Wings of Fancy – August 2019

Two volunteer shifts at Brookside Gardens’ Wings of Fancy exhibit stand out this month. The first was a shorter shift before the exhibit was open to the general public. It was two hours for photographers. The shift was low key with not as many people in the exhibit and it was cooler because it was early in the morning. The temperature was low enough that many of the butterflies were still roosting rather than flying around.

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It was possible to get close enough for some quick pictures with my cell phone. There were at least two clear wings that were spotted.

Enjoy the slide show! By the end of the 2 hours, the temperature was warming and the morphos were flying. One paid a lot of attention to one of the camera bags.

After my shift I went back into the exhibit and took some pictures with a better camera. My favorite turned out to be a blue morpho that positioned itself perfectly on the ‘do not touch’ sign!

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The second shift was made special by a moth! At the beginning of the shift there was an Atlas Moth on the netting at the top of the conservatory…not a good place for a picture. As the shift went on it got hotter and hotter and the moth glided down to the foliage.  We had some time without visitors in the conservatory and I got a great picture. The clear ‘windows’ on the wings look green because of the green plants behind the moth.


Brookside Gardens – Butterflies and more

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Brookside Gardens’ Wings of Fancy exhibit was one of the places I volunteered in June – one of my happy places. One of my shifts was so cloud-covered and rainy that butterflies were still roosting in the fiscus at mid-morning.

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There were more clearwing butterflies in the conservatory that earlier in the season – enough that I saw one or two during most of my shifts.

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There aren’t as many paper kite butterflies this year…but they are still one of my favorites.

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The overall favorite for most people is the blue morpho; it’s one of mine too although for more than the blue color…I like the orange markings on the underside and body too. I manage to get some quick pictures during times when there are very few or no visitors in the exhibit.

And there were many other kinds of butterflies that posed for a picture at handy times.

And then there is the caterpillar house. Most of the caterpillars that were in the house during June were Julia Longwing or Zebra Longwing; both use passion flower as the host plant for their caterpillars.

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Toward the end of the month the eggs of the Palamedes swallowtail hatched….and the very small caterpillars begin to make their visible mark on the leaves. When they get bigger, they’ll have ‘eye spots’ to keep the predators away.

There were butterflies outside in the gardens too – mostly tiger swallowtails and skippers.

The bees enjoy the flowers too.

Sometimes a dragonfly would sit for long enough to be photographed.

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Birds like the gardens. A goldfinch and cardinal were near the conservatory one morning before my shift. I also saw a catbird that same morning but it flew away before I could get a photograph.

But the high point of the animals at Brookside was a box turtle! I had just exited my car and saw it emerge from a bed at the side of the conservatory and walk across the concrete in front of the service door to the north conservatory.

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It continued until it was close to the seal between the two doors then looked up like it expected the door to open. I wondered if it had – sometime in its life – spent some time inside the conservatory.

Brookside – May 2019

I’m just now getting around to posting some pictures I took at Brookside Gardens in May: the butterfly exhibit, the conservatory – and everything blooming outdoors. So many subject to photograph – flowers, immature seed pods, seeds, leaves, garden furniture and fountains….peonies, poppies, magnolias, alliums, maples, dogwood…what’s not to like. Enjoy the big slideshow!

The side of the conservatory not used for the butterfly exhibit always has interesting plants in bloom – or photo worthy in other ways (like giant water droplets on green leaves).

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The door that volunteers and staff use is surrounded by greenery. Somehow it seems bigger this year.

I arrive 15 minutes before my shift in the butterfly exhibit. Sometimes I have a few minutes between the orientation and the arrival of the first visitors arriving to photograph butterflies.

May is a big month in the gardens. I have a series of Brookside Gardens rose pictures that I’m saving for another post.

Lunch in Sherman TX

While I was Texas, we made a trip to Sherman to visit my sister and lunched in downtown Sherman. We parked on Courthouse Square and then walked about a block to the restaurant – past some wall art on one of the old buildings. I liked the colors and curves.


The building the restaurant was in (Fulbelli’s) was in from the 1870s and has been restored for use by small shops and eateries. The light wells bring light from above down through the building – as intended when the building was initially built before electric lighting. The restaurant is on the second floor and we were taken up (and back down) on the antique elevator by an attendant – an adventure in elevator history!


After lunch we browsed through the hallways (Sherman history pictures on the walls) and small shops.

I found some interesting earrings made by a local artist from leather and metallic paint. I’m going to try wearing them to my next Wings of Fancy shift…see if the blue morphos are attracted to them. The blue looks the same in certain light, but it tends to shift toward green in certain light and the blue morphos shift toward pink; they are both a structural color probably but not the same.


Brookside Gardens Wings of Fancy – April 2019


The Wings of Fancy live Butterfly Exhibit at Brookside Gardens opened in April. I am volunteering there again this season and my first shifts were toward the end of the month.

The Wings of Fancy live Butterfly Exhibit at Brookside Gardens opened in April. I am volunteering there again this season and my first shifts were toward the end of the month.

On the first morning there was a little rain as I arrived, and the outdoor temperature was cool. The sun came out and it warmed up a little as the day went on. The heaters were on in the conservatory to make a comfortable environment for the butterflies. I went in to do some photography before the exhibit opened for the day. The golden-edged owl is new this year and it tends to open and show its colors more than some of the other owls.

The Julia Longwing is around this year. There were a lot emerging from chrysalis during my 1st shift.

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The White Peacock had a lot emerging my second shift and I had groups of pre-schoolers observing! They were very excited and full of questions.

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The Malachites are available from two vendors this year – one in US which means that the chrysalises from that vendor can be in the emergence case in the exhibit.

The zebra longwings are always striking.

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And there are lots of other species too.

The big favorite of most visitors is the Blue Morpho. I like it for more than the metallic blue. The markings around the edges and ‘eye’ spots are interesting too. The orange color is supporting too.

The second day, I didn’t go in early or take my better camera - I still got two decent pictures with my cell phone. It was a little cool, so the butterflies were sitting around more…always good to go at 10 (when the exhibit opens) while it’s still cool!

Smartphone Nature Photography – part 2

Continuing from yesterday’s post….

Identification. Sometimes I take a lot of photos so I can identify something later. This was the case with these caterpillars. They were devouring dogwood plants at Brookside Gardens last summer. They remind me of lemon bars (yellow custard underneath powdered sugar). I defaulted to thinking they were a moth or butterfly larvae…but they turned out to be a dogwood sawfly larvae!

Stories. Some pictures tell a story. If you are aware at the time…make sure you take the pictures of the whole story. This Achemon Sphinx Moth was discovered by summer campers going out between rain showers during a nature photography activity. Moths are more active at night and usually are hiding in foliage during the day. This one was on the ground and twitching. I knew from experience in the Brookside Gardens Wings of Fancy exhibit that it had probably been bitten by a spider. We took our pictures and left it where it was. I regret that I was too busy helping campers to keep my camera at the ready to shoot the moth being pulled between two rocks – presumably by the spider that never did make itself visible.


Insects. Insects can be very fast moving and difficult to photograph no matter what camera you have. They often are slow or immobile when it is cooler. Cool mornings are good to find cicadas – silent and still…but maybe not dead. Butterflies can be under leaves roosting if it’s cool…or it is dusk and they are seeking a place to spend the night. Then there are masses of milkweed bugs that are prevalent in the fall. They are moving but there are so many that it’s easy enough to get a good number; I always try to figure out how many instars are shown in the same picture.

And sometimes it is just luck. This blue morpho sat on my wrist while I was at the exit of last summer’s butterfly exhibit at Brookside Gardens. I had my phone on the lanyard so was able to pull it out and one-hand the phone to take the picture.


Specimens. There are nature photography shots that might be of specimens rather than out in the field. The shot of the blue morpho wing was from a specimen that had died using the 15x macro lens. I’ll try the 60x next summer. I included the label in the picture of the dogwood tree cookie…for documentation; I liked the irregularity of the rings.

Wet day color. Sometimes a rainy-day hike is a good thing. The color of fungus is often more intense on these days – and the phone handles the raindrops better than more traditional cameras.

Light. Sometimes an image is made by something special about the light – spotlighted ferns, the shadowing of a sectioned Nautilus shell, a sunrise.

Clipping. Because the camera only has a digital zoom, I often take the picture without zooming then make a clip after I get home. In the example below – the two butterflies (tiger swallowtail and male monarch) are clearly identifiable even though the clip has a painterly look.

So – go out and take some pictures! The only blooms we have outdoors right now are the witch hazels. There are other winter opportunities too: tracks in the snow (or mud), seed pods, snow landscapes, and ice crystals. And maybe a squirrel will be close enough and still enough….

2018 Wings of Fancy Ends

Yesterday was the last day of Brookside Gardens’ Wings of Fancy butterfly exhibit. I volunteered for the last morning shift; taking in zucchini muffins to share with the other volunteers and staff. It started out slow for the butterflies and visitors; the day was cool and very cloudy. Then it warmed up a little and the sun even came out.

I looked back through pictures I’ve taken in the exhibit -ones I’ve liked but not posted for one reason or another. I think if headlines for some of them:


A Birdwing resting – being harassed by a smaller butterfly


Three Queens


Sleeping late (butterflies roosting long past sunrise because it was so cloudy – mostly Longwings)

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Pining to go outdoors (Blue Morpho)

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Living jade (Malachite butterfly)

I put the rest into a slide show…to prolong the joy of the 2018 Wings of Fancy exhibit one more day. I’m already looking forward to next April when the 2019 version will open!

Butterfly Macro

When I use my phone for photography I resist using the zoom (since there is not optical zoom available…only digital) and just try to get close to what I want to photograph. Sometimes that it enough – like these to pictures of small Monarch caterpillars in my front flowerbed. They are still small enough that the black bands are dominating the yellow ones!

The clip-on macro lens is something I use frequently too. It requires getting even closer and a steady hand to focus. The touch samples at the Brookside Gardens Wings of Fancy  Discovery Station provided an excellent opportunity to take a macro look at butterfly wings.


The clear wing has a small patch of white scales but otherwise the wing is membrane stretched on a copper colored structure.

The blue morphos show the variation in blue from the incident of light even at the macro level. It is just barely possible to make out individual scales with the macro lens.

Butterflies at Brookside Gardens

August was a good month for butterflies at Brookside Gardens – both in the conservatory and outdoors in the gardens. Volunteering allows me to visit the Wings of Fancy exhibit and bring guests when I’m not ‘on shift;’ I get there just as the conservatory opens to indulge in some butterfly photography.

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I challenge myself to capture eyes, proboscis, palpi, and antennae for as many butterflies as possible.

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The blue morpho is one I photography a lot so I am always looking for a new and different perspective.

The blue morpho is one I photography a lot so I am always looking for a new and different perspective.

The same is true for true for the malachite. I think I like the underside of the wings more than the upper.

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The Julia longwing is the one I photographyed a few months ago moving its palpi across the parts of its eyes.

The stars for August were the big moths. There were male and female Atlas moths – kept separately so they couldn’t mate and lay eggs everywhere in the conservatory creating a containment problem. The males are much smaller than the females and the shape of the scale-less (clear) portions of the wing are different. In the pictures the male’s antennae are forward from the head…both females have antennae positioned back over their heads.

The other big moth was the Africa Moon Moth which looks very similar to our North American Luna Moth.

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The Wings of Fancy exhibit runs until September 16….so a few more weeks to enjoy the butterflies in the conservatory.

Butterflies Resting – on Me

While I was manning the exit at Brookside Gardens’ Wings of Fancy the first hour after it opened yesterday, I had 3 different butterflies decide to take a rest on me. The first was a blue morpho that sat on my left hand. It must have felt very secure since it sat still while I got my cell phone out, entered the security code, started the camera app, and braced the cell phone on my arm to get pictures – moving in closer and closer. The butterfly’s wings were tattered but the orange in the upper legs and the palpi (between the eyes) was very distinct. The proboscis is neatly coiled.

The second butterfly was another blue morpho that started out on my sandal. I crossed my leg, so I could get a get a closer shot. The butterfly was very interested in the strap of my sandal and then my ankle with its proboscis. The wings were in better shape that the first butterfly; notice the yellow and orange color toward the outer edges of the wing.


The third butterfly was a malachite that was on my hat. A visitor told me I had a butterfly on my hat and it stayed there when I took my hat off so I could see it! I had to one-hand the phone again but was pleased with the pictures I got of this butterfly. I like the patterning of the underside of the malachite butterflies…even more than the brighter green of the other side of the wings.

I’ve never been so lucky to have so many butterflies resting on me during a visit to the exhibit. They were on other people as well…something special about yesterday.

Butterfly Heads

I am in Texas and missing my frequent visits to Brookside Gardens Wings of Fancy in Maryland. The pictures I took right before I left are something to savor. The theme of my photography inside the conservatory was ‘butterfly heads! The blue morphos have orange and white papillae --- nothing iridescent blue about their heads.

Some butterflies have papillae that are very large. The proboscis is between the papillae and extend for feeding on bananas or flowers.

Sometimes the papillae are damaged. I notice the owls often have broken papillae. The brown and black stripes of the owl eyes are different than other butterfly eyes.

Some butterflies have antennae that seem to glow at the ends.

In the conservatory, butterflies are sometimes resting upside down under leaves. Its always a thrill to notice one in the foliage.

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Some of the larger butterflies feed on multiple flowers in succession – wings almost always in motion. The last day I was at Brookside was sunny enough that the camera was fast enough to freeze the motion.

I tell children that the butterfly’s proboscis is like a straw…and they do seem to handle it like one…although the way they coil it under their head is different from straws we use!

Butterflies feeding on flowers are my favorites, but some prefer bananas (or other rotting fruit). I inevitability decide that all of them are worth trying to photograph.

Sharing Wings of Fancy

I enjoy Brookside Gardens Wings of Fancy so much that it’s my favorite place to take guests. This past weekend, my daughter was visiting, and we headed to the exhibit just at it opened. The caterpillars are big enough to see easily – particularly the spicebush swallowtail caterpillars with their eye spots that make them appear more ferocious than they are.

The high point of the morning was when a blue morpho butterfly decided that my daughter’s nail polish was like its own color. The blue (or pink/purple in different light) in both cases is a mechanical color rather than a pigment. The butterfly ‘tasted’ the color with its proboscis on each toenail then crawled up onto the sandal before flying way!

Blue Morpho Butterflies

One of the most popular butterflies to photograph in Brookside Gardens’ Wings of Fancy  exhibit is the blue morpho. They flutter around within the conservatory. They feed on the rotten fruit.

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The underside of their wings seems drab at first (and it is drab compared to the other side of the wing) but with magnification the pattern and colors are quite interesting. The palpi (the bristly structures that are between the eyes) have an orange stripe although the palpi seem to be easily broken off and there is orange along the outer edge of the wing. The eye spots are at least 3 colors.

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They seem to like to look to the outside through the windows of the conservatory. Their wings are sometimes so battered that one can see the blue color where part of wing has broken away.

They sometimes like to rest on the floor – always a dangerous place for butterflies with people not always looking where they step. Most of the time they are resting with their wings closed.

Then – the serendipity event happens – the blue morpho opens its wings and stays where it is long enough to be photographed! The color is made my physical means rather than pigment…and changes with the incidence of light. Do you see that sometimes the blue looks pink? This is the first time I was able to capture an image of the changeable color of the blue morpho.

Gleanings of the Week Ending November 25, 2017

The items below were ‘the cream’ of the articles and websites I found this past week. Click on the light green text to look at the article.

Millions of Free Botanical Illustrations from the Biodiversity Heritage Library – I look at a lot of books digitized by the Biodiversity Heritage Library via Internet Archive – but their Flickr Account is a good way to see images – lots of them. And it isn’t just botanical. There are birds and insects and mammals and people that study them!

Gorging on Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week #112, #113, #114 - Three of them!

The Ultimate Guide to the Wild Turkey and The Fascinating Behavior of Wild Turkeys and Tracing the Wild Origins of the Domestic Turkey – Lots of articles about wild turkeys came out before Thanksgiving. These were my favorites.

BBC - Future - How popcorn became a much-loved snack – Learn a little fun history. Who doesn’t like popcorn?

A Short History of the Crosswalk | Smart News | Smithsonian – Another little history of something that is now quite common. Crosswalks didn’t exist until 1951!

Best National Parks – There are a lot of preferences! How many of the 10 ‘most visited’ have you seen. I’ve been to 7 of them. I’ve only been to 1 of the ‘least visited.’

Urban Refuge: How Cities Can Help Rebuild Declining Bee Populations - Yale E360 – Some examples of how urban gardens impact bee populations; it turns out they are measurably positive! 13% of New York State’s bees were found in New York City community gardens.

Paper Engineer Creates Magnificent Pop-Up Cards – Beautiful and fun to watch opening (i.e. the video).

Stunning 100-Megapixel Moon Photograph Created from NASA Images – From the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter…my daughter helped do the initial image calibration on LRO bak in 2009

See a Brilliant Blue Butterfly Take Flight for the First Time – A video of a blue morpho butterfly emerging from its chrysalis and tumbling to its first flight (it may take time to start…but it’s worth the wait!

Zooming – September 2017

I spent a lot of time outdoors this month; it’s fall and the weather has been near perfect. The moon was visible in the morning of one of the clear days and I took pictures through frames of leaves. This one is my favorite.

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In the first half of the month the butterfly exhibit at Brookside Gardens was still open and I have lots of zoomed pictures for that but picked two of the blue morpho for this post. Toward the end it was hard to find one with wings that were not battered and palpi intact. These two are in reasonable shape.

Then there were butterflies out in the gardens. The Mexican sunflowers and cone flowers were popular. Do you see the tree skippers (butterflies) on the yellow cone flowers? Click on the image to get a larger view.

The streams are beginning to be colorful with newly fallen leaves. The macroinvertebrates we search for to assess stream quality love matted, rotting leaves! I like the zoom on my camera that helps me get pictures without putting on my tall boots and wading into the river.

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A large silver maple was cut down this month at Mt. Pleasant (Howard County Conservancy) and I working to count the rings and create material we could use with hikes we do for elementary school children. The saw marks were so deep that it had to be sanded before we count the rings…but insect damage was evident. More on this project as it progresses…

Of course, there are plants that area always a favorite – a graceful curve of a leave with water droplets, a flower turned to face the sun, a rose on a rainy day, a beechnut husk (the goody already eaten by a squirrel), birds hunting the bounty of seeds, and a tangle of succulent.

Rainy Day Butterflies

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There are always butterflies on the glass ledges of the conservatory in Brookside Gardens’ Wings of Fancy. I took pictures of a blue morpho and owl butterfly looking out – imaging them like young children wishing the day was one they could go outside to play. They don’t stay at the window forever – eventually they flutter off to the banana tray or the plants in the conservator that are more natural places for them to roost.

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When it rains, the conservatory has many leaky joints and sometimes the area near the windows is as wet as the outdoors. There was a butterfly that evidently succumbed while it was looking out the window and became a collection of the drips at the window. It’s always sad to find a dead butterfly. Their lives are often 30 days or less. This one managed to keep its wings intact – no missing pieces.

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A Macro View of Blue Morpho and Owl Butterflies

Every time I go into Brookside Gardens’ Wings of Fancy with my camera, I see something new. Did you know that the blue morpho has quite a lot of salmon color? Look at the images below and notice the color of:

  • the palpi (the structures that come up on either side of the rolled up proboscis and between the eyes),
  • the body markings,
  •  the centers of the ‘eye’ markings on the underside of the wings, and
  • the outer edge of the underside of the hind wing.
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Below is a picture of two blue morphos that show both sides of the wings. There are reddish markings at the bottom of the open wing but most are in the part torn away in this battered specimen.

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Switching to the owl butterfly - notice how different the eyes and palpi are from the blue morpho. They are brown and black and almost seem to match each other! The body looks furrier too!

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The center of the ‘eye’ spot might have a dusting of blue – viewed in the right light.

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Celebrating Butterflies – Part 1

Even though I have been volunteering at the Brookside Gardens’ Wings of Fancy exhibit, I don’t take pictures of butterflies every time I am there (too busy when I am in my ‘Flight Attendant’ role). Most of the pictures of butterflies I’m taking these days are themed. For example – blue morphos are a challenge to photograph because they usually fold their wings when they sit. Last week – one of the expert volunteers tickled one with the brush…and it opened its wings for a few second…repeatedly… until everyone took a picture. Since the color is reflective/physical, the direction of the light is important. Looking at the butterfly vertically – the blue looks like a blue foil.

The easiest picture of the blue morpho is the underside of the wings…and there is something to note in a zoomed image: the ‘eyes’ have some salmon scales in them!

I took several images of one that happened to open its wings and stay still of a few minutes. This butterfly was horizontal and the blue color looks quite different with a deeper blue toward the top of the wing. Also notice the red marks in the black frame at the bottom of the wing. The blue scales powder into the black frame. The last picture of this series is the head of the butterfly. Note the labial palpi – the small projections that curve up and around the eyes. They are sensory structures but may also protect the proboscis and/or act to protect the surface of the eyes.

The slide show below shows a butterfly that was moving its labial palpi. It looked to me like the insect was rubbing them over part of the eye.

Here are few more images that show labial palpi. They are not all the same looking. Not the red proboscis that is tightly coiled (between the palpi) in the last image!