two exotics was an amazing and unforgettable happening that helped make July an incredible month.  See you again sometime soon from the Falls of the Ohio.

Passionflower vine, Falls of the Ohio, July 2016

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purple loosestrife at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

This post includes two recent trips to the Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) flowers in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  I have made my peace with the fact that the Purple Loosestrife plant is an invasive species at this location. It is really successful at crowding out the other plants that gather in this wetlands area. Originally introduced from Europe, the Purple Loosestrife has spread across the United States.  Eradicating it is very difficult because millions of seeds are produced annually and the loosestrife can grow with just a fragment of root in the ground.  The loosestrife probably doesn’t realize that it has this poor reputation for it provides beauty to the landscape and food for a myriad of insects, particularly butterflies.  Surely, the loosestrife can be forgiven for being itself?  Can the same be said of our kind who after all perpetuated the Purple Loosestrife by planting it to begin with and then allowing it to escape into the larger environment?  The loosestrife arrived here floating down the river.  I can recall when there wasn’t any to be found in the park.

The Butterfly Man, 9/2010

Here’s a flashback from three years a go.  I remember it was my lavender-lipped friend, the Butterfly Guide, who introduced me to this loosestrife stand back in September of 2010.  We had a great time together and I managed a few nice butterfly images on that day.  Ever since the Butterfly Guide showed me the way, I’ve been returning on my own and observing and documenting what happens here.  I heard through the grapevine that my old friend has since passed on and is conducting tours in the great beyond.  He had a knack for revealing beauty to all who wanted to experience it.  Seeing his image again makes me feel nostalgic.

Eastern Checkerspot

This is an Eastern or Harris’ Checkerspot (Chlosyne harrisii) and was the most numerous butterfly I saw visiting the loosestrife flowers.  They were so intent on sipping nectar that it was easy to approach them as they fed.  Now for a few more checkerspot images.

Eastern Checkerspot feeding, Aug. 2013

Eastern Checkerspot, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

Eastern Checkerspot, Aug. 2013, Falls of the Ohio

I found myself carefully wading into the flowers to get as close as possible.  Many of the flower bunches were in the six to seven feet tall range and it was humid walking among the plants.  We have been having a mild streak lately with lower than normal temperatures and regular precipitation.  Residents in our locality have had few reasons to complain about the heat.  The checkerspots are not the only butterflies out here.  Various swallowtail butterflies also enjoy these flowers.  Here are images of an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, (Papilio glaucus).

Tiger Swallowtail on purple loosestrife, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

Tiger Swallowtail on Purple Loosestrife, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

We are fortunate to have many other species of swallowtails in our area.  Among the others I have associated with the loosestrife flowers include the Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor), the American or Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes), and the Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus).  Here’s an image of a Spicebush Swallowtail feeding.

Spicebush Swallowtail on Purple Loosestrife, Aug. 2013

We have several different Skipper species present.  This is the Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus).  The white spot on its hind wing shines like mother-of-pearl when the light hits it just right.

Silver-spotted Skipper on Purple Loosestrife, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

Another regular visitor is the Cabbage Butterfly (Pieris rapae).

Cabbage Butterfly, Aug. 2013

Cabbage Butterfly caught by a spider, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

I was struck by the unusual pose this Cabbage Butterfly was in and decided to get closer to check it out.  When it didn’t fly away…I knew something else was going on.  Although you can’t see it in this picture, a small spider has caught this butterfly by its head.  With so many insects feeding on the loosestrife, predators were sure to follow.  Large bumble bees also enjoy these flowers.  They are so heavy that they cause the loosestrife stems to bend upon landing on them.

Bumble Bee on loosestrife flowers, Aug. 2013

Over the years, I have watched the Purple Loosestrife become more common in the western section of the park.  The plant is now well established.  Typically, the loosestrife blooms continuously from July to September, but to my eye, it is looking like the blooms are starting to play out a bit?  Every year is different and some butterflies are more common in one year than another.  Missing from the loosestrife blooms this year are the Buckeyes, Monarchs, and their mimics…the Viceroy Butterflies.  Perhaps they will still make an appearance later on if the loosestrife flowers continue blooming.  I hope you have enjoyed wading through the loosestrife with me?  Next time, I will post something about the exhibition at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft that is featuring this blog in their show.  Now time for one final image before closing.Purple Loosestrife at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

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After a brief cold and wet spell I made it out to the Falls of the Ohio last Saturday.  The Ohio River was rising as were the temperatures which had dipped into the 30 degree mark  for a few days.  One look around here and there is no doubt that it is autumn in Kentuckiana.  The willow leaves were noticeably yellower and many of the trees were in the process of losing their foliage.  I was scouting around for what else was different in this environment and spotted this tiny butterfly moving about.

This small whitish butterfly was sipping on something on the sand.  I was practically nose to nose with it and recognized that it was a member of the skipper family.  Last year was such a banner year for butterflies at the Falls and to my eye…this year was a noticeable drop off.  After following this skipper for a few yards I was able to take this image of it.  At home I identified it as the Common Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus communis) which is considered a very common species.  It seemed rather late in the season for a butterfly, but I was able to observe a few rag-tag Buckeye butterflies and a few tattered Viceroys too.  Funny how I had never noticed this skipper before.  Nevertheless, I felt a sense of personal discovery as though I was the first person ever to see this tiny revelation. It was about this time I heard a distinctive tapping coming from a stand of willow trees.  Somewhere a woodpecker was plying its trade.

With its jet-black wings, white body, and bright red bill this bird is easy to identify…it’s the Pied Woodpecker.  About this time of year the northern population of this interesting woodpecker begins its southerly migration to the warmer climes of Central America.  Although I had added this bird to my “Life List” while on a family trip to Wisconsin…this was the first Pied Woodpecker I have seen at the Falls of the Ohio.  I observed it moving up and down the trunks of the willow trees exploring the crevasses in the bark for small insects.  It likes to move head down in its search for food like nuthatches are known to do.  Every now and then it would use its bill to chip away the wood to uncover the bugs it sought and it seemed quite unconcerned about me taking pictures of it.  I snapped as many as I could as I followed it on its path through the woods.

Soon it came to a grove of trees that were covered in wild grape vines.  The Pied Woodpecker explored the bark here too, but I saw it augmenting its diet with the tiny fruits this vine was producing.  Every once in a while it would make this nasally sound that I tried imitating.  Fortunately, this bird didn’t take offense and fly away.  Perhaps it “cut me some slack” for at least trying to talk to it in its own language…or at least that was my thought at that moment.

From the vine-covered trees, the woodpecker next flew to a large log with a large exposed root mass.  When this tree was living it must have been huge. The Pied Woodpecker didn’t linger here long and I watched its rising and dipping flight pattern as it crossed over the Ohio River into Kentucky.  I wonder if I will ever see another of its kind here again?  That’s the funny thing. There are birds that are considered common and regularly recorded here that I have yet to see.  I’ve seen them elsewhere, but not here at the Falls of the Ohio.  That’s the thing about birds…their extreme mobility can make them unpredictable!

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Just left or east of the railroad bridge at the Falls of the Ohio is where this adventure occurred.  The river was still high but dropping.  I was enjoying working in a section of the park that I don’t normally hang out at, but have discovered is both full of wildlife and potential art materials.  Evidence of our recent flooding was everywhere and I was exploring what there was to see and find.

While I was exploring this area I could hear Beatles’ music quite clearly drifting over the water.  It was the annual Abbey Road on the River Festival at the Waterfront Park in Louisville.  I guess the goal of each tribute band is to sound as closely to the original Fab Four as possible because I couldn’t detect much variation from one group’s rendition of a familiar song to another’s.  I did, however, notice that the Belle of Louisville’s steamboat calliope was in direct competition with the bands.  Like last year’s festival…snatches of 19th century tunes intermingled with pop hits from the 1960’s.  Baby, baby…Do dah day.

I was in this section of the park because I was searching for larger sections of Styrofoam.  This last bout of flooding pretty well wiped the slate clean as far as the materials that I had collected last year.  There is no shortage of smaller chunks throughout the park, but the larger pieces that are remnants of floating docks were in shorter supply.  I did find this piece that still had wood attached to both sides and set it upright, stelae-style.  Here’s what it looked like right after I assembled it.

I had the turtle piece going too while this six-foot figure was under construction.  I also happily observed Northern Orioles chasing one another through the Cottonwood Trees.  I taught myself how to imitate the oriole’s song and on occasion can lure a curious bird closer by whistling to it.  I’m still trying to get a primo photograph of one of these birds, but they do tend to stay in the tops of the trees.  Out on the river, I observed a boat going back and forth along my side of the river and I’m speculating that they are looking for some poor lost soul that the river may have claimed?

I left my Styro-sentinal in place, but returned a couple of days later to discover it had fallen over.  This time I moved him to a different place facing the river and changed its arm positions a bit.  Originally, he held one of those soft nerf-type footballs.  I haven’t been back since and he may or may not be still guarding this section of the river bank.

Among the items I “found” out here include this ruined Jet-ski.  Which…

…bookends nicely with the miniature version of it I found in the western section of the park also courtesy of the Ohio River and its recent flooding.

Butterflies and other insects are becoming more prevalent as the season progresses.  I saw what I thought was a familiar butterfly, but wasn’t totally convinced it was the species I thought I knew…so I photographed it and researched it a bit in the comfort of my home.  Here is my first image which shows two of these “different” butterflies.

Here’s a single, resting individual with its wings spread open.  This butterfly shows more black than the Pearly Crecents that are common out here. 

I cross referenced my butterfly guides at home and was glad that I was able to take a picture of this butterfly’s ventral surface because it helps to identify it.  I was leaning towards the Eastern or Harris Checkerspot but decided that this is the Streamside or Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis ). Here is the view that was most helpful.

I’m looking forward to seeing many other butterfly species out here this year.  I will try to keep a checklist of what I see just as I do for the many bird species that visit or call the Falls of the Ohio State Park home.  On my way out of the woods, I “felt” something looking at me and after checking around…discoverd these eyes following me which is as good a way to end this post as any!



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I ventured out over the weekend to see what I could see.  The Ohio River is still very high, but receding.  All along the riverbank you can see how far the water rose because large logs and plastic trash reveal the high water marks.  Once all this water reaches its “normal” level…there will be a huge amount of trash left behind to challenge any clean-up attempts.  Today I wasn’t out looking for garbage, but other signs of life.  Perhaps it is a bit early to look for migrating birds although I can feel that is just a short time away and getting closer.  Already species like the Red-winged Blackbird are staking out nesting territories.  Species we see all the year round like the Northern Cardinal were singing at the tops of their lungs and I enjoyed standing under one bright red bird that was doing just that!

This particular bird has many rivals.  I could hear many other cardinals singing across the landscape.  I could almost imagine the spaces they were occupying by the volume of their singing…every hundred meters or so it seemed a different bird was calling out.  I wondered how the poor females went about the task of choosing which one to form a pair with?  I did see a few Yellow-rumped Warblers which are usually the first warblers to arrive and among the last to leave.  The other warblers will be winging their way here shortly…or at least I hope they stop here ever so briefly on their way northward.  Over the last two or three years it seems there are more changes to the environs around the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  I know that there are many other better choices all along the Ohio River than here. It seems we have decided to put people’s needs first over what birds might need.  During my wanderings, I did see my first butterfly and here it is…

…this is the Spring Azure butterfly.  Here it is mid March and this tiny ( no wider across than my thumb nail) bright blue-violet butterfly was visiting plants.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t obtain an image of that beautiful blue coloring, but with this species, the underside or ventral wings are more helpful in identifying it.  Since there were no dark marks on the dorsal wing tips, this helped me determine that this butterfly was the male of the species.  I was really excited to see this little wonder and thought that this could be a really uncommon species…but it wasn’t.  It’s fairly common, widespread, and has many morphs.  Formerly, this species was scientifically named Celastrina argiolus, but is now called Celastrina landon. With this species, there is still much taxonomic hair-splitting to do.  It’s just that variable over a large area of North America.

As I walked along the riverbank, I came across a few familiar signs now mostly underwater.  Here’s what happens when you throw “Caution” to the water…you get this view.  And here’s one that partly hides a “No Trespassing” sign near a storm sewer that feeds into the river.

As I moved along where the faint hearted fear to tread, I was hoping that my slogging through the mud and muck would be rewarded.  Earlier I had seen a few Blue-winged teal which is a small species of duck and so I was hoping to see another small, but rare duck that sometimes mixes in with these teal as they migrate.  Today was my lucky day and here are three images of the very unusual  Mud Duck.  This bird likes to really get into the underbrush particularly during floods to take advantage of feeding areas usually restricted to other ducks during normal river levels.  It is a very oily duck and highly buoyant on the water and as a consequence…it almost never dives beneath the surface of the river.

The price of observing this unusual fowl was foul boots.  I became so coated with mud from my knees down that I didn’t worry about my foot gear until I was ready to go home.  This mud is particularly sticky and each rise of the foot is accompanied by a sucking sound.  You definitely need to tie your laces tight, otherwise you risk stepping right out of your shoe or boot.  I stopped every so often to clean the bottoms of my boots because the weight of the mud made each step an additional burden.

So far, I haven’t seen any of the large pieces of Styrofoam that found temporary refuge in my plein air studio.  They are probably half way to the Mississippi River by now.  It may take another week for the water to fully retreat and then it will be even more time before the riverbank dries out some.  I’ll close for now with another flood view.  Over the years, these sycamore trees have been a good marker for high water.

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When we last left the Adventurer he was marooned on the riverbank waiting for the Ohio River to return.  Until the water reappears his crudely constructed log raft is stuck.  Taking advantage of the downtime, our hero is exploring and seeing what there is to see.  At this place called the Falls of the Ohio there appears to be a good variety of butterflies present.  Following are a few images that were relayed to me by the Adventurer along with a small lesson he gave me about Lepidoptera.  Here’s a sequence of images that our friend wanted me to share with you not only because he found this to be beautiful but interesting too!

How lovely!  This is the first of our “Question Marks”.  In fact, this is the common name of this butterfly that is known in the scientific community as Polygonia interrogationis.  This is a fresh specimen in its fall form with its powder-blue wing edges.  The spring and summer forms sport much darker hindwings on their topsides.  The wingspan is about 3 inches across.

Here is the same butterfly with its wings folded and as you can see it looks very much like a dried leaf.  The Question Mark derives its name from the small, silvery “?” question mark-like design on the ventral side of its hindwing.  This specimen in this image doesn’t show this to its best advantage, however, what the Adventurer wanted to share is that other smaller butterfly entering the picture on the top left corner.  This is something not noticed until the pictures were downloaded from the camera.

Here are the two butterflies sharing a leaf.  The plant is a cocklebur and you can see its ripening seeds in the background.  Soon these burrs will develop their Velcro-like hooks and attach to the clothing of autumn hikers.  I have had dozens attach themselves to my shoe laces!  Now for a close-up of that little butterfly.

This is the second “Question Mark” because neither the Adventurer nor I know what to formally call this one!  I enjoy collecting field guides of all kinds and I like to cross reference material as a way of learning more about the subject on hand.  I know this is a member of the skipper family which are primitive butterflies that share characteristics with moths.  In fact, some scientists don’t consider skippers to be true butterflies at all!  In my guides there seems to be many of these small, golden-colored skippers and identifying them is tricky and best done by experts.  This butterfly was so tiny and perfect and almost…unnoticeable.  In the enlargement it appears to have a forked proboscis for feeding.  I wonder how this design will help it eat and does it go for the usual butterfly fare?  Okay, moving on… let’s look at the Commas.

The Eastern Comma or Polygonia comma is a common butterfly in this environment.  As you can tell it is closely related to the Question Mark butterfly.  It derives its name from the small comma (,) like mark on the underside of its hindwing.  Both of these species are angle-winged butterflies and when their wings are folded up, appear like dried leaves.  These guys can be fairly aggressive as butterflies go and as proof…the Adventurer wanted you to see this specimen photographed against the silvery driftwood of the Falls.

He said this was the most ragged specimen he ever saw that was still alive!  This butterfly seemed to have no issues with flying despite its hindwings being mostly gone.  You can see how alert this one is by the attitude of its antennae.  This Comma is near the end of its seasonal run and its wing condition may be due to aerial combats with other butterflies and insects.  I imagine as Comma butterflies go, this one may have revelled in being a Comma!  This one may have been among the fittest of its kind?  The Adventurer hope you enjoyed this little side track and in closing offers another view of that nice Question Mark butterfly.  Thanks for visiting!

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At last we have some respite from the dreaded heat of this summer.  Today is gorgeous!  The air feels fresh, and there is a nice quality to the light.  I decide to spend my time in the western section of the park on the Indiana side.  I heard that the butterflies were plentiful on the loosestrife flowers and that this could be a good time to take pictures.  First, I needed to find an officially sanctioned butterfly guide to show me the way.  He’s supposed to be somewhere over here…yes, there he is right on time.

The strange-looking character said “Hello, are you the one who wants to see the butterflies?”  I replied that I was and we met face to face.

And what a memorable face he has with his mismatched eyes and lavender lips!  He told me to call him the Butterfly Man and that I had picked a good time to come to the river because it was now agreed that 2010 was a good year for butterflies in our area.  He also said that the place we wanted to go was a short walk ahead to where the purple flowers were growing.  Many different kinds of butterflies would be there.

Along the way, the Butterfly Man told me tidbits about the environment we were experiencing and what we might expect to see.  He explained that the loosestrife flowers are an invasive species and quickly take over these shallow wetlands.  Around here small springs trickle water down the bank towards the river and keep this area moist. These are perfect conditions for the loosestrife which has spread from last year.  Butterflies and other insects love the nectar from these flowers and if we encountered bees and wasps…not to be afraid because if you left them alone, they would do likewise.  Soon we were among the flowers and it didn’t take the Butterfly Man long to spot a terrific butterfly!

With its slightly elongated forewings and intense orange color the Gulf Fritillary ( Dione vanillae ) stands out among the loosestrife.  As the name suggests, this is a mostly southern species, but does venture north.  The ventral coloring sports mother of pearl and orange spots.  Not to far away on a different flower, Butterfly Man spotted a nice swallowtail.

This is the Eastern Black Swallowtail, ( Papilio polyxenes ) and I have come across a few of these and other swallowtails as well.  I have seen, but unable to get a photo of some of them because they never slowed down!  I saw a Giant Swallowtail, our largest butterfly, fly over my head and towards the river.  The Zebra Swallowtail, same thing, it was flying too fast and never alighted.  The Pipevine Swallowtail I saw was so ragged that I decided not to take a picture of it.  I’m sure over time I will get other chances.  Here’s an image I like of a very common butterfly.

This butterfly was introduced into North America in the 1860’s and has now spread over the continent.  The Cabbage White, ( Pieris rapae ) is the most common white butterfly that most people are likely to encounter.  At the Falls, we also find another immigrant, the European Skipper, ( Thymelicus lineola ) which was accidentally introduced in Ontario about 1910 and has since spread across the country.  These tiny gold skippers can be very hard to identify and probably depends on having one in hand.  I like the idea of capturing a photographic image because no harm is intended.  With their folded wings, many skippers don’t look like butterflies at all. 

After a while, the Butterfly Man said we should take a break.

He said he found something special earlier in the morning and it was somewhere in this vicinity.  There is another creature here taking advantage of the butterflies.  Sure enough a couple of bushes away we found her enjoying a snack.

We found such a beautiful and large spider sitting on her web!  The proof she selected the right location was entombed in silk.  I have seen other Black-and-yellow Argiope ( Argiope aurantia ) spiders at the Falls before.  This is the first for this year.  She’s a big spider and soon she will produce her egg case and die.  The baby spiders will overwinter in the case and emerge in the spring.  These orb weavers have a characteristic zig-zag silk pattern on the interior of their webs.  This spider has had luck catching Orange Sulphur and Viceroy butterflies.  I noticed many loose wings below the web.  There is an element of risk out here among the flowers after all.

 The Butterfly Man spotted a nice pair of Viceroys ( Limenitis archippus ) basking side by side on the same leaf.  There are many of these species currently out among the willow trees.  With their smaller size and black line crossing the veins of the dorsal hind wing they can be told apart from the Monarch butterflies ( Danaus plexippus ) which are also in the area flying down on their long migration to Mexico.

There was time for one last butterfly before turning for home.  Earlier I had spotted a few large yellow butterflies nectaring on the small Jewelweed vines .  I came across this Cloudless Giant Sulphur in a characteristic position with its wings folded together like a yellow leaf and created this composition.

After one final look at the loosestrife fields, I was reminded of French Impressionistic painting and thought this landscape worthy of a canvas or two for the purple colors and nice cloud formations.  You can also glimpse the fossil beds beyond the trees.

I left the Butterfly Man standing where I first met him by his home next to a downed tree.  I thanked him for taking the time to show me around and hoped to run into him again in another adventure at the Falls of the Ohio.

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It’s been a brutal and tough summer…one of our hottest yet.  When you are at the river’s edge there’s no place to hide.  It’s just rock, water, and sky.  Life in all its forms is trying to expend just enough energy to keep going on.  That also includes me.  The mosquitos and gnats were extra annoying and chased me from the cool and shade under the willow trees to the open light and heat of the riverbank.

In the air above me, a pair of osprey makes repeated visits to the dam.  Every once in a while, one of them would fold its wings slightly and dive into the river.  I wonder how they know that the water here is shallow?  On occasion their daring would be rewarded with a fish.  Birds, however, are not the only ones ignoring the heat today to chase fish.

This guy has just landed a catfish and is extracting the hook.  Around him is his fishing tackle which includes several poles and a small throw net.  To me it all appears very primal and it wouldn’t have surprised me at this moment to see him take a bite out of this fish.  Observing people fishing out at the Falls is like watching one of those nature documentaries where large bears intercept the salmon on their return home.  People arrange themselves along the most productive sites and arriving early helps. Not all the fish caught by the fishermen are kept.  The rough so-called “trash fish” are thrown back in a weakened, wounded condition.  I have seen the osprey picking those fish off and flying away with them.

Butterflies are seen in profusion during this time of year.  I have been watching which species like to congregate around the willow trees to sip up what I assume is tree sap.  I have seen as many as six different species lining up on the same tree.  I think areas where these trees have been damaged (from collisions with water born logs) are the preferred feeding areas.  These places that the butterflies like (this includes flies and wasps too) are on the margins of where bark has been worn away.  The above photo features two species…the larger Red-spotted Purple and the Comma butterfly.  I later watched these two individuals engage in a combat over a favorite spot on the tree.  The Comma was by far more aggressive.  So much for the idea of describing a butterfly as being meek.

I did make one plastic discovery tangled in the driftwood and sand.  I came across this Indian dressed in his Plains garb.  He’s obviously has led a hard life too and has come to rest at the Falls of the Ohio.  I snap his picture where I found him and dropped him into the collecting bag.  I may or may not use him in some other creation of mine.  We will see.

When I reached my studio under the willows, I found this image.  The helmeted figure made a month a go is still here, but he was leaning over with a “spear” thrown into his body.  There wasn’t any other signs of damage or disturbance.  I removed the spear and set the figure up in another location and proceeded to make a new piece.  This is what I came up with before the bugs chased me out into the bright light.  With all the heaviness that life throws at us…I made this figure to remind myself to do a little dance every now and then.  It seems to help!

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Continuing my last walk…I came to the area that would be my base for the day.  There is a favorite tree with exposed roots that you can sit under and remain cool and out of the sun.  Previous visitors decorated this spot with many vertical sticks that give a fence-like impression.  Here’s two views, first the base of this tree as seen from the outside:

…and a view from the inside.  Over the years, I have left many small sculptures in this area.  They never seem to last very long in here.

Last week was my birthday, and so on this outing I have new tools.  Earlier in the year, I lost my handy two-bladed Swiss Army knife which was a previous gift from a friend.  It had a nice, easy to sharpen blade and a toothy saw that could cut wood.  Replacing that knife are these two objects.  My family gave me the updated Swiss Army knife complete with tweezers and toothpick.  My friend Jeff gave me the bigger saw.  Its blade folds out and has the advantage of locking.  I definitely can chew through a nicely sized limb with this baby! 

On this particular trip, the heat and humidity put a damper on doing anything ambitious.  I hung around this area for a couple of hours and made this guy who was checking out the butterflies in the purple loosestrife.

I found a little bit of Styrofoam to work with and this red plastic object that looks like a pipe.  I used tiny plastic fishing bobbers for eyes and the ears are clam shells.  Later because the shells kept falling off, I substituted a flat rock and sand-polished glass for the ears.  It’s subtle and you might not notice this change at first.  As for the place I was working at…last year the Purple Loosestrife was getting a foothold and now it is firmly entrenched.  This is a hard to get rid of invasive plant that plays havoc in small wetlands like this one.  The butterflies, however, love this weed. 

Among the many species feeding from the purple flowers is this Tiger Swallowtail, Pterourus glaucus.  This is a boldly patterned and large butterfly of summer.  I have seen some beat up looking butterflies of different species and am assuming they are from an earlier brood that perhaps over-wintered here?  The tiger swallowtail also has a common melanistic form and I also saw one of those out here today.

You can see the “tiger stripes” showing on his hind wing.  Also working these flowers were the large bumble bees we saw earlier on the morning glories.  I also observed several large, blue-black wasps that I associate with being spider hunters.  They are so intent on gathering nectar that they pay no attention to me.  All through the loosestrife insects were working the flowers.  Clearly, this plant has no shortage of pollinators.

Mr. Red Pipe was enjoying himself in all this purple haze and humidity.  There was something reassuring about watching all this insect life packed into a relatively small area.  Another favorite butterfly is hanging on a loosestrife blossom not too far away and if we move deliberately…we might not spook it away.

It’s an Orange Sulphur, Colias eurytheme.  We have several other members of the Sulphur family out here along with Viceroys, Red Admirals, and a couple different Skipper species.  I love the yellow-green eyes on this butterfly which seem to have a glow to them.

All my water is gone and so the idea of returning to my car sets in.  I have another bottle waiting for me there.  Tomorrow is supposed to be another high temperature day in the 90’s.  After our June being a record setter, it seems July is out for bragging rights too.  Before leaving, I snap one more picture of the Purple Loosestrife in its prime with the railroad bridge visible in the far distance. 

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