Oh, what a grey, rainy start to November we have had indeed! For us in Victoria, though not as cold as other parts perhaps, the cool and damp just sink into the bones it seems and makes one wish to crawl under the bed and hibernate for several months! The house is cold, and I go outside to rake leaves just to warm up, exhausting myself in the process. But the fresh air and hearing the birds in the trees restores my spirits to a degree, while picking up chestnuts from four separate Horse chestnut trees most certainly does not! What a relief to put the rake and bucket away and come inside again to carry on, and glancing out the window, to see my little feathered friends.
I recently heard of a sighting of a Western White butterfly in Medicine Hat, Alberta and it nearly made me cry to see the picture of the lovely creature. Ironically, I have not seen a butterfly of any kind here in so long now I can’t recall and ….well …this is Victoria!! We’re supposed to be the “Oasis of Canada”… but it would seem, not for butterflies. And so I turn to my beloved birds to bring me solace now.
I call this blog “Ode to the Nuthatch” because these little birds are such remarkable and resilient little characters and they cheer me up from the foulest of moods when they come to see me at the suet feeder daily outside my kitchen window. Unfortunately, the lighting has been so very poor these rainy days and my time so limited, it is rare that I get what I would call a “good” shot of them so I settle for what is passable and am just grateful I can get any shots at all as these little ones move so very fast, like the bushtits and chickadees.
Having said this, a day later the sun came out and I managed two much better shots with the improved lighting and was able to add them to the blog.
But as it gets cooler, the Nuthatches have been coming more often. I say “they” because there are a pair, a male and female, often coming at the same time, and sometimes I even manage a shot of them both on the feeder. They dart in and out at what appears to be the speed of light. I once was at Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary and heard a loud knocking on the side of the Nature House only to discover a tiny nuthatch banging away at the wood on the side of the building like a tiny woodpecker, no doubt looking for insects.
The camera I use is not a DSLR, but my same old point-and-shoot 18x optical zoom Lumix from years gone by. At the time it came out, it was the best (in my opinion) camera of its kind on the market and any so-called “improvements” by Panasonic since then have just not been as good. My friend in Saskatchewan and another friend in Alberta ironically both have the identical model of camera and they are both seasoned photographers with far more experience with cameras than I have ever had. How funny to have met them through the Alberta Lepidopterists’ Guild and to discover we had this in common.
Below is a poem I was inspired to write in the wee hours on November 2nd after managing to get some decent shots of these little birds. Enjoy and may November show us some more sunshine along with the rainy days.
Ode to the Nuthatch
Oh little character so small,
you entertain me now in Fall,
a comic piece of Nature’s art,
your body streamlined as a dart.
Upright, sideways, upside down,
you acrobatic, tiny clown –
sharp upturned beak and bandit eyes,
each day you come to tantalize
and lift my spirits from the grey
of sadness on a rainy day.
And even strolling through the park,
I catch you clinging to the bark
just out of range on tallest trees,
your “Yank! Yank!” call upon the breeze!
You make me laugh, you make me smile
and savor freedom for a while.
Then back, outside my window’s pane
you join the Juncos once again,
oh little character so small –
Come! Entertain me now in Fall…
© Annie Pang November 3, 2014.
Well, this spring has been one to end all springs! I have no pictures that go with this particular story or poem, but let’s just say that I’ve taken quite the beating of late. It never occurred to me to take pictures of any of the mice I’ve had to trap over the last months (since March!!) as they ended up dead, except for the ones in my suet feeder.
It looks like I won’t be feeding the birds this winter as a result since I do not have my cats to keep the mice away from the inside of the house.
One of the ladies who comes to help me with housework happened to point out a wasps’ nest a few weeks ago and yet I decided to just live and let live……until…..
Well, I walked into the large back room that used to have the cats hanging out in it and was cleaning up when I heard a very odd sound coming from the walls. Oh Lordie. I could hear the chewing from a meter away! It was carpenter ants!!!
I went weak at the knees and was glad I didn’t own a GUN!!! “Enough already!” I screamed inside! Then I had to call a pest control company.
Well, today all but the mice were taken care of. A very kind friend had been clearing away all the rotted wood from beneath and beside my old, dilapidated sundeck along with old plastic pots, junk, vinyl siding…..oh, the list was endless as was the junk left behind! It was good timing that he finished the day before I had scheduled the pest control treatment because although I was only planning on having the back wall drilled into and treated for the ant invasion, the pest control guy ended up spraying underneath the cleared out ant haven under the deck, and even suited up to get rid of that wasps’ nest.
Of course this meant that the three entrances to my house that I use were all off limits because of chemicals or angry wasps, so I ended up doing a very odd thing indeed. I had to use the front door which I never do!
So I wrote a poem that I hope makes you laugh. It was a tough day, but I did get a pic of a Western Tiger Swallowtail outside my home on some phlox once I made my exit to go over to someone else’s house for a few hours (the friend who had kindly done all the clearing and hauling away of junk). Sometimes you just have to get the heck away! We ended up having a really great talk about my favourite subject too. Butterflies!
Then I went for a walk in the park where I managed a shot of a Robin with what I thought was a freshly plucked worm in its beak, and a bumblebee which I have yet to identify. I have since had an email from Cris Guppy who states “I believe the “worm” in the robin’s beak is a pupa of a cranefly – the cranefly larvae eat the roots of your lawn. So yet another pest, although you can ignore it unless your grass starts to die.”
During my walk, I met up with an older gentleman, and he was very interested in learning about insects, from carpenter ants to butterflies! Yes, it was definitely GOOD to get away from the house and out into Nature…just for a nice and healing break and to feel useful again.
A special thanks to Gabe for all his help today, for the lovely cup of tea and conversations about the future of the Gorge Park Community Garden and what part I may end up playing in all this, and to my good friends Andrea and Charley who kind of coerced me into doing this blog in their gentle and kind way.
If I manage to wade through my challenges, I think I may find that life has its rewards. It always seems to come back to how we relate to ourselves and Nature. Having said that, I will add that I do wish some aspects of Nature would stay out of my house!!!
Enjoy the poem and hey, as you can see I have even included some pictures after all, taken after my pesky ordeal for you to enjoy. Please excuse any typos as it is late (again) and I’m not quite as sharp as I’d like.
All the very best to you and yours,
The Pesky Pest Promenade
Oh woe, oh woe, oh woe is poor old me
the pests have left me very weak at knee.
The humble ant, a common summer feature,
was chewing up my wall, the nasty creature!
All trembling as I’m no procrastinator
I called the local pest exterminator.
He came out to investigate things here
but couldn’t with his rather deafened ear
pick up the noise of all those ants a’munching
within my walls, while I could hear them crunching
a meter from the wall; but he agreed
to stop the critters’ too-destructive feed.
A few days later, just around the bend,
the man returned, my misery to end.
But then refused to please remove his shoes
so now I’ve got the dirty carpet blues!
The ants, I hope are in a better place,
than chewing up my walls right to my face.
And as my sanity was not the best,
it didn’t help to find a waspy nest
outside next to my favourite exit door;
I didn’t think I could take any more!
My hopes in being free of pesky raid
had really long ago begun to fade,
but the exterminator took his spray
and got ’em too, their nest he took away.
Of course, all good things always come in thrice
and so I still have darling, pesky mice!!!!
Now too smart to go after baited traps,
they like my underwear drawers for their naps.
Oh woe, oh woe, oh woe is poor old me!
Sometimes I wish that I’d been born a tree
or else a butterfly now flying free,
though they all have their troubles as do I
they live their lives until the day they die…
© Annie Pang May 31st 2014
It may well be a year since I last wrote a blog so I thought it was high time I did. So much has changed on this planet, just in the passed year. It boggles the mind. Almost everyone I meet has gone so hi-tech that I feel like a fish out of water. So getting out in nature is all the more grounding and important, even if my walks are brief these days.
Here in Victoria it is hot and the sun feels scorching. Many friends and people I meet when I am out have told me how different the sun is feeling and I also feel it more and more myself. A harshness that seems to grow with each passing season. It is troubling.
Former sun worshippers I know are seeking shade, although many younger folks don’t seem to realize the dangers of our thinning ozone layer. I admit I have very low tolerance for heat…a strange thing for someone born and raised in Toronto. But I haven’t lived in Toronto for 35 years now and I have witnessed such changes in Victoria’s climate, especially in the last 15 years, that I find it truly alarming.
These days, I must go out completely covered prior to 4pm to protect myself (doctor’s orders!) no matter how hot it is. Not great for looking for butterflies, but the sun on my skin doesn’t feel pleasant this time of year the way it used to and after this past year I know only too well how deadly the sun’s rays can be.
This last week I have seen five different species of butterflies in Gorge Park but they were not landing until I walked into the territory of a Mourning Cloak this afternoon and got lucky. Happily, the companion I was with at the time was happy to wait with me while I tried a few “tricks” to get this lovely butterfly to land so I could get a few shots. And few they were indeed! This butterfly is probably one of our longest local living butterflies, sometimes living for up to 11 months. It is a hibernator, and over winters even in the prairies.
I had seen it a few days prior but it was illusive and I was short of time and never saw it except in passing. Today I had a bit more time and it definitely had a territory to defend, and my hat seemed to be attracting it. Its wings are tattered as one would expect in an old butterfly. It will mate and die and then in the fall or maybe sooner, it’s offspring will emerge. I have never had the luck of finding a fresh, young Mourning Cloak though, so all my pictures are of older ones.
I believe the Mourning Cloak is so-named because it’s wings are dark and trimmed with a creamy-lacy fringe on the dorsal sides of the wings, resembling a long, dark cloak. I wanted to share this with you and hope you get out and look for butterflies this spring and summer. With the climate changing so quickly and society speeding up faster than I feel I can keep up, my time in Nature becomes more and more precious to me.
It is something we just can’t afford to take for granted any longer and there are no easy answers any longer. My only answer is to keep writing when I can, and try to raise awareness where I can.
Be well and I do hope you enjoy this latest tale, poem and two poetographs. If I happen on other wildlife including butterflies, I hope to write about them again.
The Mourning Cloak
In the stifling heat getting late in the day
while walking a path in the middle of May
inhaling the pollen ’til I thought I might choke
I happened upon an old Mourning Cloak!
Over wintered, now flying so wild and free,
it flew dizzying circles all about me.
In the stifling heat getting late in the day
it flirted and skirted in territorial play
gliding upwards and downwards and this way and that
never landing until …well, I took off my hat!
I then set it down on a branch in a tree
and prayed that the butterfly’d come look and see.
For so few butterflies have I had time to find
too chained to the drudgery of the daily grind.
I asked once again, “please dear creature please land,
I’m weary and almost too tired to stand”.
It came! It returned and it landed right there
and then opened it’s wings up both tattered and fair.
I’m old, said those wings, but there’s still time to fly
and I got in these shots before it flew to the sky.
How grateful I was with my spirit renewed
that this creature of God had so altered my mood.
Oh yes, I was stifled and terribly hot
but for this moment in time, all my troubles forgot
I was dancing with Nature like an old Garry oak,
a bit old and tattered like the old Mourning Cloak.
It was time to go home and get out of the heat
and leave the dear soul to return or retreat
and be wild and free with the time that it had;
I walked up the path then, both happy and sad…
The full moon has risen and the heat carries on;
it is night as I write in the hours of pre-dawn.
Tomorrow will come far too soon it would seem
leaving this day behind in a hot, hazy dream…
© Annie Pang May 14, 2014
Perhaps this is a strange title for a blog, but it centers around my garden, a friend’s garden, as well as the few shots I got along the Gorge which I have been walking regularly up until my garden called.
But I must include a picture I managed to get of a lovely Golden-crowned Sparrow right from my kitchen window. It posed so beautifully on the suet feeder and considering these birds are ground feeders, I felt I must include this shot first.
While on some of the walks along the Gorge I took very few pictures. On one walk, even though I had my camera, I was unable to get photos of two of the three butterflies I did see there. It was quite hot and so they were not landing. The first one I saw was a Mourning Cloak and what a surprise that was! I hadn’t seen one along there before. Then suddenly it was chased off by a Satyr Comma, which landed so briefly I could not get a shot of it either, but could see it clearly.
On another walk, I was able to get a rather poor picture of a Cabbage White butterfly which I will include below. It was such a long shot and I was lucky it landed at all, frankly. It had become so hot in Victoria so quickly that it made anything I saw impossible to photograph at the time.
But it was interesting to see an Arbutus tree growing out of the rock wall!! How resilient are our native species. If man vanished from this planet suddenly, is this not proof of how Nature would just take over and soon cover any evidence of our prior existence? It is a humbling thought indeed, and also a comforting one from an ecological point of view.
Arbutus growing out of the rock wall
The day the garden called was the day that three generous people from the Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers group volunteered to come over and help me start getting my garden ready for planting. The task was far too overwhelming for me to undertake in my present state of health, and so my friends put out a call for help. Although everyone else in the group was busy, my friends, Kendell, Laurie and Brad showed up on a Saturday and I ventured out to try to do what I could which wasn’t too much.
That was when a little miracle happened. In all the years I’ve had my gardens, I’ve seen only three butterfly species; Cabbage Whites, Western Tiger Swallowtails (not out yet) and Lorquin’s Admirals. But this year was very different and it transformed me completely at the time. Brad and I were digging compost and later, Laurie and I found a shady spot to sit and weed….and when I saw a Cabbage White appear I went to grab my camera. When I returned, I was very surprised at what happened next. Every time the Cabbage White tried to land, something very dark swooped in and chased it off. And then it landed – a Mourning Cloak. I couldn’t believe this. I’d always gone searching for them when I’d had more aid for field trips, and often never found one, yet here was one in my backyard?? Well of course I took pictures.
It took off and returned many times. It even landed on Laurie’s jeans.
Mourning Cloak on Laurie’s jeans
Then it landed on my head! I knew it was attracted to my hat so I removed it and stuck it on a pole in the garden, and sure enough, the Cloak landed there many times.
Mourning Cloak on my hat
Several times it landed on some Yarrow seed heads. Yarrow, when in bloom is a very good butterfly nectaring source and if I keep the faded blossoms dead-headed it will flower throughout the summer.
Mourning Cloak on Yarrow
Here is a sideview of the Mourning Cloak.
Sideview of Mourning Cloak
The gardens were being prepared for both human and wildlife consumption, especially hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. The Red-flowering Currant is quite a favourite of the hummingbird although mine hasn’t gotten big enough to be of interest as yet. Once we have the plants in the ground I imagine they will grow rapidly.
We were all very happy to have such a visitor to watch us at our labours, as if to bless the garden. Kendell was good enough to bring along organic snacks for all to sample and so, with a Mourning Cloak in my garden, I had my very first tea party of sorts after our hard work.
Brad, Kendell and Laurie
GTUF, short for Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers, is a group dedicated to producing our own food on the land we have. Being on my own now, that task is overwhelming as I mentioned, but I do hope, with enough helping hands, that many will benefit from my gardens this year. I just want to see the land used and my gardens there to welcome the butterflies and other insects.
Later that day, Laurie emailed me a picture of two butterflies for identification. They were two more Mourning Cloaks and it appeared that they were mating on the side of her Mason Bee box.
Mourning Cloaks, photo by Laurie
The next day I was invited over there to see what I could find in their garden. There was a fair bit of activity but my camera was only able to get this honey bee and a Paper wasp, or Thread waisted wasp, Mischocyttarus flavitarsis, as well as a Bumble Bee.
Laurie also had a different Bleeding Heart than my cultivar, and she felt it was probably the indigenous one.
Bleeding Heart flowers
Meanwhile, here at home, there was activity at night as well for awhile. I turned on my porch light and this attracted two different moth species. The first was a good sized one and although it decided to plaster itself on a window far above the ground, I was still able to get a serviceable shot. This moth is known as the Crucialis Woodling Moth (Egira crucialis) and it was a welcome sight indeed.
Crucialis Woodling Moth
The other moth I have found a few times is a “micro moth”, Alucita montana, or Montana Six-plume Moth and I have even found it in my office tonight as well as outside. Here is my best picture taken as I write this now in my office. The little guy let me get really close! Originally I was going to show this moth taken outside, but this picture turned out better.
Montana Six-plume Moth
Although I was certain I saw a Green Lacewing outside, I couldn’t get it to land so there were no shots to be had until a later date, but I did manage to find this male Cranefly at the time (family: Tipulidae).
Here is the Green Lacewing I got at a later date, again, at night. It was another long shot, but better than none.
So while I am still here in my home I am trying to enjoy as much of the wildlife as I can find. The Mourning Cloak returned briefly the next day, but then was off. They are mating now and I suspect, worn as they are looking, they will live longer still before they depart this world.
In closing, I will leave you with my best wishes, as well as a poem and one last picture of my Bleeding Heart cultivar. It is the food source for my favourite butterfly, the Clodius Parnassian, that I doubt I will see again since I cannot go back to the hills where they are found. But one never knows….one never knows.
I did once find one in a very unusual place that was not too far away….but then that is another story I may tell sometime….
The Garden of my dreams
What soothing balm does Nature bring
what wonders in the garden
with butterflies and birds that sing
with trees that fence my yard in.
I wander in my solitude
along the Gorge at times;
a Cloak of Mourning greets me there
and speaks to me in rhymes.
But there are times that come along,
and suddenly there’s life
for Nature sings her special song
and sings away my strife.
And in the Garden of my dreams
outside my very door
an ocean full of sunlit beams
now calls me to its shore.
The honey bee is buzzing and
the moths might come at night
for life is always all about
and flying to the Light.
May people join their hands to help,
to save my bit of land.
May kindness shown stay with me now
and help me understand
that Bleeding Hearts have beauty too
and Nature always heals.
May faded blossoms bloom again,
through cracks in concrete seals.
Though hardship faces all of us
in Nature must I trust,
to have this Phoenix rise again
from ashes and from dust.
Bleeding Heart cultivar
© Annie Pang May 9, 2013.
Today, I was finally inspired to write a story again. It was a week ago, the last day of March, when I took my first maiden voyage in my car as far as Christmas Hill on my own. I was quite overwhelmed with my lack of confidence. I had no hopes of seeing any butterflies and so it was mostly a test of my endurance since I’d become ill. What was so amazing was that I actually made it without any problems, aside from a horrendous amount of anxiety!!
Up until then, my photographs and stories throughout the fall and winter seasons had been about birds coming to my feeder or ducks along the nearby Gorge Waterway. Therefore this trip to Christmas Hill was, for me, a long and lonely drive. With camera and water around my neck I started climbing up the hill. I didn’t have to go far at all. Swirling orange was there to greet me almost immediately! Two Satyr Comma’s were dancing in the sky, twirling around each other, probably for territory. And then one landed right on the path to sun itself. Although it took off several times, I know these butterflies and they tend to come back to the same spot. One only needs to be patient and slow in approaching them to get a decent shot. I got several and I was elated. Due to territory disputes the other Comma was not allowed to land on the path and although this butterfly looked a bit worn, it was my first shot of the season. Here are two of the best shots I managed to take.
I climbed up to the top of the hill and spotted a single Sara Orangetip but the day was far too warm for it to want to land. It took all of my energy just to get up to the summit and back down again. But I was both thrilled and a bit sad because of my feelings of nostalgia. How many butterflies would I see this season? To date that is an unknown.
During this time of testing for me, the birds have kept coming to my feeder and on very special occasions, I have had a symbolic “visitor”, namely that lovely male Goldfinch. As he has become more golden with the season, a friend has urged me to include this picture that I took since my last blog. This occurred at a time when I needed feelings of hopefulness, and it seems this is when the angels of Nature come with their blessings. Although I took many pictures, this pose shows him at his jaunty best.
I’ve also had a flock of Pine Siskins return and their comical antics always make me smile. They are fast little critters so to get shots of them on a branch is a treat indeed.
The nostalgia I’m feeling takes me back to the last trip I took to SwanLake a few weeks ago. The day was fairly overcast and I had help getting there so I made the most of it. I had seen several Golden-crowned Sparrows, but one happened to fly up onto a branch. This presented a much better chance at a pleasing photograph than one would normally get, as these birds are mostly ground feeders. I was pleased with this opportunity and made the most of it.
So now I will leave you with a poem. I have discovered something I never thought I would. People. People are a part of Nature too, and now they have become a very important part of my world. They have read my stories and enjoyed my photos, poetographs and poetry. Today, one of them decided to do something very special for me because she had enjoyed my blogs so very much to date.
So here is to the human spirit and the kindnesses I have seen in human nature. We are all connected and we need to remember that. This poem and dedication that follow were inspired by one such “angel” today. Alas, I do not have her picture except in my mind’s eye.
I thought that spring had left me in the cold
I thought that maybe it would never come
because my weary spirit felt so old
because the shocks of life had left me numb.
But came a bird of gold again one day,
returning just to give me back my heart
and then a flock of Siskins came my way
and gold crowned angels came to do their part.
Up Christmas Hill I ventured all alone,
not thinking that I’d see a butterfly,
but there two Comma’s saw me on my own
and fluttered down from swirling on up high.
And then a Robin’s song came ringing clear
reminding me of angels always near…
Dedicated to my friend, Robin, who took me into her heart today. With healing hands and no strings attached, she helped me start on the road to a better life, where all things are possible when I believe and have faith in all of Nature’s angels…and, most importantly, in myself. And here is a thank you to all the human angels who have blessed me with their presence as they walk alongside me on my journey.
© Copyright by Annie Pang April 7, 2013.
It began in early January. I had been sick again, but then, after weeks of grey, dreary weather, the sun shone brightly and no bodily weakness could hold me back. I grabbed my camera and barely managed to start the old car. But it finally turned over and after a few circles around the block I knew the battery would get me to the park. So off I went and arrived safely, car humming very happily by then.
It was January 2nd. I’d made it to another new year and the sun came out. Dizzy and weaving about, I didn’t care. I was enthralled with the sun, the sounds, and…..then I spotted a solitary Annas Hummingbird way up on top of the tip of a branch. I knew any shot I got would be poor, but I didn’t care. I was out in Nature again and the healing had begun. I took the shots. It was a male and this was the best I could do. It was the only Annas I saw there and that was very odd. Gorge Park is usually quite filled with the sight and sound of them, but there was only one.
In previous years I’ve been able to get quite close to them and could go daily and find them in very predictable places, but this has become less and less the case with each passing year.
I took a few shots of the park and sunshine because I love this place and soon it will be transformed by man.
A community vegetable garden is proposed and I have no idea what affect this will have on the remaining wildlife. It is only on one side of the park, but I worry that any further encroachment on this park will further turn it into what has been becoming a deadzone for the abundance of birds and butterflies I once used to see here only a few short years ago. I feel it could either be a very good thing or….not. Time will tell. Right now, it is mostly just lawn, but I have seen Western Azures nectar on the tiny daisies that grow in both fields. Still the flowers of the veggie plants as well as any complementary companion flowers might attract pollinators and butterflies as well as hummingbirds so I am taking a “wait and see” sort of attitude while hoping for the best. I do know that the butterfly numbers have decreased in the last five years quite drastically, so it will be interesting to see if there are any at all this year.
The next time I was able to get out was later in January as well as today, January 19, 2013. But this time we walked along the Gorge Waterway. Another stunning day, and lots of people walking their dogs, but the disturbing thing for me was the lack of Buffleheads, Mergansers both Common and Hooded, and the small numbers of Wigeons all of which I have found in good numbers in previous years.
There was one spot where I used to like to sit and it was a favourite landing site for a Great Blue Heron at low tide. I pictured it in my mind even though, as we arrived, there was nothing. But then, out of nowhere, one swooped in and landed….and stayed to feed. What a bit of magic for me to grab with my camera. I was elated.
We continued our walk and I spotted very few winter ducks, but then saw two Mute Swans near the beach at the end of the Waterway walk. It was too good a chance to pass up so I hurried along and managed to get close enough to capture them in a number of shots, one of which follows.
The following day, I managed to get out again and the Blue Heron was in hiding, very well camouflaged through some branches, but I still managed to capture him with my camera and was thrilled that this picture turned out.
Just being out in the fresh air and seeing what I saw was so very healing to my spirit, even though I was troubled by what I didn’t see. So I felt compelled to write the following poem because the bird count appears to be drastically down. Am I surprised? No. The butterflies already told me what was coming. I wonder if anyone is listening sometimes. But in the meantime, I can only take pictures and write poems….and hope that all the insanity of this world somehow turns around. But at least for today, I felt the kiss of Nature and for now it will sustain me. I hope you enjoy these last two poetographs that follow this double-sonnet I shall end with.
I look for birds
In January now I look for birds,
the ones in such abundance I once saw
along the trails while writing all my words,
in love with Nature, holding Her in awe.
A solitary Annas do I spot
atop a tree, and only for a time
just time enough to get a far off shot
then he was off with no reason or rhyme.
Another day along the Gorge I walk
and so few winter ducks have come this year
that it has left me feeling sick with shock
until a Great Blue Heron lands quite near.
Then two Mute Swans engage my hope anew
despite the fact that winter ducks are few…
Old feathered friends, I feel your absence keenly
and so I’m gripped by tightness in my guts.
We’ve treated our environment so meanly
at times I feel I’m really going nuts.
I used to call it “Ducksville” long ago
when rafts of Buffleheads paraded by.
Where are they gone to, why do so few show?
These empty waters can’t be left to die.
Back to the park I’ll seek and try to find
where birds in January ought to be.
I hope upon a prayer they’re just behind
and that they still may come to visit me.
But hope seems like an empty thing somehow
because they should be here, should be here now…
© Annie Pang January 20, 2013.
We had about 4 inches of snow overnight here in the Comox Valley on beautiful, green Vancouver Island. Most winters we do get at least one dump of snow, and I must admit that I hope that this is the only one we get this winter and that it is gone in a day or two.
I knew that it was time to write another blog, but I have not done much photography lately and the roads are so bad right now that going any distance has no appeal, so I decided to write another short blog based on some past photographs. While looking over my photos from Costa Rica a couple of photos popped out as ones that had a story to them. I then resurrected two other photos from Alberta with the same theme.
I am sure everyone knows that butterflies love flower nectar, but I am not sure that everyone knows the more disgusting feeding behavior of many butterflies. I will start with the Northern Pearly Eye, an eastern butterfly that reaches the most westerly extension of its range in central Alberta. When I photographed these in the Clyde area in 2006 they were just starting to move into the province from the east, but now they have become quite common. What is most interesting about this photo is that the butterflies are feeding on coyote dung.
The next photo is of a clearwing butterfly that I have only been able to identify as Mechanitis sp., the name indicating that I do not know what species it is. Perhaps one of my readers will be familiar with this species and let me know what it is. The photo was taken at Selva Verde in Costa Rica. What is important is that this butterfly is feeding on fresh bird droppings.
Next we have another clearwing butterfly, the Orange-spotted Tiger Clearwing, Mechanitis polymnia, also taken at Selva Verde in Costa Rica. Like the previous butterfly it is also feeding on fresh bird droppings, and is being accompanied by a small unidentified fly. Both of the clearwing butterflies belong to a mimicry ring but that is another blog.
I also want to relate an experience I had high in the Andes in Colombia many years ago while birding with some friends. On an infrequently travelled dirt road we came across the carcass of what appeared to be a donkey. What flesh remained on the carcass was pretty much liquefied, and feeding on the flesh were about fifteen butterflies of about five different species.
A more often observed but similar behavior is butterflies feeding at damp earth or mud puddles, and this is often referred to as mud-puddling. Here is a Canadian Tiger Swallowtail photographed in Alberta mud-puddling on damp soil.
And finally there is this photo of an Owl Butterfly, Caligo illioneus, photographed in Selva Verde in Costa Rica feeding on an overly ripe banana. Many butterflies are attracted to ripe fruit, especially bananas, and I have used this technique for collecting butterflies back in my collecting days. Adding some beer and yeast to the mushed up bananas would make them even more appealing and the butterflies would get drunk and be easier to catch as a result. Now I use the technique just for photography purposes.
So what is the purpose of this bizarre behavior? Apparently the butterflies are going after mineral salts, amino acids and ammonium ions. What makes the behavior even more interesting is that it is mostly the males that do this, even though it is the females that appear to ultimately benefit the most. Evidently the male butterfly passes the sodium and amino acids on to the female in his spermatophore, or sperm capsule when they mate. This is referred to as a nuptial gift and it improves the survival rate of the eggs.
For each source of nutrients there are specific species and groups of species that will use the resource. These are referred to as feeding guilds, and often certain species will only belong to one or two guilds, therefore only utilize one or two resources.
If you ever get the chance to observe butterflies indulging in this behavior, take the time to observe them for a while. What you will see is that they regularly expel drops of water from the back of the abdomen, and in some species quite forcefully in regularly timed jets.
First off, I’d like to offer a special thanks to Terry for holding down the fort while I was ill these last few months. I am somewhat recovered now and feeling a lot stronger and, thanks to the lovely September and October we had, my zucchini plants and Scarlet runners gave us more than enough to eat and freeze.
But then there was a drastic change in the weather that marked the end of record-breaking sunny days here in Victoria. Of course it has been a very long time since I’ve seen a single butterfly and I have to say that this has been the worst butterfly season I have witnessed since I began keeping track of them in 2007.
And so I am very grateful for the birds that are starting to show up at our suet and bird feeders outside my kitchen window. It gives me the opportunity to see some old friends come to pig out and if I am lucky I even managed to get the odd shot that turns out. I find at this time of year, the birds are rather skittish and dart about so quickly that getting a decent shot is nearly impossible. I’ve decided to document who shows up and strive to get pictures when I can. How uplifting this lovely distraction is, as the days grow shorter, to have my feathered friends drop by to entertain and inspire me.
At first it took a bit of nagging to get the suet feeder put up, but now seeing the birds there has got us both excited and I find my partner quite willing to keep both feeders topped up. As my camera is rather slow, some of the pictures I will be showing won’t be the best but I’ll keep trying as I enjoy the challenge.
Who are my favorite birds? Well it’s easier to list my least favorites, although I was initially happy to see the first house sparrows when they arrived. I have found this year so far that there is an unusually large population of this long-ago-introduced species compared to last year when they were conspicuously missing, at least at our place. So far I am seeing more male house sparrows and find them to be very aggressive. I have concerns about them crowding out our indigenous song birds and smaller birds. Here is a picture I managed to get of a male.
The other, more pesky, invader would be the Starling also not indigenous to this area. I don’t have a picture at present and we’ll talk about them more perhaps in another blog.
Last year we had good numbers of House Finches, and it seems they are still around. This male posed nicely for me, but my camera was a bit fussy so the shot wasn’t quite as good as I’d hoped, but not bad. This species, though relatively new to Victoria with the first record of its appearance being in 1937, is indigenous to North America. Over time it has expanded northwards and has a firmly established population here now.
I had a pleasant surprise a short while ago when a Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker female showed up, or at least what I thought was a Yellow-Shafted Northern Flicker. I consulted my Peterson Field Guide and then though this bird may very well be a Gilded Flicker as it did not have the red crescent on the back of its head which would mark it as the former. But later, Terry let me know that it was a hybrid between the two Northern Flicker races for the following reasons, and I quote Terry here. “It has a brownish mustache and the brown on the head is restricted just to the forehead and eyebrow, and does not extend to the top of the head or the nape. What this makes your bird is a hybrid between Red-shafted and Yellow-shafted. These often turn up in our area.”
It gets very confusing for me at times with these Flicker hybrids as I’ve seen and photographed many different combinations of Yellow-shafted and Red-shafted Northern Flickers, as well as some purely one or the other. In any case it was exciting to spot this particular individual which I don’t think I have seen before.
A short time after this we were setting out for a walk, me with my camera as always, when a neighbor across the street whispered “Annie! Come here!”. When you consider that this is a neighbor who normally keeps to herself, and never invites me over, I was a bit surprised until I saw why. She was pointing at a bird who was drilling a hole in her lawn – a rather deep hole and I must admit it was the strangest sight. Of course I knew right away what it was although she did not have a clue. So I clued her in while keeping my camera busy. It was a male Red-shafted Northern Flicker and I was able to get fairly close, close enough to get a few shots that turned out. At times this large bird just sat down by the hole it had dug and posed for me and the rest of the time it kept drilling away for insects. So my neighbor was very happy to learn what this lovely bird was and I was very happy to be able to raise her awareness — and get some pretty good shots to boot. The haunting call of the Northern Flicker has always struck right through my heart and I am glad to have them around again.
Back at my bird feeder, as I sit in the warmth of my kitchen, a flock of bushtits comes to call daily, as well as a male Downy Woodpecker, a few Chestnut-backed Chickadees, a male and female Dark-eyed Junco and a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches. They are all very busy and very hyper but I managed to get a few shots. Hopefully I’ll get better ones at a later date.
Frankly I’m seeing more birds at my feeders than when we walked around Swan Lake the other day, but again that is another story. For now I’m just glad to be back amongst the living and surrounded by the beauty of nature coming to see me daily in and around my home.
I shall leave you now with a sonnet and hope that all is well with you in your world and to encourage you no matter what hurdles life may be throwing at you to get out in nature and let it heal you as it has always healed me.
For the Birds
Come flying to me on your feathered wings,
and feed your fill for winter’s yet to come.
And let me hear your golden voices sing
to help me come alive from being numb.
The butterflies have gone, their season’s done
and food for you is harder now to find,
so come, my feathered friends, come every one
to help me heal the ghosts I’ve left behind.
It gladdens me to see you doing well,
it saddens me to know that summer’s gone
I watched the leaves turn yellow as they fell
and now it’s time – the seasons must move on.
But now you’re here, and I’m so glad to see
that you’ve returned, come back to visit me…
© Annie Pang November 8, 2012.
The sun has had me convinced that summer was here for at least a few weeks, and so came the arrival of our most common and populous indigenous butterfly, the tiny Woodland Skipper. On the South Island here, the European Skipper vanished weeks ago, and so I knew that in early August the Woodland Skipper would show itself, shyly at first, but then in greater and greater numbers until here I was, at Esquimalt Gorge Park in the main garden with literally “scads of skippers”.
This little butterfly is our most common indigenous “Grass Skipper”. Its larvae feed on indigenous grasses and overwinter in the chrysalis stage (known as “pupa”), unlike the European Skipper which overwinters as an egg and seems to be found near its larval food which would appear to be Timothy hay, a non-indigenous grass. The Woodland Skipper, however, is plentiful all over Victoria right now as there are flowers and grasses everywhere (except parts of downtown Victoria …perhaps).
But I’m getting ahead of myself because as I was taking pictures of them, I ran into a fresh male Pine White which I believe to be the second one I’ve photographed here, as the first one that I found ten days earlier would have been faded with frayed wings by now. Perhaps this more recently emerged male drove it off. I have no idea, but I took this picture since it is such a beautiful butterfly.
Back to our Woodland Skipper; it is a curious name indeed for this butterfly as none of the skippers are actually found in the woods or forests as such. These are sun-loving butterflies that might be found in the grassy meadows by a woodland perhaps, but not in the woods and so I doubt I am alone in having no idea where this name originated. One is most likely to find it by a roadside on a dandelion, in the grasslands of a nature sanctuary or in the nicest flower gardens…..even mine, nectaring on anything from scarlet runners to lavender!
When I went looking for and found that second Pine White butterfly at Esquimalt Gorge Park the other day, I found so many Woodland Skippers that I just sat in the grass and took shots until I could get a satisfactory picture to give you some idea of their sheer numbers in the garden. This marks the end of any new butterfly species to emerge here in Victoria as well as the beginning of the end of an oh-too-short summer, and so it is a bittersweet time.
I managed to get five skippers in one frame on several occasions but this was my best shot as they darted around so fast epecially in the heat of the hot afternoon August sun. You can just make out the light crescent on the closed hindwings. With it so warm that time of day, they wouldn’t open their wings.
There are other adventures on butterflies to write about, maybe even a third flight of the Margined White if it stays warm, but I wanted to get the immediacy of this out to you while I could. I wanted you to see this little creature while it was here.
I hope you have enjoyed my butterfly tales this spring and summer, and should I find myself unable to write for a while I hope you have seen, at least in part, what is happening to our planet….through the eyes of butterflies. I have enjoyed sharing my vision with you. I shall leave you with one more picture at the end of this poem I was moved to write.
The tiny Woodland Skipper comes
The tiny Woodland Skipper comes
in copper tidal waves
and lands upon the summer flowers,
whichever blooms it craves.
On favorite flavors, sipping scads
of skippers – watch them feed,
and, if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll see
couples as they breed.
But just for now, I wonder how
this tiny one survives
encroachment by the human race;
yet I see this one thrives.
A happy August sight you are
my native little fairy.
You seem content with all of life,
no burdens do you carry.
So in this case, no worries face
my restless, troubled heart,
for this one butterfly does well –
a thread in Nature’s art.
Once many others populated
all this land so fair
and in my dreams I wake to find
a vibrant vision in my mind:
all butterflies of every kind
have come to greet me there…
© Annie Pang August 21, 2012.
“Look who has come now, all trimmed in black lace,
riding down on a breeze right up to my face!
A slow drifting snowflake in late summer’s light,
floating down from the firs is the dancing Pine White…”
How I wait for and welcome this beautiful and once plentiful butterfly that appears sometime between mid-July to early August, depending on the weather. This year, it has been a bit later as most other species have been, if seen at all but now has finally come out, along with the Woodland Skipper. The European Skipper is gone and so are the swallows where these little butterflies were. It was hard to see the swallows vanish from areas where they were once so abundant. Something is very, very wrong and even laypeople are seeing it…..well the ones I talk to anyhow. There aren’t enough insects to support our swallows and other insect-eating migratory and resident birds.
Getting back to the Pine White butterfly, it is easily one of the prettiest butterflies we get locally, and not only to my eye. Maybe it is because I have to work so hard to find them where shots can be taken at fairly close range with my camera, for they often will not come down from their lofty homes, especially the females, or if/when they do I’m not there when it happens!
The first day this year that I did manage to photograph a Pine White was up on Observatory Hill, but before this I must rewind to July 30th, the day before, when we went to Beaver Lake Ponds as this was where I got my first clues for this year that the Pine Whites were out. It is also one place I feel well worth mentioning on its own.
Earlier in the spring, I’d been to the Ponds a few times, but the place had been so badly flooded from all the rain we’d had that access to the area where I’d hoped to find the Four-spotted Skimmer was cut off. This time, however, after months without much rain I was certain I could get through the narrowed path enclosed by a zigzag wooden fence, probably put there to keep out motorcycles and bikes. I could see the lovely man-made ponds that were running wild with water lilies and were now habitat for a number of indigenous creatures. This place had always been, for me, a place of solace and refuge.
But access to the ponds as I’d known them in previous years was still flooded and I had to walk around the long way, where horses, cyclists, joggers and folks walking their dogs had a proper trail adjacent to private properties. I was surprised and disappointed until something white came zipping up from the trail suddenly flying out and up, right into my face and then … it disappeared. We looked up and searched the trees and we saw them. Like bits of floating tissue amongst the firs, there was no comparing them to the skittish flight pattern of the Cabbage Whites. Seeing Pine Whites in flight was, to my eye, more poetic and reflective of the lazy summer days.
The Pine White butterfly spends most of its life cycle high up in the world of hemlock (where hemlock can be found these days?), pines and Douglas firs. Overwintering as an egg the caterpillars feed in spring on the new growth of needles. The adult emerges from its chrysalis later in the summer to mate and females lay their eggs up in the treetops, with both sexes only coming down to nectar on flowers. But aside from the one that I startled on some nearby Oceanspray that looked a bit past its “Best Before” date, they would not come down that day where I was as there were no other flowers along the trail in the sun to tempt them.
While we were there however, I decided to check out the ponds from this side. We turned off the main trail onto a path leading towards the ponds and it was here I spotted a few different dragonflies that posed beautifully for some decent shots which I simply couldn’t pass up. I managed to get both a male and a female 8-spotted Skimmer, the male being immature, as a mature male develops a powdery white coating (known as “Pruinescence”) that covers the abdomen and this one had not as yet. But it did have the claspers of a male plus the white patches and black “spots” on its wings. The female’s wings were typical of the species; clear other than the 8 “spots” of black on the wings.
The next dragonflies we encountered were a few Paddletail Darners but I did not manage any shots of them as I find I’m just not quick enough or patient enough these days with time so constrained and my reflexes a bit too slow. As well, the area we’d normally spent time trying to get them in flight even on this side was still flooded by….. maybe a beaver, and access to the narrowed pathway with the wooden fenceway was still flooded on this far side as well, although I could see the path itself, mucky and a bit forlorn-looking, being cut off by water.
But I did luck out in finding a Striped Meadowhawk. I really enjoy the Meadowhawks as they are “perchers” and easy to get decent pictures of but I’ve never managed to get one in flight as Terry managed to do with his Blue Dasher and Four-spotted Skimmer, all of them being “perchers” rather than “cruisers” like the Darners.
Although the dragonflies were a balm to my growing frustration with this elusive butterfly, I wasn’t ready to give up on the Pine White and this is what found us driving up “Little Saanich Mountain”, also known as “Observatory Hill” (this is where the Observatories are), the next day. A friend of mine had found and photographed a male Pine White here last year some days after I’d found my first one in a different locale, so I was optimistically reserved.
At first, as we arrived, we found a few drifting from treetop to treetop but nothing to see at ground level. We had parked in the same area I’d come out and photographed the Pine White the year before after my friend had told me about it, at the base of the top clearing, where the first buildings are. Discouraged again that there was nothing at ground level, I told John to drive the van slowly up further as I kept walking and searching. A few minutes later, John pulled up by me and, in an excited voice, told me that one had come down to nectar. We drove back down and I saw nothing at first, and then – there he was!
I say “he” because the males and females differ quite a bit in appearance. This male gave me a generous amount of time before leaving. When I looked at the pictures later, I saw he was damaged but I was happy enough to find one, even if the birds may have gotten to him first.
But I was determined to continue my search. The following day, we set out to cover three different locations. The first was Esquimalt Gorge Park where I knew for certain that there was Goldenrod (Solidago sp.) coming into bloom, but despite this I found no sign of Pine Whites in the decreasing number of firs in the park. Once these lands were filled with old growth forests, but with clearing the land of more and more trees, the Pine Whites had less and less habitat in this area and with less habitat, any woodpeckers and Pine White populations weakened second and third growth firs so that winter and spring windstorms easily brought down yet more treetops or entire trees.
Our next stop was “The Garden Path”, a private garden owned by Carolyn Herriot and Guy Dauncey, both conservationalists. There we saw a few Pine Whites up in fir treetops again, and again, not coming down. With a sigh I figured it was time to check out Glendale Gardens before giving up.
We arrived in short time and this time I struck gold…….or Goldenrod in full bloom in the garden entrance. And there were Pine Whites in Douglas firs across the street!! One was flying lower and lower and…..it finally alighted on the Goldenrod to feast…..right smack on the fence side where I could not possibly get to it without creeping like some sort of criminal through the neatly mulched flower garden. But such was my growing frustration that I decided desperate times called for desperate measures. I told John to watch for anyone looking, and I gingerly stepped in behind and out of sight snapping longshots of the nectaring butterfly as I crept closer and closer. What madness to be sneaking about like this to get shots of a solitary butterfly where there used to be so many!! Did I feel guilty? Not a bit! It was another male and though he jumped about a bit, he kept returning and I was allowed to get so close at times, I had to pull my zoom lens in. People walked by but didn’t seem to notice or care, including some staff. I was not a new sight to them there. This butterfly was in pristine shape and I wanted as many good shots as I could get!
And so, third time lucky, though hot, sweaty and tired, we checked in with the office so I could make my “confession” while showing the pictures I’d gotten. All I got were smiles, a few “oo’s and ahh’s”, a very good thing, and then we were off home. But this year I have seen no females at ground level and although I have photographed males every year since I began photography, I’ve only managed to find a female twice in all this time.
According to butterfly expert, Cris Guppy, whom I’ve had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with, I quote from a recent email exchange with his permission regarding this butterfly we both seem to be quite fond of:
“There are records from the early 1900s of huge outbreaks of Pine Whites that resulted in drifts of them washing up along the top of beaches. The last outbreak in BC that I know of was in Cathedral Grove west of Parksville in the early 1960s, which the Forest Service sprayed insecticide on. I was a kid with my family driving through there, with “snowdrifts” of bodies along the side of the highway. I suspect that they require large areas of old growth hemlock and Douglas fir forest to build up huge populations, and logging put an end to both the old forests and the huge populations of Pine Whites.” – Cris Guppy
With the major upheaval that occurred at Esquimalt Gorge Park while putting in the new Japanese Garden, this is the first year I have found no Pine Whites in their main garden area nearby. I count this now as two butterfly populations eradicated in this park due to habitat disruption or destruction.
Before closing with this sonnet and a file picture of a female Pine White, I’d like to wager that as soon as this blog is posted, I may well find and photograph a female. If that does happen, I’ll post it with a very brief (I promise) poem and comment!
Song to a Pine White Butterfly
Dear butterfly, so beautiful and fair,
what have we done to make you hard to find?
Cut down so many trees without a care
and poisoned you for living! Oh how blind
and greedy has the human race become.
So now I struggle just to find a few
and if I search enough I may find some.
How lucky I feel now that I found you.
But where is your sweet lady? Does she fly
high up beyond my reach where I can’t see?
High up, too high up for this sorrowed eye,
it makes me ponder how this came to be.
Some day I hope that we will meet again,
beyond this place where greed brings only pain…
© Annie Pang August 7, 2012.