Indistinguishable from magic, and so much more

25 October, 2020 Indistinguishable from magic, and so much more

Male monarch butterfly, “as if by magic,” in our front yard Wednesday

“Any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic.” That’s a paraphrase of a more precise quotation, but the idea is the same. 

Evelyn looked at it and said “I wonder if it’s a male or a female?” Google came reliably to the rescue. There’s a blog called “Monarch butterfly life” and it has an article called “Difference Between Male or Female Monarch Butterfly? See Butterfly Pictures…” See those two black dots at the bottom of his wings near his lower abdomen? Males have that – females don’t. How cool is that?

Evelyn planted milkweeds in our front garden last year, a host plant for Monarch butterfly caterpillars. She also planted lantana, another flower Monarchs enjoy. It’s right outside my office window. In late August I photographed a Monarch butterfly fluttering around the flowers. A couple weeks later (mid-September) we began to have Monarch butterfly caterpillars – LOTS of them. This year, for the first time (that we ever saw) they made two chrysalises. You can see when it started if you look on my post from October 4, 2020 called Work in progress. Another one appeared a few branches over the same week. The first one didn’t make it. But here’s a picture of the second one from Tuesday, 10/20/2020 at 5:32 PM: 

Front yard chrysalis, 5:32 Tuesday evening:

I looked at it again at 11:49 AM on Wednesday, 10/21/2020 and saw this!: 

Chrysalis the following morning:

So that’s slightly over eighteen hours. Just below it I saw this!:

Bouncing baby boy – he must have just emerged from his chrysalis

I know that’s not magic. I know Ev chose and planted flowers there, and I know Monarch butterflies came to the flowers and laid eggs, and the eggs hatched, and caterpillars ate the plants, and they got to another plant, and they made chrysalises and hung in their chrysalises for several days, and emerged as Monarch butterflies. It’s obvious that’s not magic – I just explained precisely what happened. That Evelyn grew milkweeds and a couple months later, because Evelyn grew milkweeds, butterflies flew away. It’s part botany, part biology, etc. Not magic. But wow. 

Speaking of things that aren’t magic: 

Photosynthesis isn’t magic either. But it makes sunlight edible. What can I say.

That is (to the uninformed, though I suspect no one is that uninformed) a sunflower. Chrysalises, butterflies, caterpillars, that sunflower, it would all fit in a square that’s about four feet on each side. There’s a bird feeder (four, really) around one corner of it and birds scuff sunflower seeds out of it. And one took root down there. And a sunflower seed “felt” or “saw” the sun above it, and its cells divided, and in a process called photosynthesis. Photosynthesis converts sunlight into something you can eat. Let me repeat that, with  italics: converts sunlight into something you can eat. It’s more complicated than that – you can click that link up there and read the science behind it – but photosynthesis converts sunlight into something you can eat. It’s not magic. It’s science. It’s biology and chemistry and botany, etc., but if a magician walked on to a stage and said “watch closely as I convert sunlight into a tasty snack,” you would totally be amazed. 

I was visiting a friend earlier this week and I looked at the edge of a creekbed near his house and saw two Red-shouldered hawks! On the ground! This is extremely not magic, but still. Incredible to see this: 

Pair of Red-shouldered hawks in my friend Ray’s front yard. That’s not “magic,” but wow.

Then Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I went to Pony Pasture this morning (it was raining) and we saw our first Barred Owl this autumn!: 

Rain & cold make imperfect photography conditions, but there is no bad day to photograph Barred Owls

My final owl shutter click this morning was at 9:34. Eleven minutes later it clicked again: 

Sloppy conditions made sloppy photography but I’m grateful nonetheless

I’m not overjoyed with the quality of those images, but I am really overjoyed I got to see the owl and the deer. I didn’t see my first owl last year until “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving, November 29. It was on the precise branch – the exact spot I saw it last November – today, October 25. Exciting! 

It’s been a slow season so far, but things are (maybe) picking up. I saw a few Red-tailed hawks this week (the ones by the creek were Red-shouldered hawks) but only one in pretty light. This was a male, and I clicked the last picture at 5:57 PM. Sunset was at 6:24 that evening, 27 minutes later – he was looking for a last meal before heading back to the nest for the evening: 

Male Red-tailed hawk stretching his legs before (I’m guessing) heading to his nest for the evening

Tuesday I was riding and I saw killdeers! They’re great birds, but it was a struggle for me to get close to them. Nice light though:

Glowing killdeer

Have a great week! Watch out for stuff that’s indistinguishable from magic – there is a lot of it! All best, 


But wait! How could I sign off without a picture of my handsome hiking buddies. They were happy when we got off the river and into the woods:

Handsome hikers – ready to get in the woods!

About Jay McLaughlin

I am a rehabilitation counselor. I have many friends with autism and traumatic brain injuries. They help me learn new things constantly. I hike with dogs at the James River in Richmond - a lot. I've completed an Iron distance triathlon a year for 11 years. My most recent was in Wilmington, NC in November, 2013. I currently compete in mid-distance triathlons. And work and hike and take pictures and write and eat.
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2 Responses to Indistinguishable from magic, and so much more

  1. M.B. Henry says:

    Nice shots – love the hawks and the owl!

    • Thank you for the comment! I was fortunate to get a blurry owl picture and a few nice hawks on that post. That was from late October, when the action is beginning to pick up. Now it’s the first day of summer and the action is occurring at a little slower pace. Mostly youngsters now but it’s a LOT harder to see since there are so many leaves on the trees. It’s hot here in Richmond today but it’ll cool off later this week. It’s butterfly time! Thanks again for the comment and have a great day,


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