Saturday, October 30, 2010

Giant Swallowtails in Wildwood

While walking down Wildwood Drive one day in May, I saw what looked like a butterfly kite come sailing past me. Actually, it was a real butterfly – a huge one known as a Giant Swallowtail! Its wing span was about 5 inches, and it glided very gently fluttering up and down ahead of me. I followed it until finally rested on leaves in a tree high above my head. I knew that I had to try to get a photo, but I was so excited I could hardly hold my camera still! I later read in my insect book that it is one of the largest butterflies in North America. I spotted other Giants several times throughout the summer.
In August I was able to get a photo of its under side which is almost all yellow instead of the rich dark brown of its top side.
In August, I attended the last Summer Lecture Program at the Outdoor Classroom. I arrived early to find that a few others who had already gathered were excitedly looking at some ugly blobs on the leaves of a Hoptree sapling. Those blobs turned out to be Giant Swallowtail larvae. I returned the next day with my camera eager to get photos.

As my camera and I watched day by day, we saw those larvae grow and saw new ones take their place. Although large, those leaves must be tender and taste delicious to those very hungry caterpillars. They were crawling and munching on the leaves until frost came at the end of October. I wonder how those ugly caterpillars will metamorphose into lovely butterflies next summer. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rufous Hummingbird in Pulaski County

Rufous Hummingbird hovering beside a hummingbird feeder. What kind of hummingbird is pictured on the feeder? Photo by Mark Mullins.

A couple of weeks ago Mark Mullins posted (on the nrvbird listserv) a picture and report of a hummingbird visiting a hummingbird feeder at his home in Pulaski County.
He reported it as a young Selasphorus hummingbird, because it is very difficult to figure out whether it's an immature Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) or Allen's Hummingbird (S. sasin).

This tiny bird was banded on the 24th by hummingbird bander Bruce Peterjohn who drove down from Maryland. He was able to determine that it was a male hatch year Rufous Hummingbird.

Here's another photo of this same hummer, this picture taken by Stan Bentley:

It's really an uncommon event for a Rufous Hummingbird to visit the area. This species ranges as far north as southeastern Alaska during nesting season. A few will migrate into and through the eastern part of the US. And a few will on occasion even overwinter in the region. Thanks Mark for sharing!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Witch-hazel in Wildwood

Photograph © Nancy Kent

Witch-hazel (Hamemelis virginiana)

Observation Date: October 10, 2010
Location: Wildwood Park. Radford, Virginia
Approx. Latitude/Longitude: 37.1343, -80.5667
Approx. Elevation: 1,750'

For another account of 2010 bloom timing in Virginia:
Early blooming Witch-hazel

Monday, October 18, 2010

Checkered White (Pontia protodice) in Wildwood

Yesterday afternoon, about 1:45, as I was walking the trail in Wilwood Park to meet folks from the NRV Mushroom Club, I found a butterfly that I have never seen in the park before: a Checkered White. It was a female, and it was nectaring on some aster blossoms.

I ran from near the outdoor classroom up the hill to near the green gate to see if I could find anyone with a camera. I saw John Ford, and told him the news. We hurried back to the flowers where the Checkered White had been. It was still there. John tried to get some pictures but it fluttered away several times, beyond reach of camera focus. Then it finally just flew up, up and away. If a butterfly can giggle and snicker because it foiled a photographer, this one probably was, though I did not hear this.

I will ask some friends if they have a picture of this species. I will add one later to this posting if I receive a picture to share.

I have mainly seen this species in the piedmont of Virginia, and never anywhere in the NRV. In 2001 I saw a few in Roanoke and Bedford Counties, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of these even on Apple Orchard Mountain, highest point on the Parkway in Virginia. The only place I have seen a fairly good number of them is in Pittsylvania County and the City of Danville.

At one time there were scattered populations in the New River Valley, but these have largely if not entirely disappeared. In fact the population of this species has plunged throughout the entire eastern part of the US, from the Carolinas to New England.

The Checkered White I saw yesterday gives me hope that some do remain in the region.

Friday, October 15, 2010

2010: Year of the Common Buckeye

---Two Common Buckeyes in field near Wildwood Park in Radford. Photo by Nancy Kent---

Sometime back in April of this year, I started reading reports of Common Buckeyes in higher than average numbers throughout most of the eastern US. There were some reports of these butterflies dispersing north. By late April I began to notice several in the fields around Radford, and a few in my yard. Some of these were nectaring on flowers, while a few were intent on flying to the northeast.

I guess the children, or maybe the grandchildren of these spring Common Buckeyes started migrating southward--some as early as mid to late July. By mid-August this migration was in full swing. Large numbers have been reported this week as well, though I bet the cold snap that's happening today might be the beginning of the end of that migration, at least in this part of Virginia.

Because Common Buckeyes have been so abundant this fall, it's been easy to find their caterpillars. Several people have told me about the caterpillars crawling in short grass (probably lawns and mowed fields with plantain, one of several plants the caterpillars feed on). A few people have shared pictures with me.

The pictures below are of Common Buckeyes in and near Wildwood Park in Radford; all of theses photos have been kindly shared by Nancy Kent, who has patiently documented this species and many other insects, and flowers in the park this year. For these Common Buckeye pupae attached by a bit of silk to stems of Broom Sedge, it will be a race against time and against a killing frost. Common Buckeyes are not known to overwinter in most of Virginia in any life stage (egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, or adult). If they emerge in a few days, and if the weather stays warm enough, maybe they will high-tail it south to a warmer climate. I'm cheering for these critters.

A Note: Devin Floyd wrote a wonderful blog posting about this butterfly species:
The Common Buckeye

---Caterpillars and pupae of Common Buckeye...they've made their homes on the stems of Broom Sedge. One of the caterpillars is starting to change to a chrysalis, notice it's formed a 'J'---

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


"I saw Clyde at WW [Wildwood Park] today and had "tag along" of about 20 min. He spread some wingstem seeds on one of the rails at the bird viewing area at the Park Rd. entrance and suggested that I find some yellow crownbeard ones and take a pic and label it." - Nancy Kent