Archive for September, 2022

Flames Dancing in the Air – Gulf Fritillaries

Wednesday, September 7th, 2022

On a warm late-summer morning, sunlight poured onto a small, weedy patch of foxtails – tall, tan grasses with soft-looking brushy tops that stood among other wild grasses and plants in a rough clearing in patch of woods. In the air above and all around the sunlit foxtails, danced dozens of bright, burning-orange butterflies all fluttering rapidly, in constant motion. A flowing, shimmering cloud of golden orange, with sparks of black and silver. 

The butterflies were Gulf Fritillaries, medium-size and brilliant orange with delicate patterns of black markings and three tiny white dots outlined in black on the upper side of their wings; and on the underside, elongated, iridescent spots of silver-white.

Gulf Fritillaries are a common species in this part of the South, often found along woods’ edges like this, or along roadsides, in parks or in yards with flowers. They used to be very common here at this time of late summer. But this year, I’ve seen very few of them – or of any butterflies at all – so this sudden gathering was so unusual it felt enchanted, and I stayed to watch them for several minutes. Every now and then, one would settle briefly on a foxtail or blade of grass, but it never stayed long before it flew again. Mostly they stayed in swirling, flickering motion over this magical little spot.

Yellow-throated Warbler

Friday, September 2nd, 2022

September has begun gently this year, with pleasantly warm days and softly sunny skies. Many birds have fallen quiet now, in these late days of summer. But early this morning, soon after sunrise, some of our most familiar neighborhood birds still greeted the day with songs and calls –Carolina Wren, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, and a good many Blue Jays and American Crows. 

A Chipping Sparrow sang its long, level, summery trill from a small tree along the side of the road. A Pine Warbler’s cool, lyrical notes drifted out from a well-screened spot in the pines.

In a large pecan tree on the edge of a neighbor’s yard I noticed several small birds flitting around among the leaves and stopped to check them out. There were Chipping Sparrows, an Eastern Bluebird, a House Finch. And then my breath was taken away by the glimpse of something more exotic – though I only saw it in pieces at first. A flash of yellow, black streaks on snowy white, a rather long bill, a gray back, a white wing bar. The bird moved quickly and constantly through the leaves, creeping along branches but staying mostly hidden, so I could only see it in fragments, like teasing pieces of a moving puzzle. Finally, I caught a quick, vivid view of a burning yellow throat and a strikingly patterned face with a black mask and white curve over the eye, as the bird emerged from the leaves for a moment, head and long bill tilted up, and neck stretched up in the sun. It was a brilliant Yellow-throated Warbler. 

A Yellow-throated Warbler is considered a common woodland bird of the southeastern U.S., but I have very seldom seen one here in our own neighborhood, or heard its song here – a pretty series of bright, clear notes that quickly identify the singer. It’s a colorful wood warbler that spends most of its time high up in the canopy of forest trees. Its upper side is mostly gray, with white wing bars, white underneath, streaked with black, a black and white face, and a vibrant yellow throat. This one was quiet, almost serpentine in its movement, intent on searching for insects and other small prey as it crept along a branch, probing the bark and leaves with its long bill.