One Monarch butterfly has been teasing us for a couple of weeks. On our usual walks, along the edge of the woods, this orange beauty would dance about just out of reach, flying high up into a tree as soon as we got near. One solitary insect might not seem much, but with no sightings in the past few years, that single bright fragile creature flitting among the bushes was enough to give us a thrill. And we wondered at times if it was the same one, or if there were, perhaps two or three, in different locations around the trail.
What was it that prompted me to go for a walk with my long lens on this particular day? I was just about to lend this particular lens to my friend who was considering buying a similar one, so she could see if it would give her the kind of range she wanted. First though, I thought I would go for a quick walk and take a few photos to show her what she might expect. Joni was (as always) my first model (turn the page or scroll down to keep reading…)
and I got a nice close-up of her in the field as we set off.
For a few years now we, like so many around the world have been missing the visits from the striking monarch butterflies. Although we have plenty of milkweed around us, there was no evidence of any of the larvae or sightings of adults. Then this year our neighbour ploughed up a field next to our property to plant corn. This field had lain fallow for at least 19 years and had been full of wildflowers and trees and bushes, a wonderful wildlife habitat, which was where we had been accustomed to seeing the butterflies in past years. It bordered a part of a nature trail (The Bigelow Trail) where school children are taken on their nature walks. It had been edged with milkweed, the plants eaten by the larvae of these beautiful creatures. Then, in the Spring this year the vegetation was torn out, the field was flattened, brown, ready for planting. I really despaired of seeing the Monarchs back in any number here again.
As we walked along, with me throwing and Joni catching the ball, I had my eyes open for a suitable subject to photograph to show the capability of the lens – a bird, some interesting insect or other. Suddenly I saw that single Monarch flying off in the distance. We hurried after it, as it dodged out into the open field, then back to the tops of the trees, flirting with me as it flashed around. I thought that once again I wouldn’t get close enough to get a photograph, even with this more powerful lens. I finally gave up and carried on around the path on the nature trail, determined not to let my frustration spoil the beautiful afternoon walk.
I felt as if I Had Come Across a Field of Dancing Unicorns
Then suddenly there was a heart stopping moment. I rounded the edge of the woods toward the field and there they were! There must have been more than 20 Monarchs. I felt as if I had come across a field of unicorns, in a dream, so beautiful were they all, drifting about on the light wind, stopping here and there to sip at the nectar in the wild flowers. I was almost afraid to walk forward into this scene, as I lifted my camera to my eye, starting to photograph from a distance, then closer and closer, remembering to breathe only now and then, so moved was I by this display of delicate wind-blown dancing.
When I felt that I had got all I could in the way of photographs and as the wind was getting really too strong for anything to stay still long enough, I made my way home, feeling a wonderful happiness from this chance encounter.
The next day we returned, Joni and I, and we brought Steven. As I had lent it to my friend, I no longer had that long lens with me but as we were leaving, Steven asked me why I didn’t use the macro lens we have, which I had completely forgotten about. This was one where I would be able to get so much closer, if only we saw any of the Monarchs again. As we walked around the path, it appeared to be unlikely as, once again it was quite windy. They seemed to be keeping hidden from us until, as the day before, there they all were, in their brilliant glory, dancing about in the wildflowersI And we got right in among them this time, taking photo after photo as they took no notice of us while they drank from the wild flowers along the edge of the wood. With that lens I got much closer and got photographs of the sole male we found as well as females, close enough to easily distinguish the telltale black spot on the lower wing of the male along with the more delicate tracery of the markings on him. You can see these in this next photograph. The female lacks the black spot and has much thicker markings.
As I was engrossed in trying to get another angle and another close shot, I suddenly looked down and saw the most enormous spider I have ever seen outside of a zoo. It must have been over an inch and a half long, the body alone, sitting in a thick web, right beside where I was crouched. I have no idea what kind it is, but perhaps a reader can tell me if you know. If you are sensitive to spider photographs, feel free to skip down to the next section! I have to say it did make me look more carefully before I stepped into the brush off the path.
Thanks to reader Sandy Vetter who tells me: This is a “Yellow Argiope, People use a variety of other names like Garden spider or “Sewing Machine” spider, because of the zigzag she weaves in her web. And it is a she, the male is incredibly small in comparison. 🙂 I’m so glad you took this and posted it, they are not only gorgeous but they do such a great job in catching insect pests! :-)” Thanks Sandy!
Goodbye to the Monarchs
A couple of days after this was the last time we saw a Monarch before the rain and bad weather set in. I had gone with my friend (and her new lens) in the hopes of catching sight of them before they left on their journey down south. We walked almost the whole path and were heading back home, disappointed (though she got a nice close-up of Joni :D) when we spotted one solitary one sitting alone, up in a tree at the side of the path. It stayed a little out of reach, opening and closing its wings in the sun’s rays, but she managed to get a few good shots of it before we had to head home.
Who would have thought that chatting with a friend about getting herself a new zoom lens would have led to such an opportunity and such a lovely record to remind me of that serendipitous walk along the trail? I really look forward to seeing them again next year, if they are able to return to our little corner of Nova Scotia.
We have a wonderful patch of milkweed at the edge of our property and every year I look through it for signs of Monarchs. Up to now I have never found any evidence of caterpillars or cocoons. The other day, though, I was thrilled to find this little caterpillar, just starting to eat through his own milkweed plant. They are like something from a cartoon, with their beautifully coloured striped bodies. So the cycle continues. (I’m so glad I had my phone with me to catch him.)