|Tiger Swallowtail on Lantana|
|Silver Spotted Skipper on Lantana|
I decided to go to the State Botanical Gardens to look for butterflies. They have a lot of Lantana and Zinnias, butterfly favorites, so my chances were good. Stepping out of the car I caught a low flying Mississippi Kite out of the corner of my eye as it whizzed over the parking lot. I followed it out into the gardens and forgot everything but the pursuit of nature.
|Widow Skimmer Dragonfly|
The first thing I found was a tiny, juvenile Black Racer on some stepping stones in the grass. I was afraid it was dead because it didn't move away when I came in close. But when I touched it with my shoe it reared up, shook its tail like a rattlesnake, and struck at my toe. Not dead! I took a bunch of photos and pointed it out to several other visitors, including a little boy who wanted to keep it and bridal party having a photo shoot. The snake was probably happy to get away from all the attention.
|Juvenile Black Racer, Maybe 8 Inches Long|
Next up was a pair of armadillos, digging without care right next to the wedding photos. The wedding photographer called me over this time. The armadillos were not at all afraid of people and I was able to get pretty close for some good shell shots. I pointed them out to some visitors who had never seen an armadillo before. They are the weirdest animals, and they cause so much damage. I feel bad for the landscape crew, but I love watching them.
|Armadillos Ignoring me|
I followed the call of a bird that turned out to be an Indigo Bunting, way up in an oak tree. The call led me down a path lined with tall red Swamp Hibiscus flowers. I got in the way of some bumble bees on a mission for nectar and was buzzed several times. Movement in the leaves turned out to be a baby Carolina Wren, whose parent zoomed in and scolded it away from me. Ahead a little further, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher picked bugs off of the Magnolia leaves.
|Scarlet Rose Mallow (Hibiscus coccineus)|
A flash of yellow drew my attention to a Zinnia patch where I saw a pair of Goldfinches picking seeds from the spent flowers. Swallowtail butterflies wafted around, trying to elbow their way in to sip nectar. A little skink on the sidewalk watched for grasshoppers.
|Goldfinch in the Zinnias|
|Giant Swallowtail on a Zinnia|
|Five-line Skink Looking for Bugs|
It was hot and humid with storm clouds building in the west. Sweat poured down my face and into my eyes, temporarily blinding me with sunscreen. As I looked for a place to sit and wipe my eyes, I noticed a huge bed of Hyssop flowers, almost moving with the buzzing of bees, flies, wasps, butterflies and moths. My eyes stopped stinging and I shot photo after photo. If you want a good plant to attract pollinators, try Hyssop. Wow!
|American Lady and Ailanthus Webworm Moth on Hyssop|
|Buckeye on Hyssop|
|Gray Hairstreak on Hyssop|
|Juniper Hairstreak on Hyssop|
More conversations with other visitors about what I was doing with my head in the Hyssop patch. Then the thunder moved closer and louder and I packed up and went home. The familiar call of a Mississippi Kite made me look up and I saw a pair soaring overhead, too far away for photos.
Driving home I felt like I'd been to a retreat. I hadn't thought about anything but what was in front of me for the whole morning. I felt refreshed and rested and reminded of the beautiful world around me. And of the basic kindness and friendliness of the people around me. I just needed a realignment. And to turn off the news and get outside. Always a good idea.
|Fiery Skipper on Periwinkle|