Thursday, April 7, 2011

First of the Year - Butterflies

My First Butterfly of 2011 - Eastern Comma polygonia

With the forecast promising the first 60-degree weather of the season, I headed out to look for new migrants today.  I wasn't disappointed:  a Belted Kingfisher, lots of Eastern Phoebes, Turkey Vultures and kestrels.  Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Common Mergansers, Common Goldeneye, Buffleheads, Canvasbacks, White Pelicans and Ring-necked Ducks.

The mammals are out too:  raccoons, opossums, skunks and ground squirrels.  I stopped to move a raccoon carcass to the shoulder of my favorite Rustic Road (#107) and something orange flitted by.  Hm... not an oak leaf.  It was ...  a butterfly!

But which one?  It looked like one of the "punctuation" butterflies (one of the commas or a questionmark).  It wasn't until I got home that I could tell for sure.  My camera picked up the diagnostic smudged black dot on the forewing:  an Eastern Comma. 

I would see six Eastern Commas on the way to Meridean (pronounced "mary - dean"), Wisconsin and 3 of my favorite Milbert's Tortoiseshells.

I expected my first of the year would be a Mourning Cloak.  They overwinter as adults.  I was surprised to discover that the Eastern Comma and the Milbert's both overwinter as adults too.

I had forgotten how "flitty" the Milbert's is.  They wouldn't let me get close enough for a photo, so I had to rely on my binoculars to get a good look.  Either my butterfly photographing instincts have gotten rusty or these insects were very wary.  According to Ebner (Butterflies of Wisconsin), "they are difficult to approach and take flight at the slightest provocation.  The flight is fairly rapid."

I agree.

As soon as the nettles start shooting up sprouts, I'll be looking for Milbert's butterfly eggs and caterpillars (enclosed collectively in silk webs) on the undersides of their leaves.

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