Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

They’re back, too.

with 27 comments

Monarch butterfly on rain-lily; click for greater detail.

The last time I said “They’re back,” I meant the many grackles massing on power lines in my neighborhood at sundown each day. Now I mean monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus, though so far this autumn I’ve noticed only a few of them. In other years I’ve watched them in large numbers gathering nectar from goldenrod and Maximilian sunflowers, but the one in today’s photograph is the first I can recall seeing attracted to rain-lilies, Cooperia drummondii, which far outnumbered butterflies in Austin a couple of weeks ago.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 1, 2011 at 5:41 AM

27 Responses

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  1. I love your close ups! I don’t think I have ever seen a butterfly up close like this… you must have quite the zoom??

    Just A Smidgen

    November 1, 2011 at 8:40 AM

    • Thank you. Your question prompted me to look at the camera data for this picture, and I confirmed that I took it with a long telephoto lens (plus a 1.4X extender that allows zooming in even more). With such a long lens I was able get visually close to the monarch, but not so physically close as to scare it off. That was likewise the case with the picture I posted a few months back of the dragonfly at


      But it’s also true that I’ve been able to get very close to butterflies and dragonflies at times, in which case I usually use my 100mm macro lens to take closeups. And a lot depends on what lens happens to be on the camera when I notice an insect close to me, or one suddenly lands nearby. In the picture of the swallowtail at


      I used the wide-angle lens that was already on the camera. When I found that the butterfly wasn’t overly bothered by my being so close, I took the time to change to my macro lens and went on to take much closer pictures. I didn’t post any of those closer pictures, nor did I post any photographs of the many insects that flew away before I had a chance to get any decent pictures. So much is luck.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2011 at 9:43 AM

  2. On the first day of the Sate Fair here in Dallas, at the end of September, they set hundreds of monarch butterflies free. I live only a few miles from Fair Park and see them that first week in my flower garden, or wherever I run or walk outside. It’s something I look forward to every year. Maybe they’ve made their way down south to you now in Austin, on their way to Mexico.

    chasing now

    November 1, 2011 at 10:52 AM

    • I’m glad you got to enjoy them up there. Let’s hope more are coming south, because I’ve seen only a few in Austin so far this season.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2011 at 11:15 AM

  3. What a beautiful butterfly! It’s a great photo with the light almost shining through the wings.


    November 1, 2011 at 11:59 AM

    • Thank you. I, too, like the translucence of the monarch’s wings. It’s an effect I’m used to with plants (e.g. yesterday’s photograph), but I can’t remember the last time I achieved it with a butterfly.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2011 at 2:23 PM

  4. wonderful capture, love the soft background! 🙂


    November 2, 2011 at 5:07 AM

    • Thanks, Anne. One of the advantages of a long telephoto lens is that you can get a soft background even at f/10, which was the aperture used here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 2, 2011 at 6:16 AM

  5. Beautiful shots! You have captured some wonderful moments in nature! Thanks for sharing them.


    November 3, 2011 at 9:44 AM

  6. I’m happy to report increasing numbers of Monarchs around Galveston Bay. They began appearing last week, and are common enough now that one or two can be seen within a few minutes of beginning to look for them.

    I’ve been a little worried about their numbers. This afternoon while working I was seeing about a dozen per hour. A friend outside Kerrville who often sees large numbers has reported few this year – no doubt because of the drought. Her acre-and-a-half garden often was covered with them, but low supplies of well water didn’t allow her to keep things lush.


    November 3, 2011 at 10:15 PM

    • Thanks for your report from Galveston, Linda, and your reported report from Kerrville. As you noted, the difference in frequency between the two places is likely due to the greater drought inland. I’m still seeing low numbers of monarchs in Austin, though I managed to photograph one on a Maximilian sunflower two days ago.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 4, 2011 at 5:46 AM

    • Update: at 1:50 this afternoon I opened the front door to find out how much the day had warmed up, and there just beyond the portico I saw a monarch butterfly fluttering about.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 4, 2011 at 1:54 PM

  7. This photo blows my mind. Wish I took it! Then I could reproduce it, huge, in chalk, on my kitchen wall!


    November 4, 2011 at 2:00 PM

  8. So pretty. I’ve seen and photographed more butterflies than ever before this year but no monarchs.


    November 5, 2011 at 7:03 PM

  9. […] in a meadow of wildflowers, then a closeup of a two-tailed swallowtail on clammyweed, and finally a monarch on a rain-lily. In the past couple of weeks, which have seen some rain, I’ve noticed that a lot of small […]

  10. This is fantastic Steve. Am sure by far the best butterfly picture I have seen. The contrast with the flower makes it look better. Usually butterfly pics are best when their wings are open I guess… This one stands out as the exception to the rule… Brilliant shot!!


    August 4, 2012 at 11:41 PM

  11. Amazing!


    December 19, 2012 at 10:35 AM

  12. […] In the first year of this blog I showed a photograph of a monarch butterfly on a rain-lily. In William Leach’s book Butterfly People I recently learned that it was American […]

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