As I mentioned in my previous post about Zebra Swallowtails, gravel roads can be great places to look for butterflies. After rain, when the gravel is damp and mud forms in bare spots, many opportunities arise for close observation of butterflies. Last week I finally had time to return to one of my favorite gravel roads—Tower Ridge Road south of Lake Monroe. This road cuts through the Deam Wilderness of Hoosier National Forest, curves past the Hickory Ridge Fire Tower, crosses into Jackson County, and then, if you follow a series of unmarked gravel roads, drops into Maumee Bottoms, eventually ending in a series of muddy potholes in the backwaters of Lake Monroe.
After a week of rain the sun finally broke through the clouds on Wednesday afternoon. I drove down Tower Ridge Road, hoping the moisture would once again attract some butterflies. I would not be disappointed. I would even obtain an image I’ve wanted to capture for many years.
On Wednesday, shortly after turning onto Tower Ridge Road I began seeing numerous anglewings—Question Marks and Eastern Commas—and large numbers of Red Admirals. There were also many Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, which have been enjoying a banner year in 2016.
When I drove down into Maumee Bottoms I began seeing some Red-spotted Purples. In one spot there was a small group of Eastern Commas and Red-spotted Purples feeding at a clod of gravel which might have been infused with some scat. I decided to try to photograph one of the Red-spotted Purples. When it opened its wings I realized it was a form “viridis,” the uncommon color form which has green patches on its hindwings instead of blue.
When I reached Maumee Bottoms I discovered there was even more water on the road, creating larger patches of mud. In a few spots adjacent to fallow fields there were literally clouds of Pearl Crescents. There were also other insects attracted to the mud, including wasps, flies, and beetles. In one spot there was a large spider, which seemed to be looking hungrily at the Pearl Crescents.
I returned on Thursday afternoon, and drove into Maumee Bottoms again, initially wanting to see if a large puddle club of Eastern Tigers I had seen on Wednesday was still there. Before I got to the location however, I found a different gathering of Tigers—a group of about 20 males imbibing from the mud near the side of the road immediately adjacent to a shallow puddle. Near the Tigers, but in the middle of the road, was a mixed group of Eastern Commas, Question Marks, Red-spotted Purples, and Pearl Crescents. I stopped the car, got out my camera, and took a few shots of this nice gathering. As I took the shots, I noticed the reflections of the swallowtails were visible in the puddle.
For many years I have admired a photograph by John Tennent of a Green Dragontail (Lamproptera meges). The image depicts this spectacular swallowtail probing in mud near the Bantimurung waterfall in southern Indonesia. As it probes the mud, its striking black and white wings and long, streaming tails are perfectly reflected in a pool of water in the foreground. I’ve dreamt for years of capturing a similar image. I’ve had a few opportunities over the years, but either the subject wasn’t close enough to the water for its reflection to appear, or the subject didn’t stick around long enough for me to get off a shot.
I slipped around behind my car and crept up on the group of swallowtails. As I set up my tripod most of the Tigers lifted off and fluttered around me, but one remained on the mud, enjoying its cocktail too much to be disturbed. I fired a quick shot to see if the reflection would appear in the image. I checked my LCD and was delighted to see the reflection had been captured. I moved down-puddle slightly to get perfectly parallel to the lone swallowtail and fired again. This time there was a bit of shadow behind the butterfly from the flash, so I adjusted the flash to a higher angle, so its light would be almost directly above the swallowtail. I fired again. I kept firing until the other swallowtails began to settle back down onto the mud, disrupting the peacefulness and serenity of the scene. I’m thrilled to have this image, and it made a great finish to a two-afternoon photo session, all made possible by the power of wet gravel.