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A Yummy Snack

Hairstreak Butterfly

Hairstreak Butterfly

“Many hairstreak butterflies have an elaborate false eye near the edge of their hindwing, often with slender tails that resemble antennae, creating the impression that the back of the insect is in fact the front.”  This quote is from “A Buzz in the Meadow,” a great book by Dave Goulson about the natural history of a French farm.

So is that clever or what? I see many butterflies with bits missing out of their wings where birds and other predators have taken a swipe at them.  In order to confuse the birds further they usually do a swift 180 turn when they land so the bird thinks their protein-rich body is at the opposite end of where it really is … thereby giving the bird a bit of hindwing but preserving the body of the hairstreak. Saved to fly another day!  Imagine how many generations of butterflies it took to evolve those two orange false eyes and the inclination to land with a quick reverse of direction. Apparently eye spots frighten off predators. Certainly they add to the beauty of the butterfly for we who value beauty.

 

The HUISACHE tree is blooming in Texas. Shall I handpick a ton (or 2 or 3) of those small orange flowers and press the oil out of them? These trees have a pleasant, fresh, violet-like smell which drifts on the breeze, tickling your nose and your memories.

First, here is how the Egyptian cultures did it …”Traditional Egyptian practice involves pressing the plant material, then burying it in unglazed ceramic vessels in the desert for a period of months to drive out the water. The water has a smaller molecular size, so it diffuses through the ceramic vessels, while the larger essential oils do not. The lotus oil in Tutankhamen’s tomb, which retained its scent after 3000 years sealed in alabaster vessels, was pressed in this manner.” WIKIPEDIA

In the 1800’s the French perfumers imported Huisache trees and cultivated them in order to extract the oils and use them in perfumes. They devised a method of crushing the flowers with coconut oil or cocoa butter to extract the scent. That is why the oil was priced at $4,400/ kilogram (2.2 pounds). This product was called cassie oil. I invite you to come to Texas and gather a few tons of tiny, fluffy, orange balls and press the oil out of them….or just cover yourself in coconut oil and rub lots of orange flowers on yourself until you achieve the scent you want. You might attract a Crimson patch butterfly. Perhaps you will have a White Peacock butterfly land on you so you do not have to chase this flitter, flitter, fly-away guy around a 100 acre garden in order to photograph him. Anything is possible!

 

Playing Hide-n-Seek with a tiny sparrow may not sound like the highlight of the week … but it is for me!

Black-throated Sparrow

Black-throated Sparrow

This crisp “Tuxedo” bird, with his black and white markings, lives in arid desert scrub-land where it seems he might have trouble keeping his immaculate appearance, yet there he is, looking splendid. He is shy and elusive like his cousin, the Olive Sparrow. Their habit is to make quick forays from beneath sheltering plants, grab a seed, and scuttle back under cover. Over a period of 7-8 years I have managed to get a few blurry photos but never one that shows their true colors.

Rancho Lomitas Garden

Rancho Lomitas Garden

Today we are out at Rancho Lomitas in Texas, where we called ahead and arranged for a man to meet us at the locked gate and allow us to visit his RV trailer where he has fed birds for 18 years. Jim meets us and we sit outside in his garden and admire the huge cacti and many statues, baubles, and various hanging feeders. Then comes the big surprise … a Black-throated Sparrow ambles out, picks up a seed, and instead of running quickly back under the bushes, he fluffs his feathers, and utters a clear loud note. Two more stroll out and the three of them pose casually among the cacti. Terrific!

Then out comes the Olive Sparrow to join them and he also stays in full view displaying his olive green back for the world to see. As if this is not enough riches for one day, a whir of wings deposits a flock of Scaled Quail at our feet. None of them seem concerned that people are near them.

Finally, venturing out to get a drink of water from the drip feature is a Clay-colored Robin. I think he has been re-classified as a thrush in the last few years but in my mind he is a robin with his round, chubby profile. Another hard-to-see bird! Rancho Lomitas is an unusual place … we enjoy these Southwestern birds in peaceful silence broken only by the liquid notes of a Cactus Wren perched on top of a blue sphere. Bird Heaven indeed!

How They Fool US!

Perched on a tree about head-high is a plain black-brown butterfly who slowly begins to open his wings to bask in the sunshine. As he does so, a sliver of iridescent blue appears. He could have been an old brown leaf until he unfurls his black and blue stripes to the sun. The white dots dazzle the viewer of the Mexican Bluewing.

A mud-brown leaf lying on a rock shifts slightly revealing that he is a living butterfly.  I am unimpressed and snap a casual photo but then notice that if I look closely with the sun behind him he has a red-orange streak on his wing. He prepares to leap into the air where both wings open wide showing an intense orange flash. It is a Tropical Leafwing! What a transformation from plain to breathtaking color.

With the sun climbing overhead and lighting the fringed edges of the Questionmark butterfly it is obvious that this is a.spectacular specimen.  Golden with chocolate dots scattered over his wings he seems too beautiful and fragile to exist. The morning sun warms him and he drifts away to conduct his life among the Hackberry trees of the Rio Grande Valley.

Hot, humid air hangs over the beds of Blue Mist Flower and hidden down in the depths is a tiny one inch butterfly tightly closed and seeming to be a wrinkled leaf. As the sun climbs higher he emerges to fly from flower to flower flashing his metallic blue wings. The iridescence makes it impossible to miss him but he flies fast and trying to take his picture as he flits erratically around is difficult. He deserves his name of Blue Metalmark. A joy to see.

The Bordered Patch butterfly is somewhat nondescript with his wings closed but he still shows you what to expect when the wings open…yellow-orange stripes and glowing white dots on a black background He is a big, showy butterfly who floats above the flower beds with slow wing beats.

Once again we set off to drive an hour to a butterfly garden before it gets too hot and humid. We were told by a person at the NABA butterfly gardens that “we were likely to see the Blue Metalmark ” at Resaca De La Palma State Park.  After expressing our doubts that this glorious event would actually happen we agree to get up the next day and go TRY to see  it.

We drive and drive and finally arrive at the park and look in disbelief at a sign on the gate blocking our way. It says “CLOSED – open Wed thru Sat” and today is Tuesday. We can see the visitor Center ahead of us … so we gingerly unhook the gate and drive in.  Ambling over to the hedges we see many plain brown butterflies sitting there with their wings closed.  This is disappointing as we wanted to see a BIG Iridescent BLUE butterfly, and then we hear shouts from Tom and D.L.

“Come quick!  We have found it!” and they point to a half-inch, tiny, blue butterfly. It is the Metalmark … we just had unreal expectations. When they close their wings they become a drab brown. . After looking it up in the book it says the guy should be half an inch … but what a color he flashes at us!! We spend a happy hour combing the bushes for more of them and sure enough there are quite a few. I make a mental apology to the young lady who told me they were at this place as I had so many doubts that she knew where they could be found.

Another wildly successful day out in the thickets of Rio Grande Valley.

Death Valley area has culture!! … as we found out when we stopped at a tiny town (pop 3) called Amargosa which once belonged to the Pacific Borax Mining Company.  We barely made it in the door to a cafe when a woman accosted us raving “You have to go on the Tour! … its only $5 and its amazing … I came from Germany to see it … just ask at the Hotel and the young lady will will take you inside the Amargosa Opera House!”

Amargosa Opera House

Amargosa Opera House

So of course we abandoned lunch and met a beautiful young woman at the desk of the hotel who took us across the plaza and unlocked the blue doors for us. She sat us down in pink velvet seats and told us of Marta Becket from New York City … a ballerina whose career was over when she hit 40.

Ballerina Marta Becket

Ballerina Marta Becket

She was doing a last tour of the U.S. and had a flat tire outside Death Valley in Amargosa in 1967 (pop 10 at that time).  She saw the Borax Company hall which had not been used for years and her dream began … she rented it for $45/mo and began renovating it … then she bought the whole town of 268 acres and started painting the interior.  She gave performances, which were not well received by the local miners/cowboys—– so she painted her own audience!!  The KING of SPAIN and his COURT sit on the rear wall of the hall facing the stage. She painted the whole room including the ceiling.  Her audiences finally grew and she danced until she was 86 …. died a few years ago at 92. They have mostly European visitors who have heard of the Amargosa Opera House.”  We waved goodbye considerably happier from hearing this tale.  Truly amazing !!!

 

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Walking by a tree in the Rio Grande Valley, my eye is attracted to a two foot long stick with a moving surface.  Going closer I see many insects crawling over a gloppy brown mound. In the middle sit two brilliant butterflies gently waving their wings while their delicate probosis ties them to the glop.

“They are drinking fermented fruit and this is a drunken butterfly party …” a voice behind me says softly. “That is a Red Admiral and that one is a Mexican Bluewing.”

Turning I see a face reflecting the wonder my own face wears. A smile, a wink, and an extended hand introduce me to the Park Naturalist who proceeds to tell me how to make a butterfly feeder. Find a fallen limb of Honey Mesquite, cut it into pieces, gouge a shallow trough in one side, hang it from a  tree, and mix up a batch of “glop” to use as bait and then wait for the crowd to arrive The crowd here is beetles, wasps, flies and butterflies. They are drinking  a fermented mixture of the 3 “B’s”. The friendly man standing next to me, named Huck, informs me that ” Anyone can make this with one third beer, one third over-ripe bananas, and one third brown sugar. It has to sit for a few days and Presto! …you are ready for a drunken party of tropical butterflies.”  As we speak up drifts a third party-goer to land and push his tongue into the fragrant mess. ”

 

Hackberry Butterfly

Hackberry Emperor Butterfly

 

The latest arrival is a Hackberry Emperor who prefers our alcoholic “glop” to the flowers of the Hackberry tree he depends on. Looking at his lacy, almost translucent wings and dainty feet planted in our glop it seems apparent that all creatures desire the thrill of alcohol.  He refuses to leave the feast even when touched with a forefinger … just moves a millimeter over without removing his tongue. The heady ripe-fruit smell wafts over us and more butterflies arrive for a taste. I resolve to make a feeder.

D.L. and his newly made butterfly feeder

D.L. and our newly made butterfly feeder