Summer Blooms and Their Spectacular Visitors

 Summer is a time of many unique pleasures, but the enjoyment of flowers is one of the most intense experiences. But I find that the visitors to flowers that are gathering nectar or pollen or predators that lie in wait for the insects that are attracted, are also spectacular. In essence they complete the circle of life for which flowers exist. Without pollination, flowers cannot complete their purpose, which is to reproduce. Naturalists find considerable interest in evaluating the shape and color of flowers in relation to what sort of animals visit them. 


My photos show a number of examples that illustrate the range of butterflies and birds that visit flowers in the eastern US. The sulphur butterflies are beautiful but challenging sometimes to identify. This orange sulphur was visiting yellow sunflowers that matched its own color. Brownish yellow meadow fritillaries were visiting the same flowers. Wood nymphs occur widely in the east down to northern FL and were finding nectar on purple coneflowers we planted in our yard . The large and showy swallowtails are everyone's favorites and the tigers are easy to identify. This yellow morph female (there is also a black morph) is visiting a Joe Pye weed. The pipevine swallowtail is unique in that it advertises its toxic nature derived from the food plant of the caterpillar; this color is mimicked by a number of other "black and blue" swallowtails and the red spotted purple. 

Birds are less frequently seen visiting flowers than butterflies, but hummingbirds will be frequently seen at almost any flower that provides abundant nectar. This female ruby throat is drinking from a pink form of butterfly bush. A surprising bird that visits flowers often in our VA yard is the willow flycatcher. This is a small "empidonax" which closely resembles several other sibling species but has a distinctive song/call. They are rare in FL and uncommon to the north but are common in a small valley around our VA farm house. Several willows come regularly to our butterfly bushes to eat the butterflies and small viburnum berries nearby. Of course I have somewhat mixed feelings about the dietary habits of these relatively rare birds but find it easier to tolerate them than bald faced hornets which also eat butterflies. 

Our yards are a microcosm of the wider natural world and you may observe many interesting interactions between pollinators and flowers, and between predators and prey. It is indeed a jungle out there and very interesting to watch the animals that come to dine in your garden flowers. 

Bill Dunson, Englewood, FL, and Galax, VA