A Mid-Migration Snack


While late October’s Maximilian sunflowers clearly appealed to the Gulf fritillary butterflies I featured in a recent post, the migrating monarchs in the same Brazoria County field seemed to prefer the flowers of Salvia azurea, commonly known as blue sage or pitcher sage.

Whether they found the salvia’s nectar more to their taste or simply enjoyed the extra wing-room the plants offered is hard to say, but seeing two beautiful butterfly species feasting on two equally beautiful plants delighted me.


Comments always are welcome.


52 thoughts on “A Mid-Migration Snack

  1. The butterfly’s lower contour fits well with the outline of the distant foliage. If I’d taken taken the picture I probably would’ve been so intently focusing on the monarch and the sage that I wouldn’t have noticed that alignment.

    Both places in Austin where I used to count on finding Salvia azurea have unfortunately been developed.

    1. That curvey correspondence is one of my favorite things about the photo. I’d hoped someone would notice it; with your eye for such things, I’m not surprised you did.

      I was pleased to find the Salvia, and pleased I could identify it relatively easily. I knew it wasn’t the S. farinacea I’m familiar with from the hill country, but Eason’s book provided a good comparison and a quick ID. I’ve never seen any sort of salvia in this area; it really was eye-catching amid the sunflowers. I hope you’ll soon find some replacements for the ones you lost.

        1. That certainly was the case with these plants. I suppose their general height was about 3′-4′, but there were some which were headed toward 5′, especially those that had escaped county mowing along the roadside.

    2. Yeah that foliage line does flow along perfectly beneath the butterfly wings. That is the sort of thing I notice later in the computer too. I’d be concentrating on the focus of the subject also.

  2. I would say this monarch has perfect taste. I like the idea that it is ‘drinking’ from a pitcher. A superb photo, Linda. I love the details and the colours, as much as the subject.

    1. When there’s so much talk about the ‘monarch migration,’ it’s easy to forget that a migration is made up of millions of individuals just like this one. By the time I took this photo, their numbers were declining, and none too soon — there are snow flurries not far from me, and freezes predicted for the next two nights. I hope they all caught the strong north winds and are well into Mexico.

      Isn’t ‘pitcher sage’ a good name? I’m sure the butterflies appreciate the shape. I found one monarch trying to sip from a fading bindweed flower. It wasn’t working so well, and it finally flew off to a nearby salvia.

    1. Thanks, Pit. The day I took this photo, I also I found a few monarch caterpillars feeding on slim milkweed, as well as blooming plants and plenty of seeds drifting around. I suppose it’s a common enough experience for gardeners, but I was delighted.

        1. If you haven’t looked at the website of the Fredericksburg chapter of NPSoT, it has lots of resources you might be interested in. If nothing else, you might keep an eye out for any plant sales they have. I’ve been told it’s much easier to get milkweed to establish if you start with plants rather than seeds. In either case, good luck!

    1. I decided to separate the monarchs from the fritillaries for a variety of reasons, not least of which was the thought that each deserved their own post. It’s hard enough to compete for flower-time, let alone having to compete for blog attention!

      I thought of you last night at our native plant society meeting. The speaker was Dr. Rebeca Quiñonez-Piñón, Monarch Outreach Coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation. She explored several topics under the general heading of monarch stewardship, including efforts being made to establish cooperation among the governments and groups in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. She’s well equipped for the job. She earned her Doctorate in Geomatics Engineering from the University of Calgary, where she majored in Environmental Engineering and minored in Forest Hydrology. Now, she’s deeply involved with the monarch habitat in Mexico. You would have enjoyed her presentation.

      1. Hey, no worries! Seems to me splitting up the two species was definitely a wise decision. You always get so many responses to blog posts that things could definitely get tangled; )
        And you’re so right I would’ve loved to have heard Dr. Quiñonez-Piñón’s presentation! I can’t help but wonder, after so many people noticing the uptick in population this year, what’s been helping the Monarchs along lately? Truly hoping it’s a year-over-year trend and not just a one-off!

        1. She pointed to vastly increased numbers of butterfly gardens and pocket prairies in the U.S. as one positive, along with an increasing number of school programs, and increasing knowledge generally about the value of milkweed to the monarchs. An area of concern, however, is habitat loss in Mexico. There’s a lot of work still to be done.

  3. Those wings remind me of stained glass, and for me signifies how Nature is my church.
    Your “eye” is superb☺

    1. Those dark veins do resemble the leading in stained glass, don’t they? I’ve always liked stained glass and leaded glass; maybe that’s part of the reason I find monarchs and their look-alike, the queen, so appealing. I’ve never been able to capture an image of one with backlighting, as I have with the fritillary; that makes them even more stained glass-like, and beautiful.

    1. I’d say so. You’ve reminded me of a quotation attributed to Ponce Denis Écouchard Lebrun:

      “The butterfly is a flying flower,
      The flower a tethered butterfly.”

      That epigram makes me happy, too.

  4. Fabulous photo of the monarch. I like pitcher sage for it is a prairie plant but of course it will grow in many other places as well I envy your ability to see monarchs this fall. I did not see one cotton picking, solitary, monarch but there were many queens that nectared on blue mist and Mexican bush sage.

    1. The queens do seem to like blue mist. I’ve only seen a few of them in this area, but I’ve come across more in the hill country, and all were clustered around blue mist.There was a little blue mist hanging on in the ditch at the edge of this field, too. It’s such a wonderful little piece of land; there’s never any predicting what will show up there.

      I did see more monarchs this year than ever before, but from the reports I’ve seen, they really were thick west of here — down toward Palacios and the mid-coast generally. I saw some caterpillars the same weekend I took this photo — I don’t know how this cold is going to affect them, but it can’t be good. I’ll have to do some reading.

      1. You were so fortunate to have seen so many monarchs and the queens as well. have been so disappointed for about the last three years, maybe four now, with hardly a monarch and then none this year. I hope the migration pattern changes by next year. But I had so many Gulf fritillaries primarily because of the passion vine that I planted for them as a host plant. There will always be lost caterpillars due to the weather but it seems such a shame and I think that we, who love nature will always be concerned about the loss even if it seems not to matter to anyone else.

        1. I always feel that way about the ducklings that disappear. Clearly, it’s better that not all survive, or we’d be up to our hips in mallards. Still, it’s always sad to watch a family lose its members. On the other hand, the birds that eat the caterpillars and the seagulls and gar that snatch the ducklings have to eat, too. Too much human messing with nature’s realities can cause more trouble than it saves.

  5. Great framing and detail. One of the things I discovered within the last 5 years was that there was a Caribbean Monarch subspecies ‘Danaus plexippus portoricensis’: https://goo.gl/jpNCX9. There are other subspecies in the Caribbean and they are all non-migratory. They are a bit smaller and have thicker black stripes.

    The three main Monarch species: D. plexippus (North America & Canada), D. erippus (South America), and D. cleophile (Jamaica) are said to have all been related to one another but at some point diverged. All three look extremely similar to one another, although just now I learned there is that Jamaican one I had no idea existed.

    Here’s an interesting article about the etymology of ‘fritillary’, although perhaps more related to your other post the other day:

    1. I’d never heard of the monarch subspecies. I suppose that makes sense, since everyone here is focused on our migratory natives. I did notice that the subspecies also have that pair of black ‘eyes’ on the wings — one of the marks that helps me distinguish between monarch and queen butterflies.

      I’d come across the dice-box etymology when I was trying to identify the great spangled fritillary that I saw in Kansas. I wouldn’t have had a clue about a dice-box had I not had a game as a child that required shaking dice in a cup. I can’t remember the name of the game, but I remember the sound.

  6. You’ve got butterflies, and we’re covered with a heavy, wet snow. Something wrong with that picture, ha! Methinks I’ve chosen the wrong part of the country to live in (although honestly, there are very few places this year that seem ideal).

    1. If it makes you feel any better, we had snow this week. Granted, it was what a friend calls ‘conversational snow,’ but it was the earliest official snow in Houston’s history. It’s long gone, of course, and now we’re in the process of warming.

      Just remember — next summer, when you’re enjoying your lovely weather, we’ll be sweating and sweltering. In at least some ways, geography is destiny!

    1. There are some official reports coming in now that affirm a good migration: one of the best in years. There’s no question that the increasing number of people planting pollinator and butterfly gardens is helping, although I suppose it’s not quantifiable. I did hear the most wonderful story last week about the state of Nuevo Leon. When the monarchs come through, the police stop highway traffic, or reroute it, to help reduce the death toll. It surely is true, because it was the head of monarch conservation for the National Wildlife Federation who told the story at our native plant society meeting.

  7. Superb photo. Isn’t it nice to catch an insect perfectly still and posing for you. Not easy to find such a composition with a clear background either.

    1. Well, this little gem wasn’t exactly what I’d call perfectly still. I chased it from one end of the field to the other, determined that if this was my chance to get a photo of a monarch, I was going to make the best of it. I don’t know if it’s true, but it certainly seemed to me that the fritillaries and queens were much more accomodating. Of course, if I were a butterfly with hundreds of miles ahead of me, I might flit from flower to flower with more urgency, too.

      I was happy to have a day with clear skies, and I was pleased with the way the photo turned out. It could have been a little sharper, but I was having to bend down and shoot up, and the muscles sometimes quiver a bit when that happens.

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