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When Hummingbird Meets Butterfly

Sunday, October 11, 2020



Staying home a lot is not a bad thing when you love your home. Magical things can happen when you stay home. 

 Making your home a lovable place is work, but if that work is done with joy, you don't feel it, except in your muscles when you get up the next morning. It is a gift you give yourself. 

This past summer I learned how to make and use outdoor rooms. It's pretty simple. You run some extension cords from the basement, get some comfortable furniture and a Yeti thermos full of something nice like lemon mint water, and set up with your laptop, camera and binoculars in the shade of a handy tree, say Jemima's Japanese maple. This is now your office, and you get to work out amongst the salvias, with orthopteran music as your soundtrack.

On this particular late September day, some late rubythroats were working the salvias and zinnias in my terraced bed. My bedsheets flapped gently in the warm breeze behind. I couldn't stop snapping photos. The cream-colored sheets add a dreamy touch, don't you think? 


Salvia greggii "Cherry Chief" is a favorite, as it always has a few fresh scarlet blossoms full of nectar to offer each day, floating high on wiry stems where it's easy for hummingbirds to access them. 


Salvia guaranitica "Black and Blue" is a favorite of mine. Last fall, I cut them off and saved the roots to these plants in long planters set on the cold floor of my greenhouse, so I wouldn't have to go looking to buy them again this spring. When it warmed up, they sent out new growth and we were off! Saved a ton of money and made another successful experiment. I love this shot, with the hummingbird glugging down nectar or perhaps a tiny flying insect.

I heard a persistent buzzing, as of a hummingbird investigating something, off to my right, and that was how I found out that the chrysalis I had hung on a tomato cage, thinking it might be a bit off, had hatched successfully!  I watch the chrysalides I bring into the house for safekeeping over the two weeks it takes them to metamorphose. If one looks a bit off-color or anything other than perfect, I take it back outside just to be safe. I don't want anything infecting my precious jewels.

Well, this one was a bit off color but turned out to be perfect anyway, and a beautiful female monarch had emerged without my knowing it only an hour earlier!


And wouldn't you know, there was a hummingbird pestering the poor creature!


Who knows what the hummingbird had in mind? Just deviltry. This is a juvenile male, as evidenced by its darkish streaky throat. Figures.


The monarch wasn't having any of it, and she snapped her wings open and closed to try to startle the hummingbird into leaving her alone while she finished drying her new wings. 


In the end, I had to holler at the durn hummingbird. I think it's the first time I've yelled at a hummingbird...no, no, I have done that before. I used to yell at Bela, one of the four hummingbirds I raised in the summer of 2003, because he was soo bad, first to fly and constantly pestering the other three before they were ready for release. 


Bela was just as unpleasant as he looks here. He was much better once he got out in the yard. 
Aren't we all? (I loved him just as he was). 

Oh man. I just realized that the bonsai behind him is the one that got so big I couldn't keep it in a pot any more, and I planted it out on Bill's grave last spring. Wow. It's coloring up out there; it made it through the summer OK, even though May froze its leaves off twice. Pfffft. 2020. 

The four orphaned hummingbirds' story is told in my book, The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds, in a huge chapter that threatened to take over the whole book. At one point I was considering calling the book My Hummingbird Summer and Other Stories.



Where was I? Yelling at a hummingbird, right. Well, the whole point of this post is to say that something very special has happened with me and monarch butterflies this fall. Starting in early September, I began work on a photography project that I am still working on now. Yes, my last caterpillar just writhed around and became a chrysalis. It's 9:40 pm on October 11...late for me, and wicked late in the year, but I was determined to stay up until it happened, to record the event with my iPhone on timelapse setting. 

Guess when I started making timelapse videos of this caterpillar? Around 8:45 this morning. With monarchs, you have to BE THERE or you'll miss it. I've probably got 50 timelapse videos to delete now, ones where nothing much is happening, but I got it, and I got it good. The timelapse is still running.

All this makes me nostalgic for the old days. My love affair with monarchs started in the summer of 2010. I had sketched and painted the various stages of metamorphosis, but I knew there had to be a better way to capture it--get the whole thing, not just snapshots. So I put my tiny Olympus point and shoot camera on a little bitty tripod, and I sat next to the metamorphosing caterpillar, pushing the shutter button every few seconds, through the entire caterpillar to chrysalis transformation. Then I waited two weeks and was somehow miraculously THERE for its emergence as a butterfly. I did the same thing, click click click click, for the emergence and wing drying.

In the end, I had 1250 photos. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with them, but at least I had the data.

So, as I often do when I'm trying to figure something out, I wrote about it, and one of my pieces ended up as a commentary for All Things Considered, back in the good old days a decade ago when I contributed natural history commentaries. Imagine! We had something else to talk about but spreading disease and beastly human behavior.  Oh, for those days...In the end, I wound up giving the 1250 photos to NPR, where a brilliant producer named Mito Habe-Evans stitched them together into the animation you see below. It's still one of my favorite things I've ever done. And all without iPhones or timelapse or anything but persistence and a little Olympus camera. Oh, and being there. Enjoy it! 



The "new Blogger" is giving me fits; won't let me into html to load the video. I've tried twice to embed it here. If you're reading from your phone and you see nothing in the space below, scroll down and tap View Web Version at the bottom of the post. If that doesn't work, here's the link to the video on YouTube.  Monarch Metamorphosis




8 comments:

Gorgeous. This whole post is JUST gorgeous. And full of hope. Thank you and love you, JZ!

Enjoyed your blog. Such crisp shots of juvie male hummer. But, can't find monarch video you reference??

The video didn't appear when I accessed the post on my phone through Instagram, but there it was when I tried again later on my computer. Not sure what that was about, or if that will be the case for everyone, but it may explain CA-VIXEN's question above.

A lovely video clip, and a wonderful example of what you can accomplish with persistence! I do resent Google changing blogger; not sure what the benefits are supposed to be that warrant taking away features we've learned to use.

Wowwwweeeee!!! What a thing of beauty - start to mesmerising finish. Thanks!!

Such a lovely post, with gorgeous photos -- thank you, once again, for doing what most of us don't know how to do. I have provided passiflora vines for the last fourteen years to host the gulf and variegated fritillary caterpillars, and they make their chrysalises (is that the word for the plural?) on the siding of my house and leave their little blood-like trickle as they eclose. Just started bringing monarch cats inside last year, but it was soooooo stressful! I don't know how you do it. Keeping up with the milkweed, stopping the ones who tried to cannibalize, always with an eye out for parasitism going on. Just couldn't do it this year with Covid, virtual teaching, and a mom I needed to care for. Still had a couple monarchs make it outside -- hurray! Your dedication to sharing all of this is a huge gift to us all :-)

I forwarded this post to a friend, and her reaction was:

"Julie is such a gift to the world."

So say we all.

No doubt, one of the best videos I've seen in quite a while. Thanks for documenting this miracle and sharing it with us.

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