Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

The expected on the unexpected

with 19 comments

Click for greater clarity.

About a month ago I was driving in north-central Austin and thought I spotted a Texas thistle flowering, something I’ve never seen with Cirsium texanum, which normally blooms in the spring and fades away by summer. I decided to go back the next day and check it out, but there was one little problem: I couldn’t remember exactly where I’d seen the might-have-been thistle.

Two or three weeks went by, and then, on a sunny December 18th, when I was almost back at my car after a photo foray at Twin Lakes Park and the Brushy Creek Regional Trail in Cedar Park, I found not only a Texas thistle flowering in December but an orange sulphur butterflyColias eurytheme, nectaring on it.

As was true with the red admiral you recently saw here, this butterfly was so caught up in what it was doing that it mostly didn’t mind my getting close and taking pictures. Even when I unintentionally frightened it away a couple of times, it quickly came back and started right in on the flowers again.

John and Gloria Tveten have interesting things to say about the orange sulphur butterfly, in case you’d like to read more. I bought their book years ago and recommend it to anyone who wants a good field guide to the butterflies of eastern (and central) Texas.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 30, 2012 at 6:19 AM

19 Responses

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  1. Your subjects are so accommodating, Steve! Is it just me, or is the edging on the orange sulphur butterfly’s wings looking a bit pink? Is it natural or reflected from the intensity of the thistle’s flower color?


    December 30, 2012 at 7:16 AM

    • I’ve looked at some other pictures of this species on the Internet and there was a darker border around the wings in all of them. You may be right that the orange sulphur shown here did pick up a little of the thistle’s coloring. A way to test that would be to photograph the same individual on flowers of different colors, but I’d have to borrow someone’s time machine to go back and try that experiment—and the butterfly would have to keep on being accommodating to time traveler me.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 30, 2012 at 7:30 AM

  2. It’s a perfect image for a wintery day here on the East Coast. Gives me hope that Spring is ONLY three months in the distance. Happy holiday and New Year.


    December 30, 2012 at 8:39 AM

    • We’ve had predominantly cloudy and cool weather here, too, in the two weeks since I photographed this butterfly, but still nothing as chilling as what you’ve got in the Northeast. By three months from now we’ll have entered full wildflower mode here in Austin. I’m sorry you’ll have to wait longer, but you can get previews here as 2013 picks up speed. Happy 2013 to you.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 30, 2012 at 8:44 AM

  3. You’ve recommended the Tvetens’ book several times, and I finally went over and read about this butterfly. I was so entranced I kept reading through the next two butterflies. Their accounts are not only detailed and easy to understand, they’re filled with wry humor and truly interesting observations, both theirs and others. It’s a book worth reading for the writing as well as the information – another project for the New Year!


    December 30, 2012 at 9:27 AM

  4. Wow! this Cirsium and the Colias on blue sky are just beautiful. Over here we have the Colias hyale and other species but though we have alfalfa, I don’t know if we have this gorgeous orange bordered one. It seems that the female is white.
    Thanks Steve


    December 30, 2012 at 12:49 PM

    • According to the Tvetens, the female has two forms, one that’s similar to the male and another that’s a greenish-white. That can be confusing for a novice like me, but I follow the strategy of photographing first and trying later on to identify what I’ve photographed.

      Like you, I was taken with the combination of the three bright colors in this scene, particularly because I hadn’t seen thistle flowers for nearly half a year. In the two weeks since then, we haven’t had much blue sky. Maybe I should go back and see if the thistle is still flowering.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 30, 2012 at 1:59 PM

  5. Gorgeous butterfly/plant pic. Flowers are indeed doing weird things and I think it is related to climate change. Thank you for giving your readers/followers the name of Tveten’s butterfly book. I have a huge problem with butterflies. I did not bother to identify them when I was an active birder in audubon. So I can only identify the very common and basic ones. I have butterfly pics but I have not put those in a post for fear that people would not like it very much if I threw a pic out there with no name attached.


    December 30, 2012 at 5:05 PM

    • Glad you like the combination in the picture. As for butterflies, the Tevetens’ book may well help you identify butterfly species. There are probably also local experts near you who can help you figure out what’s what.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 30, 2012 at 5:12 PM

  6. Hi,
    A wonderful photo, the colours are magnificent, seems the butterflies love this particular species of flower.


    December 30, 2012 at 9:14 PM

    • I think the butterfly was as surprised as I was to see these flowers half a year beyond their normal time and it was taking advantage of the situation.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 30, 2012 at 10:59 PM

  7. What a very delightful combination!


    December 31, 2012 at 12:11 AM

  8. This is a perfect photo, Steve – the color, the composition, just perfect.


    January 1, 2013 at 1:05 PM

    • Thanks, Lynn. I don’t know that I’ll ever see this combination again in December, so I was thrilled to be able to record it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 1, 2013 at 1:14 PM

  9. I love this butterfly on this flower !!


    January 10, 2013 at 12:19 PM

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