This past Saturday I led my now-annual "Beginner's Butterfly & Dragonfly Walk" for NJ Audubon. The trip visited Willowwood Arboretum and Fairview Farm, both in the Bedminster area. The trip started a little earlier than I would have liked. NJAS booked it for 8:30 and it was too late to change it by the time I realized it. Anyway... the cool morning made me worried that we wouldn't see much, but a bright sun helped the bugs warm up and come alive.
We had 7 participants, all of whom were relatively new to this pastime. After some introductions to lepidopterans and odonates, we began our trip along the meadow at Willowwood. I pointed out many wildflowers and commented on which were caterpilar host plants, invasive plants, or good nectar plants (or a combination of these). We encountered Joe-Pye Weed (good for nectar), Bird's-foot Trefoil (invasive), and Milkweed (good for nectar and a host plant). Our first butterfly was a Red Admiral followed quickly by a Great-spangled Fritillary.
This Great-spangled Fritillary has a chunk taken out of it, probably by a bird
We then visited the large flower garden that was being set up for a wedding later in the day. Unfortunately, the beautiful flowers there were only being visited by bees and wasps. We left the garden and continued on a trail into the wooded areas of the arboretum. The group admired the interesting trees such as Japanese Cedar and NJ's largest Dawn Redwood. A patch of Echinacea (Coneflower) held the star of the day - a gorgeous, fresh-looking American Lady who posed for many pictures.
This can be separated from Painted Lady by the two large eyespots on the hindwing vs. 4 smaller eyespots on Painted Lady
Further along the trail business started to pick up. We encountered several Silver-spotted Skippers nectaring and fighting with each other.
After seeing both species of Hummingbird moths in NJ (Snowberry Clearwing and Hummingbird Clearwing), I decided to take the group to the nearby Fairview Farm, part of the Upper Raritan Watershed Association. There is a nice pond and a great butterfly garden there as well as many wooded trails. Plus, I wanted to get out of there before the wedding began!
Fairview Farm was gorgeous as always. The pond held many species of dragonfly and I started calling out names: Widow Skimmer, Eastern Amberwing, Common Whitetail, Eastern Pondhawk, and Blue Dasher.
I tried fruitlessly to net some of them but they possessed amazing evasion skills. The group moved around the pond and I was finally able to net a few dragonflies after many embarassing tries. The group got close-up views of Blue Dasher, Widow Skimmer, and a lovely Halloween Pennant. Several participants commented on how neat it is to see them breathe through their abdomens.
Male Halloween Pennant with sperm packets under the thorax
We ended the day at the butterfly garden where we were treated with visits by several Tiger Swallowtails, a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and a nice old black lab who slobbered on Beth. A few of those dastardly grass skippers made an appearance to bewilder the participants. I always like to compare skippers with gulls or shorebirds in birding. I tell the beginners to just learn the common butterflies first and then work on the skippers. We saw Dun Skipper, European Skipper, and Least Skipper for those keeping track. We said our goodbyes while a Brown Thrasher took a dirt bath. Thanks to all of those who participated in the walk! As always, thanks to Beth for taking awesome pictures!