Butterflies: Mourning Cloak

One afternoon in late April, I drove through a section of the White Mountains National Forest in western Maine. Though I'd planned to stop and complete a short hike, my morning birding had taken longer than expected, so I was considering postponing the hike and settling for a scenic drive.

But as I neared the trail-head pull-off, my ears picked up a familiar singing bird. Pulling over and hopping out of the car, I found the Blue-headed Vireo perched high over the road. After this welcome pause, I checked my watch and decided that I had enough time to hike the short trail to and from The Roost.

Photo of Mourning Cloak

Aside from an occasional songbird, I had the trail to myself, that is until I reached the ledge summit, where I was welcomed by a Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) butterfly. Because they overwinter as adults, Mourning Cloaks are among the earliest active butterflies in New England.

My ticking watch stopped long enough for me to enjoy the moment and snap a few photos to share. 'Should I turn back or take the slightly longer way back to the car?' I wondered. The Mourning Cloak flew toward the latter option, and I decided to follow. On the way down I heard a singing Brown Creeper, saw hundreds of unfurling Trillium plants (Trillium sp.), and enjoyed the soothing sound of a cold rushing stream. Sometimes it's best to let nature lead.

To learn more about Mourning Cloaks, see this MassAudubon article. To view the following images in full-size, click here.

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