29 April 2018: While on the way to the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, I noticed people were looking down and skirting something on the sidewalk. From a distance it looked like it might have been a pigeon, which could account for the apparent distaste.
When I got closer, this is what I found—a beautiful belted kingfisher, killed when it hit building glass during spring migration. It’s fall migration already—a time to see more beautiful avian visitors passing through. May most of them survive Chicago . . .
Last year I saw what seemed like dozens of Hemaris diffinis and thysbe moths around one of the butterfly bushes at the public garden down the way, but this summer I’m seeing very few—only one at a time, mostly. Over the past couple of years I’ve seen only one giant swallowtail, the first butterfly I noticed there when I was on my way home from the farmers’ market. I haven’t seen one since.
At least I’m seeing monarchs, tiger and black swallowtails, red-spotted purples, several kinds of skipper, and a few hackberry emperors. I’m terrible at identifying trees, but several of the trees here look like hackberry trees. The hackberry is to the hackberry emperor what milkweed is to the monarch—sole food for the caterpillar.
On August 11, a very pale hackberry emperor landed on my shirt and stayed until finally I had to start walking and gently shooed it off.
I say “pale” because hackberry emperors are usually darker.
Last week I was about to walk my bike through the grass from one bush to another when a hackberry emperor landed on my arm and proceeded to probe about with its proboscis. It went at it for several minutes, even after I started walking again, arm raised in an awkward position. After a few moments it flew off.
Assuming it was partaking of sweat, I looked up the behavior, called “puddling.”
By sipping moisture from mud puddles, butterflies take in salts and minerals from the soil. This behavior is called puddling, and is mostly seen in male butterflies. That’s because males incorporate those extra salts and minerals into their sperm.
When butterflies mate, the nutrients are transferred to the female through the spermatophore. These extra salts and minerals improve the viability of the female’s eggs, increasing the couple’s chances of passing on their genes to another generation.
What could be more charming than knowing the sweat from your body will go toward the production of more hackberry emperors? I may not have children and grandchildren, but I will have butterflies!
J. wanted to go to northeastern Wisconsin to see family, so I went along. The trip didn’t begin well, as he was delayed by a protest and closed exits along the Dan Ryan. I should pay more attention to local news.
Traffic wasn’t bad the rest of the way, and the weather was perfect — clear sky, sunny, about 74ºF when we left and at Port Washington. I noted that I prefer a summer sky with interesting clouds, although later the cloudlessness would prove perfect for part of the plan.
We arrived in Port Washington (80ºF) at 3:40. I remember the time precisely because it was 20 minutes to closing at Bernie’s Fine Meats, where I promptly spent a small fortune. (I’m not a big meat eater, but, oh, the garlic summer sausage.)
We stopped for a bit at Smith Bros. Coffee for the namesake beverage and a sandwich. It’s one of those places where I could people watch all day.
Finally, we hit the road again, passing through Green Bay and continuing north.
I’m not sure when we arrived in Crivitz, perhaps around 7. We continued northwest toward the family tree farm. Along the way I noticed many stands of conifers planted in regular rows, but what struck me was how dark the interiors of these cultivated “woods” appeared. In places it seemed almost black between trees, across from the sun low in the sky.
After arriving at the tree farm and looking around, J. saw he’d gotten a message earlier that the family had gone to a fireworks show with “Boat Landing 3” as the destination. After heading out from the farm, we asked a man for directions (no mobile phone coverage in the area) and with his directions found Twin Bridges Park on Boat Landing 3 (a road). Earlier there’d been a waterski show and fireworks were also advertised. Now we just had to find the family. Someone in the huge parking lot pointed us toward a sandy path through the darkening woods to the spot for the main event. We found a crowd in a clearing, along with concessions stands.
J. sought his family while I waited in the line for the facilities. By then I was tired enough I couldn’t tolerate the crowd (or the smoking). I went back through the woods to the car, where I took several videos of the fireworks through the trees along the Peshtigo River while countless mosquitoes feasted on me.
After a surprisingly good display, we headed toward an inn, 20 to 30 minutes away. The front serves as a bar and pool room (with one table) and the back as a restaurant. Everyone there seemed to be part of an extended family, friends, and neighbors group.
8 July 2018
Next morning we passed Dirty Joe’s Laundry on the way to Java Lodge Coffee. Is there a Joe? Is he dirty? Does he launder? We may never know.
When we walked outside at midnight, the sky that had been so clear during the day had exploded with stars in a way that urbanites don’t experience without getting out of Dodge. Despite the lights around the building, there wasn’t much surrounding light pollution. We could the outline of part of the Milky Way. I wish I could see that every clear night. When I wasn’t soaking up the firmament (as the mosquitoes drained me), I was watching a few bats flying back and forth overhead (dealing with some of the little blood suckers, I hope). And so back to Crivitz for some rest.
I’d love to show the coffee shop, but the proprietor told us photos aren’t allowed due to the vendor works displayed. It had a north woods vibe, with bear and moose artwork and goods featured. Lovely place. We spent more time there than we could afford.
We returned to the tree farm, where we were given a tour of an addition, in progress, to the house, and I was offered a ride on a four wheeler (passed). My plan had been to head to Veteran’s Memorial Park afterward, but J’s brother talked him into a visit to Dave’s Falls, also a county park.
Nothing but a click happened when J turned his car key, and he realized he’d turned on the lights and left them on — don’t ask why as it was sunny and cloudless again, about 88ºF.
If you’re going to drain your battery, do it in the front yard of a family of mechanics. His brother appeared with a charger and clipped it on, then scraped and rinsed off years’ worth of corrosion. He advised running the engine for at least a half hour to 45 minutes — just about the amount of time it would take to get to Dave’s Falls.
Dave’s Falls, at least from what I could see from where I could get to, reminded me of a more open version of Parfrey’s Glen near Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin, where a small waterfall splashes into water suitable for horsing around. The river seemed to run pretty fast with some foam. I wish I had felt steady enough on my feet to get closer to the falls, but the ground was rougher and more angled than I could handle at that moment.
Too soon it was time to head south without looking back. We stopped at a Marinette County historical marker about Wisconsin forestry with a forest overlook. Next was a pullover at Half Way North marking the 45th parallel halfway between the equator and the North Pole. It seems this is marked in only a few places in Wisconsin, so I’m happy I landed at one of them.
It was getting late in the afternoon by the time we reached Karvana south of Green Bay, one of J’s favorite coffee spots. The mac and cheese was pretty good, and the yam fries were amazing. Because I dislike the idea of bottled water and the massive amount one-use plastic it consumes, I loved their filtered water tap. I could fill my 32-ounce bottle with cold water before setting out again.
The final planned stop in the area was Fonferek’s Glen, a county park with a barn and other farm buildings. My objective, though, was the waterfall a short distance from the parking lot. When you first drive up, it looks like a serene meadow. Soon you notice, however, the many warning signs, especially once you pass the waterfall overlook.
The trail, as they say, is not maintained. Hidden behind the buildings is a creek that you drove over that’s carved out steep cliffs with unstable edges. On this day, we didn’t see the waterfall — the creek bed was partially dry. So was the grass, we noticed later. We passed the overlook and walked on the unmaintained trail along the creek bed to the top of the waterfall. I’ve never done that before. Fenforek’s Glen is not far from the highway and is well worth the little detour.
Time flies when you’re having fun. It looked like we’d run out of time to enjoy dinner at Twisted Willow in Port Washington. I had an idea — stop in, order dinner to go, and have a drink at the bar while waiting. I ended up with a great drink and enough Twisted Willow dinner for two meals. Another well-worth-the-detour moment. And getting back later than planned.
And so back to a routine work week under stars obscured at night by city lights.
The Hemaris moths are gone (presumed dead), and all that seemed to be left are the skippers and an occasional monarch. On Saturday, though, a hungry painted lady appeared. I spent an hour or more trying to take photos of this favorite of mine, but I’ve noticed they tend to turn their wide rumps toward me. I try not to take this personally, nor the apparent glare of the skipper that landed on my finger as I raised the phone.
At some point after the painted lady landed on an upper branch, I noticed that it began to beat its wings furiously. I looked and could see only a bit of yellow-green against the purple flowers, but the painted lady seemed stuck. I broke the sprig off with the butterfly still attached. The poor thing went still, its poor legs curled up. I discovered the yellow-green thing had legs. I later decided it was a kind of well-named “ambush bug”—a formidable garden predator that doesn’t discriminate between pests and pollinators.
This was one of the few times I’ve interfered with nature—something I’d normally not do and would not recommend. I can only plead that I was distraught over being deprived of my colorful little friend. I was reminded that the butterfly bush, so full of life in August, when dozens of moths, butterflies, and bees flitted about, can also be full of death. I have complicated feelings about the murder (anthropomorphism) of my new painted lady friend, but I won’t go into them here.
This painted lady appeared on Tuesday to console me (I’d taken the day off). In return, I tried to scout the remaining blossoms for lurking killers.
Now, on this last full day of summer, the one creature I saw, a painted lady, flew off when I approached and didn’t return. Another plant down the path that was crawling with a variety of bees only a couple of weeks ago is nearly motionless, with only a few stragglers lethargically tapping into its flowers. There wasn’t even the chatter of birds to relieve the loneliness of the garden past its seasonal prime.
During the first half of August last year, I was thrilled to discover not only butterflies at Perennial Garden, but also the little fairy moths known as snowberry clearwings (Hemaris diffinis). I’d seen one of their cousins, the hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe) in Ann Arbor a few years ago, but never expected to see anything like them here.
I found that great, Eastern tiger, and black swallowtails; red-spotted purples; painted ladies; silver-spotted and fiery skippers; bees; clearwings; and even a hummingbird or two love a particular butterfly bush at the garden. This bush, which had been cut down to the ground after last summer, didn’t bloom fully until early to mid-August—I started checking as early as May! On my brief visits, I never saw clearwings, so I braced myself for disappointment.
Fiery skipper butterfly
Silver-spotted skipper butterfly spots Japanese beetle
Silver-spotted skipper butterfly
Painted lady butterfly
Majestic monarch butterfly
Red-spotted purple butterfly
Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly
Black swallowtail butterfly
A bee on a different plant for good measure
Added Sept. 4: I first noticed this hackberry emperor on Labor Day.
I started seeing a few a couple of weeks ago Thursday. When I pedaled over the Saturday before last at 3 p.m., the bush was swarming with life. I noticed that among the snowberry clearwings a few hummingbird clearwings, with their fuzzy green upper backs, were making an appearance. I was in heaven. I love these guys—even after I noticed they were buzzing one another and throwing each other off choice branches of blossoms.
Snowberry clearwing (Hemaris diffinis)
By Saturday there were fewer of the hummingbird moths under the increasingly cloudy skies. I was happy to have seen so many the day before.
I’d made one of the photos I’d taken the background image on my iPhone screen. I’ve changed phones since then, but I haven’t changed the image. I took a closer look at it—and realized that particular photo from last year is of a hummingbird moth (Hemaris thysbe). How did I never notice that? It had the species’ distinctive fuzzy green upper back and lacks the light band near the skirt. While bemoaning that I hadn’t seen any Hemaris thysbe at this butterfly bush, I’d been staring at a photo of one I’d taken a year ago. Brilliant.
Hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe)
Last Tuesday I left work early for a doctor’s appointment and managed to get to the garden by 5 p.m. I was happy to have this unexpected opportunity to visit my little fairy moths—especially since they live only a few weeks.
The bush wasn’t buzzing like it’d been on Saturday, and there weren’t any large butterflies around—but there were enough moths for me to get a few photos and videos, including one in slow motion. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that sooner, except I am still trying to get a sharp closeup photo.
While I was standing watching a handful of moths flitting around, I heard a “bzzzzzzzzt” behind my head. I turned to find myself face to face with a hummingbird, separated by only a foot and a half or two feet of space.
As I was trying to get myself together (“Where’s the phone? Where’s the camera app?”), she buzzed around me to take a couple of quick sips at the bush. I have only these mid-distance shots and a memory now.
Female ruby-throated hummingbird
Now there’s only about an hour between the time I get home, change, get my bike out, and ride over, and sunset. By that hour, the Hemaris moths are few if any. The other day I was watching a hummingbird clearwing when a snowberry clearwing attacked it and carried it away.
I wish I could tell them there are plenty of blossoms to go around for the little time they have left.
The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring by Richard Preston. New York: Random House. 2007. 320 pages. In The Wild Trees, Richard Preston delves into the lives of giant trees, primarily coast redwoods, and some of the people …Continue reading →
While this snowberry clearwing was intent on seeking nectar, I was intent on photographing it. I couldn’t get crisp photos with an iPhone, but this is one of my favorites. It looks like it’s playing hide-and-seek with me, but I have no idea of how this little hovering moth perceives the world. Maybe I was just an annoying anomaly of movement, shadow, or strange colors. To me, they are like garden fairies. I haven’t seen one in a couple of weeks, and I miss them. So long to summer, and hope to see your progeny next year.
Lately I’ve been lurking at Perennial Garden in Hyde Park, a favorite spot of mine. Right off where the pavement turns in I found a bush where butterflies hang out. I’ve learned it’s called “butterfly bush.” It’s an invasive species, so I don’t recommend it for your garden. (Try something native, like butterfly weed.)
Some days the bush is visited by butterflies. At other times I see more little moths. One day to my surprise a hummingbird whizzed in and out. I’m not sure it even stopped. It (or another) did the same thing the next day, never when I was ready for a photo.
After the hummingbird sightings, I started thinking that my life would be complete if a hawk, or hummingbird, moth showed up. I’d seen only one once before, near the Cascades in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was a fancy, not even a hope. The next day my jaw dropped when one of these little garden fairies buzzed in. Now I wish I hadn’t waited until August to start my lurking.
My life is complete. Until I figure out how to get better photos or get my camera over there. By then it will be September.
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