A Different Form of Cloudlessness

With Tropical Storm Nicholas wandering off to the northeast, rain turned to drizzle and the wind began to lay, but no more than a tiny patch of blue decorated our afternoon sky. Two hundred miles to the west, lovely blue after-storm skies were beginning to appear, but, in southeast Texas, clouds were the order of the day.

On the other hand, I had a different sort of cloudlessness to enjoy, having discovered this Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) near the beach on Sunday. I almost always see this butterfly in flight, but this one had chosen to pause and sip nectar from a deeply shaded Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii), said to be one of its favorite flowers.

As autumn approaches, I sometimes see dozens of these butterflies in a single afternoon as they migrate back into the area. One of our most common butterflies, their colors range from an eye-catching lemon yellow to a darker yellow or white; in this instance, I suspect the wings may appear a bit green because of the foliage surrounding the insect.

They do make a nice substitute for an uncloudy day.


Comments always are welcome.

45 thoughts on “A Different Form of Cloudlessness

    1. Being able to make this image surprised me. My lens was stuck right through branches of the shrub, and the butterfly was in full shade. But it worked, and I thought the colors were surprisingly vibrant.

  1. Clouded Sulphur is quite common here, but Cloudless Sulphur would be a new species for me. And that’s always fun.

    1. A friend who lives in Massachusetts recently posted an image of a Clouded Sulphur; that’s almost in your neighborhood, so it makes sense that you would have them, too. These little bits of yellow and white are hard for me to identify when they’re fluttering around, but one that’s willing to pause for a bit makes it easier.

  2. With this post you give short shrift to the storm Linda! Love the butterfly and flower, they seem so perfect for each other! and Uncloudy Day is a wonderful, joyous song (new to me and I probably smiled all the way through). Thanks for your gorgeous, upbeat post. Take care. You must be due a few cloudless days soon.

    1. “Uncloudy Day” (or “Unclouded Day” in some versions) is an old bluegrass tune. It was written in 1879 by an itinerant preacher, Josiah K. Alwood, after he saw a rainbow against a dark cloud which covered half the sky, while the other half was perfectly clear. He awoke in the morning with the song’s chorus in his head, and spent a day and a half working out the verses.

      I first heard it at a bluegrass gathering in Utah; it’s often included in concerts, especially if a group has an accomplished banjo player. Here’s a more traditional version that I almost linked to.

  3. Now those are some bright colors. The reddish bits on the sulphur echo the saturated red of the Turk’s cap.

    Your first sentence coincides with our experience yesterday about 6 o’clock as we were driving under overcast skies when Eve pointed out a small rectangular patch of blue amid the clouds to the northeast. The uncloudy of the linked song reminds me of Byron, who used a negative suffix rather than a negative prefix: “She walks in beauty, like the night / Of cloudless climes and starry skies.”

    1. In the past, I assumed those red bits were wing damage, or something else. It’s interesting that such apparently random marks are so very consistent from one butterfly to another.

      Shelley’s “The Cloud” came to mind while I was putting this post together, but I’d forgotten the Byron poem. It’s a great addition. And here’s a random thought: might we call a post-storm lack of internet service a different sort of “cloudless day”?

    1. Well, as so often is true with these storms, the realtor’s cry of “location, location, location” applies. There still are thousands of people without power, and a lot of downed trees to cut up and haul away — not to mention high water that needs to recede. But things are settling down, and after what we’ve recently seen with Ida, everyone’s heaving a sigh of relief. Not only that — the sun is beginning to shine!

  4. They are hard to catch being relatively still and are fast flyers. I love it when they stop for a sip! Beautiful photo of the Turk’s cap and butterfly!

    Did you lose electricity at all?

    1. Isn’t that a pretty combination? A favorite flower and a favorite butterfly always is nice. This one was hidden deep within the foliage, so it took quite a few shots to get this one. The little sulphur kept giving me the eye, but it wasn’t about to move.

      I kept power the whole time. I still haven’t figured out which grid I’m on, but I had power back after Ike in 24 hours, and lost it only for a couple of two-hour periods during the freeze. However I’m hooked up, I’m grateful.

  5. I don’t think the greenish tint is from the foliage as I see that in some of them. yes, only a little patch of blue yesterday for most of the day. I haven’t really been out yet today but looks overcast from my window though I do see some sun so it must be breaking up.

    1. That’s interesting, that you sometimes see a bit of a green in these. I usually notice them at some distance, in flight, and the brighter yellow predominates. We had a bit of sunshine this morning, but it’s gone cloudy again. There’s some breeze, though, and I’m hoping it will dry things out enough that I can get back to work this afternoon.

  6. Linda, I’m relieved you survived the hurricane. That thing looked pretty wicked, and I’m pretty sure you didn’t need bucket-loads of new rain. What a pretty posy and butterfly — their colors compliment one another perfectly!

    1. Believe me, Debbie – I’m relieved, too. As hurricanes go, it certainly wasn’t the worst we’ve experienced, even though there still are people without power and there are a lot of limbs left to pick up.I am happy that we got the rain. Best of all, there are whisperings that some truly cool weather may be coming in a week…or ten days… or two weeks. Maybe!

  7. I think it worked so well because of the shade, as red can be tricky in full sun. Loved the tune, especially the honky tonk piano, now off to listen to the bluegrass version.

    1. The shade did help. In addition, despite having begun their decline, the flowers’ color still were vibrantly colored. I think it’s one of the prettiest of the red flowers, and having the tiny bits of red on the butterfly was perfect.

      There’s nothing like a little gospel or bluegrass to start off (or end) the day. Put them together into bluegrass gospel, and it’s near perfection.

    1. We do like to share whenever we can. I’m glad you’re getting some benefit from the system. There’s not much better than a nice rain — butterflies and flowers enjoy it as much as we do.

  8. Love the photo of the cloudless sulfur. It is an excellent one. In years past I found this butterfly elusive and wary It just about wore me out trying to find one that did not immediately flit away. One year they were not as wary but the time of day was not good since the lighting was too strong. I took multiple photos but deleted just about all of them. The ones that I was able to shoot were nectaring on Flame acanthus ( Aniscanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii) which I have been growing for a number of years. This plant is also considered a host for the Texas Crescent and Crimson Patch, however I have yet to see either one of these on this plant.

    1. They are flittery, aren’t they? I remembered the name Flame Acanthus, but I couldn’t recall what it looked like until I found an image. A friend in Kerrville has a good bit of it in her gardens, and it is that same lovely red. Hummingbirds come to hers, too. As a matter of fact, hummingbird moths visit her pink evening primrose. We say ‘a chicken in every pot,’ but for nature, it’s a flower for every pollinator.

    1. I learned that the specific epithet is a reference to the various sennas, which are larval host plants for sulphur caterpillars. Sometimes scientific names are odd or mysterious, but this one means just what it says. I was pleased to find this sulphur visiting the Turk’s cap, though; the color combination is especially pleasing.

  9. I am so glad you are all right, that Nicholas hasn’t been too grim in the big comparison of things. And, that you can get out and find some real beauty. Isn’t light fascinating? One would think a bright sunny day would be the ticket except it rarely is. I learned a long time ago a day with less brightness reveals so much more depth and beauty. You certainly captured it here.

    1. Some friends still are without power, but so it goes. At least the temperatures and humidity are down, and life without AC isn’t too bad.

      I like a bright day for some things, especially around the beaches, but you’re right that too-strong light can wash things out. Learning how to adjust for the conditions has been quite a task, but in this case it worked out nicely.

  10. Happy to hear you weathered the weather with no serious ill effects.

    Terrific photograph! I think the “cloudy light” made for a very appealing image.

    Given the relatively sparse markings, this is likely a male and they can vary from quite greenish-yellow to almost orange. That red Turk’s Cap certainly adds an accent!

    1. The day itself was quite sunny, although the plant did a nice job of shading the butterfly and the flowers. I hadn’t gotten to the point of trying to determine male or female, so thanks for that tip. It was enough for me to distinguish this one from the Cloudy Sulphur!

      I think the Turk’s caps are some of our prettiest flowers. With that color, they certainly are easy to spot. I found some last Sunday that had run amok and were taller than I am. Last year in the same area they attracted a good number of migrating hummingbirds; I’m hoping to be able to get a photo this year.

    1. It’s a different sort of ‘killer combination’ than that seen on the coral snake, isn’t it? In this case, red touching yellow is pure pleasure — especially for that nectar-sipping critter.

    1. It doesn’t surprise me that you prefer the acoustic bluegrass version. I like them both, partly because I just like Willie, but in a forced choice I’d take the traditional version with that fine banjo playing.

      I’m more knowledgeable about soft boxes now than I was ten minutes ago. I’d heard the term, but didn’t really know how they were used. That soft, even light is appealing.

      1. Good Bluegrass is, for me, an acquired taste. I was introduced to it by my college roommate in Columbus, Ohio, in 1963, when he took me to a hillbilly bar to hear The Dixie Gentlemen, whose banjo player was the 23-year old John Hickman. I have learned, with considerable sadness, that he died earlier this year. I plan to do a post on him, so there’s more to come. I’ll just say that I took lessons from him and still remember his teachings. Google him as your time allows.

    1. Thanks, Eliza! It was great fun to find this Cloudless Sulphur after seeing Steve’s Cloudy Sulphur, and to learn that both use the various senna species as host plants.

    1. It tickles me that there’s a ‘cloudy’ and a ‘cloudless’ sulphur. I wonder which came first? I’d suppose the ‘cloudy,’ but I’m going to let that remain one of life’s little mysteries!

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