Monday, October 22, 2007

In the Garden

I stepped outside this afternoon to take a look at the work the landscaper had done. We're turning a part of our backyard into a patio--the part that hardly gets any sun, is usually dark and dank and grows crops of wild onions and oxalis and not much else. Today they removed several cubic yards of soil so there is room to put down gravel and sand and then pavers. The sun was just brushing the top of our wall of ivy, but the air was warm--unusually warm. We're having one of our last bursts of summer, the ones we get in October and sometimes even November. Payback time for all that fog. Some people call it "earthquake weather," because it was a day like this on October 17, 1989, when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit. It's also fire weather, here and even worse in Southern California.

As I was gazing up at the ivy, I saw that what I had thought were brown leaves were butterflies, at least a dozen of them. They didn't seem to be feeding, they seemed to be resting, perched with their wings closed but occasionally opening and shutting them. I knew they were not Red Admirals, our usual backyard visitors. So I went and got my binoculars.

So now I'm standing on my deck, peering at the back wall through binoculars, wondering what our retired gentleman neighbor thinks I'm looking at, and I see the upper wings of the butterflies are orange, with black and white spots, and a lacy rim of black around the edges. Thanks to my butterfly book, I learn they are California Tortoiseshells. A new species for me, and for our backyard. As I'm exulting in the Tortoiseshells, I hear the familiar clicks and buzzes of our hummingbirds. One zooms by and hovers around the Cape Honeysuckle at the very top of the wall. Another ducks down into the blossoms and is chased off by Mr. Flashy-Green-I-Own-This-Bush. They fly around my backyard buzzing and clicking angrily. Finally the newcomer gives up and Mr. Flashy-Green goes back to the blooms. Camera time.

Trying to get the Tortoiseshells pushed the limits of my camera. They just looked like brown leaves.

So I used the photo I found on Creative Commons--free to use with attribution--of a California Tortoiseshell. The butterfly book says California Tortoiseshells are mass migrants--even stopping traffic over Donner Summit when millions of them migrate together. I'm glad a million of them didn't stop on my ivy wall; that would have been freaky, especially during earthquake weather. But they also hibernate during the winter, and come out to sun themselves on warm days. Maybe this group has taken up hiberation in our ivy! I'll be out looking for them again with my binoculars. I hope the neighbors will understand.

Photo by Terry Spivey, USDA Forest Service,

1 comment:

Marmee said...

Your pictures and comments on and knowledge of flora and fauna fascinate me. I hope you will post pictures of your finished patio!