Fuzzy Butters

Greetings everyone! Good news, we survived the storm that passed through Galveston Island last we chatted. I can only imagine how terrifying it must be to be in a trailer with a Tornado barreling down on you. We only reached 60mph gusts and that still put a rockin’ on our small RV. As promised, headed out to the beach to see what interesting things were brought ashore as soon as Mother Nature gave me the chance. Combed the beach and found some really nice (intact) shells, first giving them a nudge to make sure I wasn’t disturbing the sea version of a mobile home – beyond the blue jellyfish washed up everywhere (already gonners), no creatures were harmed.

The plan was to publish the latest from Brad’s queue while we started our trip back to the tundra. Checked the WordPress drafts and shock, it wasn’t there. Craptastic! Hoping it isn’t in the bit-bucket – will check on that when we stop for the night (worst case I have the original copy and can just paste it back into blocks). In the meantime, a perfect time to get a post out I promised B. (from across the pond) several months back. Now for the disclaimer – if you want to see incredible Butter pictures, go to his site (link here). My long-rig is not designed for these delicate looking creatures and my species knowledge would barely fill a thimble.

Butterfly found at Quinta Mazatlan in January 2022

When the birds are slim in the field, I start looking for other targets to keep me entertained – no Dragons, no furries, might as well give the arms a workout and target these rather spastic flappers. Hit the jump If you want to see some of my better clicks – again, Linda won’t let me take her macro in the field without some ridiculous amount of honey-do commitments, so soft shots it is ha!

If you are still with me, you’ve accepted the sub-par conditions for the following images. There is one more caveat I should have mentioned ahead of the jump – I generally have little idea what species these colorful creatures happen to be. Ron did buy me a nice book to help me identify a majority of those in central/east US. Grabbed the shorebird guide and then forgot to pack that reference, thus flying completely blind here. Case in point, no idea what that first Butter is (forced to guess or be hanged/drawn/quartered … would go with the WAG White Peacock).

Butterfly found at Quinta Mazatlan in January 2022

Might help if I tell you where these were found. All finds come from South Texas, To be more specific, primarily at Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen and a few at Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center in Port Aransas back in January 2022. I can confirm these same species can still be found there as of two weeks ago.

Butterfly found at Quinta Mazatlan in January 2022

Two of these I’m willing go out on a limb on – corrections are always encouraged – hell, I’ll even accept disparaging remarks at this point as long as they include some hints as to what they might be. The orange and black one above was mistakenly mis-identified as a Monarch when I first spotted them. Primarily orange, black lining with some white highlights similar to ones we have back home. Ehhh, wrong, thanks for playing.

Butterfly found at Quinta Mazatlan in January 2022

Two older ladies at Quinta with Butter adorned clothing from hat to shoes corrected me on the spot and called them Queens – even whacked me across the knees with their trifold cane bringing back horrific memories of growing up with nuns that could fend off a horde of ninjas with just a wooden ruler (pretty sure they spent their nights running a sharpening stone across that little metal insert).

Butterfly found at Quinta Mazatlan in January 2022

Mental note, stand at least 4 feet away when asking for help from elderly lepidopterists. A quick peak at the Internet says they are common in both North and South America

Butterfly found at Quinta Mazatlan in January 2022

Of note, birds do not consider them very tasty which likely answers the riddle of why there were sooooo many of these pumpkins hanging out at Quinta. There is an abundance of Flycatchers patrolling those grounds. Average lifespan of an insect that dares to leave the safety of ground cover is about 2.1 seconds.

Butterfly found at Quinta Mazatlan in January 2022

Next up is the only other Butter I happen to know off the top of my head in this series. It also happens to be my second favorite Butterfly, only losing out to the Mexican Bluewing (link here).

Butterfly found at Quinta Mazatlan in January 2022

This guaranteed staple at Quinta Mazatlan is the Zebra Heliconian or Zebra Longwing as us non-specialists refer to them as. Kind of hard to miss as they a) look like a Zebra without a tail and b) have long wings.

Butterfly found at Quinta Mazatlan in January 2022

This beauty is abundant in Central and South America with populations pushing up into Southern Texas with a residency in the peninsula Florida. Wikipedia also indicated they are known to migrate further north during the summer months. Oddly enough not the only Zebra thing we have found on our trips to Texas (link here).

Butterfly found at Quinta Mazatlan in January 2022

Included this side shot as this was the first time I’ve noticed they have a few spots of red on the underside near their abdomen. Oh, and the leaf looked similar to a giant Butterfly wing.

Next up is a burst of color.

Butterfly found at Quinta Mazatlan in January 2022

I’ve seen this particular Butterfly in a number of Texas birding locations. They also happen to be less spastic than the other species I’ve encountered. Translated, at least a fighting chance to get something decent in the tin. They also happen to be quite pretty for the double bonus.

Butterfly found at Quinta Mazatlan in January 2022

Thought those two vertical bars on the front part of each wing and the eyeball spots would be good keys to get an ID. Brought up a South Texas Butterfly list to give it a go. To my surprise a very similar reference shot was found 4 options down – the Common Buckeye. Note, for some reason “Common” is the word of the week if you’ve been keeping up with the latest posts.

Butterfly found at Quinta Mazatlan in January 2022

According to the reference site, these colorfully decorated Butterflies are resident in the southern states and into Mexico, but will push north during the year. Some even make it all the way to Canada. Later in the year they head back south with a large population wintering in Florida. For the curious, added a weak shot of their underwings which are dramatically boring compared to how ornate their top side is. It’s possible that is a common trait for these proportionally large winged insects.

Butterfly found at Quinta Mazatlan in January 2022

Decided to press my ID luck with this last specimen in this series. Granted, I did not have a lot to go on beyond..well, “white”. Threw in some additional markers..”south”, “Texas” and Leonabelle (where this one was spotted).

Butterfly found at Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center in January 2022

To my surprise the first option on the query was a Great Southern White. Even referenced the National Butterfly Center in Hidalgo County, TX. Ron and I visited that location for the first time a few weeks ago in the hunt for a rarity (that outcome for another post). To my untrained eye it looks pretty close to the reference shots. My specimen looks a little roughed up – maybe hitting it a little too hard a the local “nectbar”.

Butterfly found at Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center in January 2022

Well, that is all I have for today. Hope you enjoyed this quick diversion. Insects do not get a lot of attention here and there is one primary reason for that – Linda! She has even trained the Poodles to make sure I stay at least 10 feet from her macro glass for an added layer of security.

Now I need to go figure out what happened to Brad’s post. Take care and can someone back in Illinois please turn up the heat before we get there!

30 thoughts on “Fuzzy Butters”

  1. Nice! Butterflies to have my morning with. As a butterfly whisperer (they land on me all the time) I enjoy these wonderful creatures. I really don’t know how anyone can get photographs of them!
    Safe travels back to your frozen tundra.🥶

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    1. Glad you enjoyed CJ – thought you (B.) would like the change of pace. The trick to photographing them is to never tell anyone how many shots you attempt that hit the trash can. Things are definitely looking a little dicey for the travel home – ice followed by snow – hope we haven’t lost our Illinois winter driving skilz yet! Take care and thanks for spending your morning coffee with us.

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    1. Thank you Timothy. Not in my wheelhouse, but I still enjoy shooting them when I get a chance..err, when the birds are on vacation. At home we really have only a few different varieties – Monarchs, Swallowtails and then all white ones or all yellow ones. I’d probably be more intrigued if I had easier access to the ones we see down in Texas. Appreciate you dropping in!

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      1. We have a decent variety of butterfiles out here. I used to try and shoot them with a macro lens. What a fool I was. The Bazooka is much easier for butterflies with a minimum focus of 11 feet. Those butters don’t even know the butterfly paparazzo has shooting them.

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        1. Ha the stealthy bazooka! I do like the detail I get with the Macro (especially the striping detail in the antennae) when one lets me get close enough to it and Linda let’s me borrow it!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed! Every once in a while will notice the Butterfly folder filling up and will make a post to clean it out. As mentioned, not my specialty by any means, but they are definitely a fun side activity when the birds are thin. Appreciate you dropping in.

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  2. You do yourself an injustice B. For the most part I would be proud of some of these shots, kudos for getting them with the beast. You may (sometimes!) get sharper more detailed images with a macro but you have to trade that for less dof unless you do as I do sometimes that is step back and crop!
    Now you’ve honed your id skills a bit try photographing and naming the Skippers (we only have 8 so it’s easier for us).

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    1. Thanks B. Still have a long way before getting close to your mastery. I chuckled at the step back comment as that is what I always find myself doing – not so much to increase the field of view, but to get the auto-focus to kick in – so used to having to reach for birds that I get surprised the Butters let you get quite a bit closer…. of course that means you look like you have the shakes trying not to clip the wings ha. Will have to look into the Skippers we have access to – first familiarize myself with what those actually look like – sounds like a fun challenge.

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  3. Pretty little butters. I see the DON (Dept. Of Obvious Names) picked out Zebra Longwing. Still stunning contrast in a butter and would confuse anything that wanted to snack on it. Glad they chose to flutter by you.

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    1. Ha, like the DON, although when it comes to birds we have less of the DONs and more of the SNOBs – Stupid Not-OBvious names. Most of the places we visit in Texas also cater to the lepidopterists giving ample opportunity for the flutterers when the flappers are away.

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    1. Thank you Sherry. I did use the internet with some general Google searches, but will check out bugguide.net the next time I’m trying to identify one of these creatures. Some of the places I was trying to use as a reference expected a much higher knowledge of Butterfly anatomy than I have so it was a struggle trying to figure out what key identifier went with each part. Took me long enough to learn all the Bird parts ha. Take care Sherry and appreciate you dropping in.

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  4. It’s impossible to go birding and just see birds, because of the plethora of other beauties who surround us. Butterflies are tricky to photograph with their erratic movements, and I think tricky to identify with both dorsal and ventral sides differing. This was a pleasure, Brian and I’m glad you survived the storm. I, too, am a fan of the zebra longwing; saw them in GA and FL. It looks like some of these photos are Brad’s, too — nice job, both of you.

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    1. Glad to hear you enjoyed the slight deviation from our regularly scheduled programming. You are absolutely spot on with the difficulties in the ID process – still surprises me today how much of a contrast these Butters have between their upper and lower wings (you are much more versed in anatomy than I!) You had to travel a lot further than I did to see the zebra – always a welcome sight when we arrive in Texas – as we are only down there for winters, not sure if they stay there all year or migrate away for the hotter months. Turns out the Galveston storm was less concerning than our trip back – so far the roads are fairing okay, but the temps are dropping fast and ice is forming on the shoulders – suppose to be a high of a 11 or so with a low in the negatives once we get home – need to keep an eye on Linda’s driving – she just might take a detour and end up back in Texas ha! Always appreciate you dropping in and sharing your perspectives. Stay safe.

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  5. Beautiful butterflies and many kinds of them. Photographing butterflies is not easy, they don’t stay in one place for a long, but you are lucky to get these beautiful photos that are so nice to look at.

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    1. Thank you for the kind words Kaya. Every once in awhile I get everything right on the settings and end up with something I’m willing to share on the Butterfly front. They definitely like to test my dexterity and strength trying to keep the big glass on point. Glad you enjoyed and appreciate you dropping by.

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  6. Nice selection of fluttering beauties at rest. Long lenses are good for small subjects too. Many of my insect posts this past summer were captured at 800mm or so with my 100-400 and doubler. Sometimes with the 180 doubled also. It’s a little harder to find them sometimes, especially since I am always mounted on a tripod but it is doable as your images indicate.

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    1. Now that is some reach you got there – I’ll put the tele on from time to time to get a bit more reach, but even though it is matched to the glass it does produce a slightly softer image that I then have to clean up in the digital darkroom. I prefer not to deal with stabilizers in the field (beyond the convenient tree or post) if I do not have to – usually find myself low in the weeds/sands at unpredictable times so rarely makes it out of the car (at least while I can still get into the weightroom ha). Linda did give me a Gimbal head a few years back that I’m interested in trying out – should give me a lot more flexibility. Appreciate you coming by and joining the conversation Steve!

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  7. Glad you got through that storm alright. It was a big one all the way across the states. I do need to work on my butterfly collection of photos, I do not have many and these are all beautiful. It is encouraging to know you are finding birds in January down there. We will be there next November or around there. I hope they are still there that time of year.

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    1. You should have no troubles finding birds in the Nov/Dec timeframe in Texas. There might be a few that are late for the wintering grounds, but for the most part all the ones we go after are down there at that time of the year. There were a few less rarities this time coming up from Central America, but did get some nice ones that will sure to be featured here sometime during the year .. well, I hope this year, my track record isn’t the greatest ha.

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  8. I’m glad you survived the storm! And I enjoyed your butterfly gallery. Like you, I know very few of them, but I keep resolving to learn more about them, in addition to the wildflowers I keep encountering. Sadly, that noggin of mine has a limited capacity to absorb new material.

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    1. Thank you Tanja! The Butters were definitely a change of pace around here – mainly because I’m not that good at it and I suck on the ID end of it. I tell my wife I have filled all my grey matter. Every new tidbit I learn about a bird means I have to purge some household chore memory – any bets on whether she buys that excuse? As always, appreciate you stopping by and joining in the conversation.

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  9. I enjoyed this little detour. I had forgotten all about our “other monarch”, the Queen, glad you spent some time with it to remind me. I love using my 500mm as a macro lens… I just have to remember to close down the aperture. It’s a lot of fun when the sun is blazing on white wading birds, casting all kinds of distracting shadows, to focus on the butters for a bit.

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    1. They are definitely pretty and now that I know there is a distinction I will stop overlooking them – seen so many Monarchs I tend to just ignore them. It is definitely something to keep me busy when, as you said, the light goes bad – I used to just announce “waffle time” and head back to the car – now that I am getting a bit more familiar with these delicately winged creatures I enjoy the challenge of trying to get something decent in the tin.

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