On a routine trip around the yard to see what's been going on, we stumbled across this monarch butterfly clinging to some passionvine. His fairly sluggish movements and nearly perfect wings led us to believe he was probably newly emerged from chrysalis, hanging out for awhile before going off to find a first meal.
Butterflies are not nearly as common in My Florida Backyard during the winter months, but when we do come across them, they're always a welcome sight. In fact, photographing butterflies can be a lot easier in the winter, because the cooler temperatures mean you can often find them just basking in the sunlight, building up the energy to fly. This offers great opportunities to get up close; all of these shots were taken without a zoom lens. On a cloudy, cooler day, butterflies just don't have the get-up-and-go to get up and go.
When this monarch dropped to the ground and opened his wings, we could see he was a male by the black scent gland spots on his lower hindwings. In their fairly short life span (usually just weeks), butterflies have just two purposes: to eat and to mate. Unlike in summertime, when the gardens are full of prospective mates, this monarch may have to work a little harder to find some lady friends. They're out there though - we saw a female feeding from the milkweed just a few days ago.
Photographing butterflies can be a challenge, but winter days offer a chance to polish your skills. You don't need a super fancy camera to get decent shots, if you're patient. (Ours is only a high-end point and shoot model.) If your camera has a macro setting, be sure to use it. A setting that allows you to take multiple shots with one button click is good too. Get as close as possible before using your zoom lens for the best quality. And don't be afraid to use a photo editing program like Picasa to crop your pictures and do some minor editing to show the butterflies to best advantage.
Have you had any butterfly sightings in your own yards? With the arrival of spring, watch for buckeyes, red admirals, and whites to appear - we've already seen a few. Soon, this solitary monarch will have more company in the butterfly garden. In the meantime, he's a welcome bright splash of color on an otherwise quiet gray day in My Florida Backyard.