Thursday, July 15, 2010

From Birds to Bugs

When I first started birding, I found it curious that many birders stopped looking at birds in the summer and started looking at butterflies and dragonflies. I mean, there were still lots of breeding birds around, why shift one's focus? Well, I'm beginning to think that there is some kind of subliminal, mind-control program in place by the insect world, because I've suddenly become inexplicably fascinated by all things winged.

Last weekend I decided to spend a few hours at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, looking for butterflies. I had forgotten that the garden didn't open until 10am, so at 8:30am I was looking at a locked gate. Heydi and I decided the next best thing would be to cross Flatbush Avenue and explore Prospect Park for 90 minutes. There's a nice section of flowering plants behind the Boathouse, as well as, the meadows on top of Lookout Hill.

The coneflowers, coreopsis, verbena and other plants near the Boathouse attracted bees, wasps and other pollinators, but not a lot of butterflies. There were mostly just a lot of Cabbage Whites. From that location we headed down the Lullwater, towards Breeze Hill, then Lookout Hill. Along the slow moving water of the Lullwater there were lots of Eastern Amberwing dragonflies. These tiny dragonflies are normally found close to water. As we walked up the rise towards the Maryland Monument I mentioned that there
was an annual Cicada Killer colony within the short grass along the hillside. Little piles of excavated dirt reveal their burrow's entrance and are a sure sign that these massive wasps have returned for the summer. I didn't noticed any dirt piles but we did see several males and females in courtship chases above the grass. This pair in the photo were mating on the ground but did actually fly short distances while joined. They may look menacing, but are quite harmless to humans.

The "Butterfly Meadow" on Lookout Hill wasn't very active so we walked the dirt path up to the small, weedy opening at the top of the hill. I was surprised to see that the overgrown area, which is usually just dominated by Canada Thistle, now had large sections of sunflowers. Both Jerusalem Artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) and Cup Plants (Silphium perfoliatum) were being visited by Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Summer Azure, Red Admiral and Monarch. There were also a couple of dozen Cabbage Whites feeding on the thistle flowers. We had started heading back towards the botanic garden when a black swallowtail-like butterfly circled over our heads. It landed very briefly near a butterfly bush, but long enough to get a photo and ID is as a Pipevine Swallowtail. I'd never seen one of these beauties and they are, apparently, uncommon around NYC.

There are a few spots in the botanic garden that are good for butterflies - the wildflowers in the Children's Garden, a stand of Butterfly bushes just west of the Children's Garden, the Mixed Perennial Border at the Lily Pond, the Composite Family opposite the Rock Garden (lots of sunflowers) and the Native Flora Garden. I was surprised by one other, incredible addition, however. The borders at the south end of the Cranford Rose Garden has been replanted with an amazing mix of wildflowers. Here we spotted Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Black Swallowtail, Pipevine Swallowtail, Cabbage White, Orange Sulphur, Coral Hairstreak, Gray Hairstreak, Summer Azure, Red Admiral, American Lady, Monarch, Silver-spotted Skipper, Dun Skipper and Sachem. There may have been others, I can't remember. Maybe Heydi can correct me in the comments section. I could have spent the rest of the afternoon combing through the wildflowers, but the sky was getting dark and I didn't feel like biking in a thunderstorm.

Now that shorebirds and seabirds have begun moving through our area, I think this coming weekend I may shift gears and start paying more attention to the birds.

Here's a short slideshow of last weekend's highlights:

Listen to National Public Radio's, Morning Edition -"Bug Highway In The Sky"



1 comment:

Matthew said...

Birds are a gateway drug to all sorts of natural history.

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