Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

The annual migration

with 30 comments

Monarch Butterfly on Liatris 1735

In October, Austin played host to the southbound migration of monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus. I managed to catch this one on a stalk of blazing-star, Liatris mucronata, at a moment when the monarch opened its wings and the sunlight came through them from behind.

The date was October 9th, and the place was a piece of the Blackland Prairie at Wells Branch Parkway and Heatherwilde Blvd.

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 1, 2013 at 6:00 AM

30 Responses

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  1. I just today read about the only other place in the world that butterflies migrate to for winter. I’m thinking that has to be my winter vacation this year! I got caught in the monarch migration a couple of times in past years and it is wonderful.


    November 1, 2013 at 6:06 AM

    • Now you’ve got me (and I’m sure others) intrigued: where is this other place that butterflies migrate to, and what kind of butterflies are involved?

      (I can’t resist adding that the name Sylvia is based on the Latin word sylva, which meant ‘forest, woods.’)

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2013 at 6:19 AM

      • I’m aware of the Latin origins and meanings of my name, but quite surprised anyone else is. Although my favorite buttrerflies are all the ones that share my name :-).

        Google Purple Butterfly Valley in Taiwan. I’m only now beginning to research it. But it looks quite intriguing. These are the species: Every winter, at least four species of purple crow butterfly (or Taiwan purple-spotted butterfly) gather, including Euploea tulliolus koxinga Fruhstorfer, Euploea mulciber barsine Fruhstorfer, Euploea Eunice hobsoni (Butler), and Euploea Sylvester swinhoei Wallace & Moore. Researchers also find examples of at least six other types of butterfly mixed in, including Parantica sita niphonica Moore, Salatura genutia, genutia Cramer, and Idea leuconoe which are usually only found further south at Hengchun.


        November 1, 2013 at 8:23 AM

  2. Congratulations, Steve. I did not see a single monarch this year. I hope they have a successful overwintering and rebound next year. It was quite disheartening.

    Steve Gingold

    November 1, 2013 at 6:35 AM

    • Sorry to hear you didn’t see a single one this year; that’s disheartening, all right. Texas is so much further south (and central) than Massachusetts that we always see at least some monarchs, though naturally their numbers vary from autumn to autumn. I saw a goodly number this year, but not the most I’ve ever observed.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2013 at 6:52 AM

  3. We had them pass through Iowa. I wonder, did you need to verify it was not a Viceroy? Perhaps you know the difference without checking.

    Jim in IA

    November 1, 2013 at 7:20 AM

  4. Your capture brought tears, because we had few sightings in the Mid-Atlantic of monarchs this summer. They are such spectacular creatures, and we need to be planting Butterfly Weed to sustain them. I did write a post about it. It breaks my heart that this part of the web of life is struggling due to human intervention (habitat loss, reduction of native butterfly weed) and climate-related issues. Fortunately, there are projects and organizations and home gardeners who are spreading the word.


    November 1, 2013 at 10:02 AM

    • I’m sorry you had so few sightings in the east, Sally. The central flyway through the Great Plains seems to have had its usual crowd, at least judging from what I saw in Austin. If it’s any comfort to you, monarchs by no means rely solely on butterfly milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa, as a host plant. In fact there are quite a few species of Asclepias that work, including the one that’s most common in Austin, Asclepias asperula. And milkweed pods, with their seed-bearing fluff, are fun for children of all ages to play with. Now if we could just get more people to stop thinking of milkweed as a weed….

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2013 at 2:08 PM

      • Yep, that’s the problem. They think that it is a weed. I also have native swamp milkweed. Both seem to work here.


        November 1, 2013 at 8:49 PM

  5. Gorgeous. I have had one opportunity a few years ago to see these migrating. There were not a lot of them but they were gorgeous. It was on Assoteague Island Wildlife Refuge. Also, they have lots of wild horses there.


    November 1, 2013 at 10:05 AM

    • A couple of comments mentioned the paucity of monarchs in the East this fall, so you may not have seen many in eastern Virginia this year either. I’m glad you got to see some on Assoteague a few years ago. That name is familiar to me because of its horses, though I’ve never been there. Maybe someday.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2013 at 2:11 PM

  6. That’s a really spectacular shot Steve! I just love it when all of the elements come together at the precise moment to create something so beautiful!

    Michael Glover

    November 1, 2013 at 12:39 PM

    • Thanks, Michael. Henri Cartier-Bresson spoke about “the decisive moment,” and all of us photographers who have been working for a while have had some of those. That’s why I keep putting myself out there, never knowing when the next one will come.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2013 at 2:13 PM

  7. Gorgeous monarch butterfly photo. I really love the color and the detail you captured.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    November 1, 2013 at 5:45 PM

    • Normally I use a macro lens with insects, but I found that I needed a telephoto lens in this case to keep my distance and not scare away the monarchs. Luckily I still managed to get a fair amount of detail.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2013 at 7:30 PM

  8. Absolutely gorgeous photo!


    November 1, 2013 at 9:38 PM

  9. divine


    November 1, 2013 at 10:00 PM

  10. Wow, la lumière est juste parfaite.. et ce papillon est si ravissant. Ici on ne le voit que dans des serres aux papillons et c’est bien dommage. L’oeil du photographe a saisi le bon moment pour shooter. Bravo Steve


    November 2, 2013 at 4:39 AM

    • Merci, Chantal. Je me suis souvenu du photographe français Henri Cartier-Bresson, reconnu pour “le moment décisif”. Je viens d’apprendre dans l’essai de Wikipedia (version en anglais) que ces mots sont du Cardinal de Retz: “Il n’y a rien dans ce monde qui n’ait un moment décisif.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 2, 2013 at 6:01 AM

  11. […] October the Liatris mucronata, known as gayfeather and blazing-star, was having as good a season as the visiting monarch butterflies, of which I count six in this portion of the wildflower […]

  12. Great DOF, I cannot post a monarch with shallow DOF. I love seeing the whole insect in focus.

    M. Firpi

    November 3, 2013 at 11:00 PM

    • With insects I generally try for as much in focus as possible. Occasionally, though, when that’s not possible, I’ve gone for the opposite effect: the most important part sharp, and everything else soft. Once in a while, too, I’ve used flash to allow for a small aperture and extended depth of field, but flash can bring a harshness that I don’t always like—and it can scare away insects (though some don’t seem to mind).

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 4, 2013 at 8:38 AM

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