Monarch Butterfly Egg Hatches

A few days ago I went out looking for Monarch Butterfly eggs. Monarchs lay their eggs on the underside of a milkweed leaf. They are not so easy to find as they are about the size of the period at the end of this sentence.

I collected several leaves on Tuesday evening and even though I had looked at them with a magnifying glass in the field I discovered that a couple were not Monarch eggs after getting them home. I ended up with three. They are rounded cones that look like half of a football sitting pointed end up and having lines running down the sides.

Using a fairly flat plastic food container I laid several plain paper serviettes in the bottom and added enough water so that they were wet but not running. The leaves were laid in the container, egg side up, and the top put on. I read about how to do all of this on various websites. Websites suggest using paper towel but I don’t use it and did have a few serviettes.

This is an image of one of the eggs with a ball point pen included to show just how tiny the eggs are.


Yesterday morning I could see by the darkened egg top that it was about to hatch. The dark area is the head of the larva.


Here it has started to eat its way out of the shell.


Larva, or caterpillar, emerging from its opened shell.


After emerging the caterpillar eats the shell for its first meal. It does not have its diagnostic stripes yet.


The larva moved around and slept all day after eating the shell and began eating the milkweed leaf. The first frass it produced was white and yellow as it had not eaten anything with any colour. By this morning it had eaten some of the leaf and the frass was now dark.

Frass is the name for caterpillar poop.

It went through the hole it made in the leaf and that is why the colour and texture of the leaf is different now than in the first images. You are seeing the top side of the leaf.

The ball point pen shows that, although it has grown, it isn’t very big yet. With the naked eye it looks like a pencil line about 3/16th of an inch long! The caterpillar has developed its dark stripes.


These images were taken using my Canon 40D as it has more pixels and a more magnified image than my 1DMK2N. My Canon 180 Macro lens has a 2X converter added and a Kenko 36mm extension tube. It is set up on my tripod with the container on a counter. The camera is set at f32, 1/200 to make the flash the main light with no compensation. Canon 580 II Flash on Manfrotto Magic Arm with Super Clamp and flash bracket.

I bought a couple of the Manfrotto Magic Arms and Super Clamps after my first workshop with Joe and Mary Ann McDonald. Joe has dozens of them and I have found them very useful and have added to my collection over the years. They are relatively inexpensive for the jobs they do. Randy Mehoves, an NSN member, showed me how to use one of the Super Clamps to attach a large umbrella to a tripod for wet weather photography.

All the images in this post are the property of Eleanor Kee Wellman and may not be used for any reason without the written permission of the photographer.

Wildflowers by Land and Water

It has been so rainy, windy and cool that I haven’t been out in my kayak much. Where is summer???!!!

I stopped a number of times on my trip to and from Halifax to photograph roadside widlflowers. One stop was to see what was showing white flowers in a few wetlands and found it to be Cotton Grass. The flowers had gone to seed very much earlier in the season than at home. Another showing bright pink in deep wet ditches was Ragged Robin, Lychnis flos-cuculi, an alien.

This one was along the high tide line at Carlton-sur-Mer.


Beach Pea, Lathyrus japonicus.

Taken with Canon 1DMK2N, 500 lens plus 2X Converter. Handheld from vehicle window.

The Lupines that are found along highways in both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are alien to these provinces and were introduced from Europe. There are native wild lupines found on the prairies.


Many of the wildflowers seen along our roadsides in beautiful colourful swathes are alien or non-native plants.

At home I saw, for the first time, the flowers of an Atlantic Coastal Plains species in my own lake. It could be that, usually, I am off photographing birds at this time of year and don’t see the flowers.


Water Shield, Brassenia schreberi

The red flowers among the green and yellow leaves and the blue sky reflected made them a colourful treat. The Peterson Field Guide to Wildflowers calls them dull purple flowers. They were quite a beautiful dark red the day I saw them.

Canon 40D with 100-400 lens at 210mm. Handheld from kayak.

These Yellow Loosestrife or Swamp Candles, Lysimachia terrestris grows out of the top on an abandoned beaver lodge on my little lake. I used the same camera and lens combination as in the previous image.


All the images in this blog are the property of Eleanor Kee Wellman and may not be used in any form in any way without the written permission of the photographer.

Black-legged Kittiwakes

Black-legged Kittiwakes arrive, approximately, at the the end of the third week of May at Bonaventure Island. The males usually arrive at a colony and choose a site the year before they mate and then they arrive before the females each season and reclaim the nest site that they chose or used the previous year.

They are able to nest on ledges that are narrower than those of other seabirds. The minimum width they are able to use is 10 cm.


The shadow on the cliff wall is that of a Northern Gannet.

The area is so narrow that the birds sit facing the cliff with their tails projecting out over the nest ledge.


The base of the nest is made with mud and grasses and built up with more mud, grass and seaweed. While watching and photographing kittiwakes bathing at Baie Mal Barachois I noticed that some of the birds were flying off with beaks full of small amounts of vegetation.


The above three images were taken with a Canon 1DMK2N with 70-200 lens at approximately 200mm.


The above image was taken with a Canon 1DMK2N and 500 mm lens, handheld with BushHawk.

These small, spritely gulls are a treat to watch as they feed in flocks.

All of the above images were taken from a zodiac around the cliffs of Bonaventure Island, Quebec.

All of the above images in this post are the property of Eleanor Kee Wellman and may not be used for any reason without the written permission of the Photographer.

Seabirds of the Cliffs

The last two days of my Bonaventure Island visit were good for photographing Gray Seals and the seabirds that nest and roost on the cliffs.

Thousands of Common Murres, fewer Razorbills and Black-legged Kittiwakes are the main species. Great Black-backed Gulls, Black Guillimots and Herring Gulls are also found.

As part of Chris’ Gannets Galore worskshops, he organizes with a local owner of a tour boat business, to take participants out every morning, depending on the weather, in a large zodiac. Leaving by 5 am allows for the best light on the ledges where the birds nest.

The legs of Common Murres and Razorbills are set at the very base of their bodies which means that they have to run on the water like loons to take off or launch themselves from the cliffs.



There were hundreds of Common Murres roosting on a huge rock at the base of the cliffs. Our progress toward the rock sent the birds dropping down into the water and, appearing to line up to launch themselves off the edges of the rock.


According to Birds of North America about 50% of the population of Common Murres is born with a white ring around their eye and a line of white feathers leading from the eye toward the back of the head. They are known as “bridled”. Chris mentioned that the percentage is supposed to be higher among the birds nesting on Bonaventure Island. It did seem to be much less than that from the birds I have recorded.


The pattern on the head of the Razorbills and the shape of their beaks is more like that of puffins than the longer pointed beaks of other species.


All of the images in this post were taken using Canon 1DMK2 and a 500mm 4. IS lens, handheld using a Bushhawk.

All images are the property of Eleanor Kee Wellman and may not be used for any reason without the written permission of the photographer

The Hatching

The next couple of days continued with more and more opportunities to watch and photograph the gannets and the other seabirds nesting on the cliffs.

Apparently, due to the cold weather, the chicks were a little late starting to hatch.

Here is one under the rubbery feet of the adult.


Several days before the chick hatches it begins calling from the egg. The adult transfers the egg to the top of its feet. Many chicks do not survive because the adult does not transfer the egg to the top of the feet and they are crushed.

The next view is of an egg with a crack at one end as the chick begins to hatch.


This next one is of the first chick as it hatches. Not easy to see under the adult protecting it but the broken shell is on the right and the gray, partially hatched chick is on the left under the adult.


Two days later the chick is out of the shell and out in the world. It is blind and wobbly but manages to eat often.


The chick feeds by pecking at the beak of the adult who opens its mouth. The chick puts its head way in to get partially digested fish from the gullet. All you can see of the chick in this image is its long neck!


This chick yawns and disappears under its parent.


About 80% of the eggs laid hatch and by three weeks old the chicks are two/thirds the size of the adults. They are fed well and often and expend no energy.

I guess I’ll just have to go back to see the next stages!

Today was the annual Bala Butterfly Count. It started a cool and windy day but warmed up a bit. The dogbane was in full bloom and I was told that it is the favourite necataring plant of butterflys while it blooms. I have always appreciated it for its sweet scent.

Bog Coppers were found again around the wild cranberry plants along my shoreline.

The images above were taken with 1Dmk2N and my 500 with a 2x converter.

All the images in these blogs are the sole property of Eleanor Kee Wellman and may not be used for any reason without the written permission of the photographer.

More Northern Gannet images on my website:

Gannets: A New Dimension

The third day of my first workshop started out foggy at the colony but no rain.


Canon 1DMK2N, 500 f4 IS plus 1.4 converter, Spot Metered, Manual, Handheld using a BushHawk.

The fog lifted by 1pm and it was wonderful to see blue skies. A few clouds appeared and now I had to watch that my horizons were straight. Blue sky and water gave a new dimension to the colony.

The long slender wings of the Northern Gannet makes them a very appealing and photogenic flight subject.


When there is a wind some of the areas of the colony look quite unpopulated as the birds are off flying. Most of these areas are used by unmated birds and those that have mates may have no nest or no egg in their nest leaving both genders free to leave. Also, some areas are too steep for nesting.


Melanie Lafleche is a second year biology student doing a study for the summer for her professor. She uses the natural behaviour of the gannets to discover just how many have eggs. The gannets nest just far enough away from each other so that their neighbours are not able to defecate on them easily. When this does happen the birds stand up and shake their feathers clean. Melanie uses a super water gun to spray the backs of the birds. They then stand up and shake which allows her to see if the nests have eggs.


When the eggs are laid they are a pale creamy colour but the red mud from the adult’s feet soon colours the shells. The gannets spread their large webbed feet over their single egg to help regulate the temperature and protect them.


The three images, above, were all made with a 1DMK2N with a 70-200mm @ 70mm, Spot Metered, Manual, Handheld.

This was the last day of my first workshop. I knew, already, that I needed more time with the gannets and as the next workshop wasn’t full Chris made staying on an easy decision. A problem with my car added to the reasons for staying as I wasn’t going to be able to leave until the problem was solved. With help from Chris I rented a car so that I would be able to get to Halifax if the problem wasn’t remedied in time.

All images in these posts are the property of the photographer and may not be used for any reason without the written permission of the photographer.

More and More Gannets

Day two continued with more rain than drizzle. With a beautiful bright blue vinyl poncho I was not exactly in camouflage but it kept me dry.

More flight shots! They really are addictive.

Some of the colony was out of bounds for me as the rain made steep paths very slippery.

While I was there about half the flying birds had something in their beaks. They gather nesting material even though they might not have a mate. In that case they use the nesting material to attempt to attract a one. Many unmated birds sit or parade around the edges of the colony looking for opportunities to find a nest site and\or mate. Many fights occur over the nesting material. As a bird lands by its mate or on the edge of the colony the other birds attempt to steal the nesting material. There are tussles and fights over seaweed, feathers, grass and sticks. When one bird successfully takes another bird’s nesting material the fight seems to be over and the disposessed seems to accept the theft. As well, birds on nests steal from the nests of those around them.



In a book published by Club des Ornithologues de la Gaspesie, “The Gannet of Bonaventure Island”, Louis Ruelland illustrates a bird in its third year. A third year gannet has some black and some white secondary flight feathers and it gives the trailing edge of the wing the impression of piano keyes.


The three images, above were taken with a 70-200 lens at 200mm, handheld.


Yesterday, at my friend, Ed’s, I used my 28-135 lens at 70mm for Showy Lady’s Slippers. Handheld. Rubber boots required!

All images in these blogs are the property of Eleanor Kee Wellman and may not be used for any reason without the written permission of the photographer.