As butterfly history in North America goes, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail sports the most distinguished record—or at least the oldest—being the first New World species depicted by an artist. In 1587, John White, an English painter, and then a member Sir Walter Raleigh's third expedition—and subsequently, the only surviving member of the ill-fated "Lost Colony"—drew an illustration he entitled "Mamankanois," which is believed to be the local Indian word for butterfly.
Nowadays, the big yellow butterflies are common almost everywhere, easily one of the most familiar and recognizable species around. Or they are if you find one willing to fly low and sit still. I often see Tiger Swallowtails flitting high in the sky, well above the tops of the towering sycamores which line the riverbanks. And even when one does decide to come down and check things out closer to ground level, they often seem highly skittish and unsettled, flapping from one flower to another, overly wary of my presence and spooking long before I can get into camera range. The other day I chased one around the yard for half an hour and never managed a single exposure.
Then again, butterflies, like all living things, are individuals—and you occasionally find one that doesn't seem to mind being stalked by a harmless photographer. That's the case with the Tiger Swallowtail seen here, which showed up late in the day, in the still-sweltering heat, just as I made ready to water the plants. From coneflower to coneflower, the swallowtail flew, sampling nectar from each and every pinkish bloom.
For a few minutes there in the sweet gloaming, with the river purling soft in my ear, I followed the ethereal golden creature on its supping rounds…and somehow forgot all about being hot.