Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Flowers, Butterflies & Hawks

The sultry weather over the past weekend became a siren calling me to the beach, but I resisted ... for a little while, anyway.

I planned on visiting Green-Wood Cemetery early Saturday morning to look for butterflies. Last summer was the first time I explored the plantings around Green-Wood in search of pollinators. The best wildflower sections I've found (so far) are at the main entrance, the chapel, DeWitt Clinton's monument, the Soldiers Monument at Battle Hill, the catacombs and the butterfly garden near the Ft. Hamilton Parkway entrance. I'm sure there are other spots and I'll post them here as I find them. Of course, I also had to pay a visit to the fledgling red-tails near the Hill of Graves.

I met Heydi near the main entrance where we scanned an assortment of blooming yarrows, mints, fennel and other wildflowers. She has more experience identifying butterfly, not to mention, much better close vision, so I was very happy to have her along. There were lots of bees and other pollinators, but we were a little disappointed at the lack of butterflies in this apparent abundance of nectar. A low planting of flowers around the back of the administrative offices yielded our first butterfly of the morning - a Summer Azure.

We continued walking to the small garden in front of the chapel. Again, we encountered lots of bees and other insects, but virtually no butterflies. A single Cabbage White was flitting around, then we flushed a Clouded Sulfur, which cooperatively landed on the ground a few feet away from us. Circling the garden a few times, we kept hoping we'd spot at least one more butterfly. Eventually, an American Lady obliged and landed on an Upright Verbena stalk near the center of the plantings.

On the uphill walk to Battle Hill we spotted a few Eastern Tiger Swallowtails flying passed, but nothing else of note. Mints, spearmints, Goatsbeard, verbena and several other unidentified wildflowers ring the base of the Civil War Soldiers Monument. Coneflowers are coming up, but haven't yet bloomed, as are the sedums. Both will attract a nice mix of butterflies when they open. We noticed only one butterfly at this location - a very ragged Black Swallowtail. Another pollinator that caught my attention here was an orange and black beetle. There were actually a few of them foraging within the white flowers of a Goatsbeard shrub. I checked my field guides at home and learned that they were Pennsylvania Leatherwings (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus), also known as the Goldenrod Soldier Beetle.

The tiny, circular planting in front of the catacombs was fairly productive when I discovered it last year. It was later in the summer, however, so I wasn't sure what to expect in late-June. On Saturday there were lots of bees and a few wasps, but only a single butterfly. A Silver-spotted Skipper kept landing very briefly on the immature tops of the Purple Coneflowers, flying off, circling the area, then returning to the coneflowers. These wildflowers have barely begun blooming, so perhaps he thought if he left, they would be ready when he returned. It was sort of like the butterfly equivalent to the impatient "watched pot" adage. I also noticed several Pyralis Fireflies were resting on the undersides of the leaves of an adjacent cherry tree. It must have been much cooler there, because if I turned the leaves to face the sun, the fireflies would crawl to the shady side.

I was hopeful that the "Butterfly Garden" near the Fort Hamilton Parkway entrance to the cemetery would reveal more butterflies than we had been seeing. There are buddleia shrubs and butterfly weed at this location, which usually attract a nice selection of butterflies. Unfortunately, it was still a little early in the season and the buddleia was just beginning to show some flowers. The butterfly weed was also just starting to open. We circled the plantings once and did finally see a different species of butterfly. It was a tiny Tawny-edged Skipper. Some of the skippers are very difficult to identify due to their size and similarities, so I was thankful that Heydi was there to help me decode this brown and orange insect's subtle patterns.

It didn't take very long to find the juvenile Red-tailed Hawks. First we heard the alert calls of some Blue Jays and robins a short distance from where I found them last time. Then we noticed the whistling squeal of a hungry, begging hawk. One of the young hawks was perched within the dense cover of a cedar tree. I had to walk around the tree a couple of times before I found him on a low branch. The second one was somewhere close, but I was having trouble figuring out the direction of his intermittent high-pitched cries. We decided to walk back toward the large conifer that had been their preferred home base. Along the way I finally spotted the youngster perched right out in the open in a mature maple tree.

We had been standing in front of the tree for a few minutes taking photos when something nearby caught my eye. On the ground, at the base of the tree was his father, Junior. The adult Red-tailed Hawk was dining on a freshly killed squirrel, while his offspring patiently waited his turn. Well, maybe not so patiently, because he was squealing occasionally, to remind dad that he was also hungry. Heydi and I had actually walked right passed this spot not 10 minutes earlier and never noticed the large raptor standing in the grass. I guess he was eventually unnerved by the audience and took his meal across the road. Both young red-tailed squealed as they followed close behind him.

video

Here's a list of the butterflies seen in Green-Wood Cemetery last Saturday:

SWALLOWTAILS
Black Swallowtail
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

WHITES, SULPHURS
Cabbage White
Clouded Sulfur

GOSSAMER WINGS
Summer Azure

BRUSH-FOOTS
American Lady

SKIPPERS
Silver-spotted Skipper
Tawny-edged Skipper

Here's a slideshow of some of the weekend's flowers:

No comments:

Exploring urban nature, birds, birdwatching, birding, hummingbirds, butterflies, dragonflies, bees, hawks, raptors, wildflowers, trees, mushrooms, environment, binoculars, spotting scope