It's a Swallowtail Butterfly!
For a moment they look like a bird, then like a toy, then like a bird again before you realize that these majestic creatures are beautiful butterflies!
Yesterday I was surprised to see them. I am not sure I have really noticed them in previous years - perhaps I have? - normally I am fairly observant and would see such an creature flying around my airspace. I spy eagles and errant kites and balloons from the park, I spot jets, helicopters, and other aircraft - especially the unusual ones. Of course I don't normally know which ones I might miss.
Yesterday was a glorious early summer day without a cloud in the sky which was still a brilliant blue rather than the faded blue that it can become when the temperature has climbed to our higher ones. I was on the balcony talking to my oldest friend - I have known him for over 40 of my 50 years - and I saw what looked like a golden bird, even perhaps like some sort of canary coming over the edge of the apartment roof and flying downwards. It almost seemed phoenix-like with the way the wings were. It didn't quite move fast enough for a bird which puzzled me and I thought about those old canary toys which had cellophane and paper canaries that you might twirl about your head on a thin bamboo stick. Then I realized that it was a butterfly.
Of course, the size of it faded like the afterimage of the Sun when you glance past it in the morning or afternoon. I saw a few others through the day, but further away and with nothing that I could compare their size to until just before supper time when I was in the meat market across the lane.
I was in there talking to the butcher, an acquaintance of mine, and the clerk seemed to be getting upset about something. Both front and back doors were open to the shop because they were repairing the central airconditioning and the clerk was upset because a butterfly was trapped between the counter and the front window. She was worried it would be trapped their and die or it might harm itself trying to get out.
I figured I might try to help, but the butcher calmly walked up and I watched as he gently placed his hands between the window and counter and this huge butterfly was coaxed onto his thumb. He carefully walked to the door and with a gentle move of his finger, he encouraged it to fly to freedom.
It did look wonderful taking wing with the mountains and sky as a backdrop.
I knew it wasn't a Monarch for though it had a similar black design in some ways, it was a golden yellow rather than red-orange colour. (image to left - image from Mountain Loop Highway, Glacier Peak Region, Washington - ©Tom Dempsey Photoseek.com)
The clerk asked how the butcher had done it and I joked, "Well he knows how to speak 'butterfly'. I learned a bit once too."
The butcher said, "Well actually years ago at one of the nurseries I ran we raised butterflies."
We chatted a bit and I found out they bought the cocoons and placed them on appropriate plants and let them emerge. They had an aviary of sorts with plants and birds and turtles and things and raised the butterflies in there.
I mentioned I figured it wasn't a Monarch but wasn't sure what it was. The name "swallowtail" stuck in my mind, but I wasn't sure from where. The butcher told me that it was what the butterfly was and you could tell by the tail end of the wings.
I have a few pictures from around the web of swallowtails. You can click on the thumbnails to get to the sites that host the pictures. (image to right - image from wwwJosephGregoire.ca taken at Deer Lake, Burnaby, BC)
I really wish I had had a decent camera at hand, but then the chances of taking the pictures here were fleeting. Even had I the camera in my pocket - except for the incident at the meat market - I likely would not have been able to catch an image of the swallowtails. I think better luck actually knowing when they would be about and being about where they likely would be about.
It did make for an interesting addition to a relatively peaceful June 30th.