Friday, September 11—Mount Magazine State Park

This morning’s caterpillar count was down a bit from yesterday, 23 caterpillars were observed.  

As Arkansas’ highest point, Magazine Mountain and the surrounding area offers cooler weather and lots of blooms and butterflies. With that in mind, Dan Olson and I traveled the almost two hours to find cool air and fog surrounding the mountain, even though it was just past 12 noon. Approaching the State Park, a photographer was observed on the side of the road photographing a wildflower. We stopped and as coincidence would have it, he was from Hot Springs Village as well, and a major contributor to finding rare and unusual wildflowers in Arkansas. We chatted with him about thirty minutes, taking a few photos along the roadside. There were a number of wildflower blooms in the state park, and conditions were good for photographing them, though I’m not a very good flower photographer.

Butterfly ”season” is winding down as fall approaches. We are seeing fewer species and numbers. By the time we made it to near the top of the mountain, fog was rapidly lifting revealing overcast skies. The Visitors Center had few blooms, so we did not stop there. We drove to near Brown’s Spring Picnic Area and walked the gravel road for about a mile towards Mount Magazine Cascades, then looping back along the north ridge edge to the Picnic Area. Several species were observed, but not all remained still enough to photograph, including Carolina Satyr, Clouded Skipper, Common Wood-nymph, Crossline Skipper, Eastern Tailed Blue, Gemmed Satyr, Little Yellow, Northern Pearlyeye, Red-banded Hairstreak, Red-spotted Purple, Black Swallowtail, Pearl Crescent, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Zebra Swallowtail, American Lady, Common Buckeye, Red-spotted Purple, Red-banded Hairstreak, etc. Even a Thread-waisted Wasp made an appearance.

I vowed to repair commodes before going out today. Two out of three commodes in the house are malfunctioning: the handles on both are not engaging the flush valve. Numerous half-assed attempts to repair these have failed. This morning I was determined to repair them, even if it mean rebuilding them. Beginning in the guest bathroom, I partly disassembled the commode, removing the broken handle, unscrewing the tank float, and tearing the flush valve apart. The only apparent problem was the handle. With an extra handle mechanism on hand, I rebuilt the handle/valve combination and reinstalled the float. So far, it works well. Next, I tackled the powder room commode; the handle will operate but has a lot of give and is hard to push down. In several past attempts at repairing it, I “jury-rigged” the handle mechanism and the flush valve. So, as a beginning, I removed this, and reinstalled the handle the way it was designed to be used. It seemed to work okay!

Wednesday and Thursday, September 9-10—A Smorgasbord

Kay and I have been monitoring Monarch Butterly caterpillars in one of the back “yard” beds. Wednesday’s (September 9) Monarch Caterpillar count was 23. And then Thursday morning (September 10), we counted at least 33,, our highest total yet. One was even on a small solitary plant about 4 inches tall that grew voluntarily. They have really eaten the Butterfly Weed leaves, with some plants totally bare. As yet, we have not seen any chrysalis.

After the caterpillar count, Kay was joined by Pam and Sue for a trip to Little Rock to meet with a financial advisor. He was taken aback that three ladies were going to participate in the discussion, but they prevailed, nevertheless. Meanwhile, I went to the motorhome storage, turned on the generator and then the air conditioner, and extended the passenger rear slide. Forgetting a fresh-brewed cup of coffee left the house, I made a cup in the motorhome. I then proceeded to strip bed clothing off the bed and move the mattress to what little space was available, The bed platform was then torn apart;’ it has been sagging for years, and the storage boxes we use to keep it flat are taking up unnecessary space. Of course, there were lots of screws. For hinges, lifts, etc. When some of the platform grid was exposed, it revealed a number of staples having missed their mark during assembly; pretty shoddy workmanship, and I really expected better from Winnebago. I loaded the platform into the SUV, drove home, and unloaded it in the messy garage. By then it was too hot to work on it—maybe another day! Hopefully, the photos will help in remembering how it goes back together.

Heat and humidity has returned—or never left—Hot Springs Village. It’s very uncomfortable to participate in outdoor activities, particularly ones that involve a lot of exertion. As fate would have it, I played pickleball Wednesday night and golf Thursday afternoon, coming home soaking wet both times. In fact it seemed to me that Wednesday afternoon golf was played in the most uncomfortable weather this year, resulting in a heat headache and soggy golf paraphernalia (gloves, etc.).

NOTE: While finishing this on Friday morning, I was one day behind on dates. This COVID-19 pandemic has totally screwed up my world.

Tuesday, September 8—Ocola Skipper

We look forward to our morning Monarch caterpillar count. I thought the number was down a bit from yesterday, but Kay’s keen eyes found about a dozen more, with the total counted over 20+.  She only had a HSV Lady Duffers Golf board meeting today, and spent the rest of the day reading. The Lady Duffers Golf League’s main focus is making new friends while enjoying a fun-filled game of golf. Their game usually consists of 9 holes played on Wednesday mornings at Coronado Golf Course, HSV’s executive course.

Based on information from and a recent find of Dan And Samantha Scheiman, Dan Olson and I traveled to Alum Fork Natural Area in an attempt to find the elusive and somewhat rare to central Arkansas Ocola Skipper butterfly. Alum Fork NA is only a few miles from Hot Springs Village as the crow flies, but about 40 minutes by highway and gravel road. We arrived about 11:30 AM, parked and ate chicken salad sandwiches made by Kay. Trees had been felled across the old logging road to prevent vehicle access, but allowed walking with some bending and other bodily contortions. We carefully looked at thistle and other blooms for nectaring butterflies.

Carolina Satyrs were seemings everywhere.

Several active blooms then drew our attention.

And then, a number of Northern Broken-Dash Skippers were observed.

A wasp apparently tangled with something it could not handle; the Robber Fly won and enjoyed a hearty lunch.

Robberfly assenting a wasp

On the way from home to Alum Fork NA, we talked about the absence of Fiery Skippers at our usual “haunts” around Hot Springs Village. We found them to be plentiful at Alum Fork NA.

And then we hit the motherlode. The long forewings, the rear 1/4 darkening of the outer wings, and the light colored veins were indicators that we found the Ocola Skipper. Dan and I took lots of photos, from almost every conceivable angle.

Making our way back to the car, Red-banded hairstreaks, Eastern Tailed-Blue, a nectaring Red-spotted Purple, and an Orange Sulphur were observed.

Back at home a refreshing gin and tonic was followed by restful evening.

Monday, September 7—All About Caterpillars

In what has now become a routine after watering plants in the back, we checked the Butterfly Weeds for Monarch caterpillars. Several large (5+ cm) cats were observed, and there was a plethora of small (1-2 cm) ones beginning to nibble on the leaves. This is a real thrill for us!

Though it was early this morning when a butterfly check was made, only one Dun Skipper was observed.

Kay, Pam, and Martha enjoyed the new Hot Springs Village outdoor swimming pool this afternoon, and I played golf with the Monday group, doing well the front nine but collapsing on the back nine!

Sunday, September 6—A Full Day

After catching up on news and social media Sunday morning, we monitored the Monarch caterpillars in the back “yard” (yard is in parentheses because the back has no grass, just gravel and a few beds planted with pollinators, crepe myrtles, azaleas, trees, etc.). The caterpillar count was 8, two more than yesterday. 

Kay went to church this morning (Sunday), first time since early March, meeting friends Pam and Sue, and all celebrated communion. I played hooky—concerned that it is still not 100% safe—germaphobe that I am! I’m sure they asked for forgiveness knowing that gambling was on their agenda later in the day. Following church the ladies had lunch at Oaklawn Casino, followed by a couple of hours at the slots. It was a good day for Kay and Pam, bringing home more than they took.

I drove to Middle Fork Barrens, but only walked a few minutes before driving to Magellan Beaver Dam Trail in Hot Springs Village. It proved to be a good decision as there were a few butterflies and dragonflies willing to pose for photos. Also, one snake slithered along the open water.

Jenny and her babies were available for FaceTiming, and it was good getting to see them all. Harper is such a grownup to be only 8 years old. She helps her mother with Linc, and talks way too grown up. Linc is a “pretty” boy, and pretty demanding. Jenny says Sutton, not quite a week old, is a good baby, sleeping almost all day (of course, not sleeping all night). The last photo collage shows how much Sutton and Linc—when he was a newborn— look alike. We are blessed to have such a wonderful blended family, and we love them all profoundly.

Friday and Saturday, September 4-5—Finally, Making Photos Again

A stroll in the backyard Friday morning resulted in only 3 butterflies observed: a Hackberry Emperor (which would not pose), a Southern Broken-dash, and an Eastern Comma—a very slow day in the neighborhood. I’m guessing all the rain the last few days has put them down, and it will take a day or two for them to begin nectaring again. 

Kay and I made a trip to the motorhome (in storage) to take some things: clean linens, ladder, old toaster/oven, pizza stone, propane cylinders, etc. After backing out of the storage garage, we loaded the items, and I checked the 5-year old “house” batteries; the hydrometer showed them to be in great shape! There are so many maintenance items needing attention: rebuild bed platform, clean and reorganize storage, repair/rebuild bed frame, make shock corded anchors for awning/sun screen, install Extend a Stay Propane adaptor, make insulated foil shade for front windshield, loosen TV and connect HDMI cables, and install a gutter spout with extension on front passenger side. Maybe it’s time to go camping and do maintenance.

After watering Saturday morning, a walk around the “yard” revealed a few more butterflies than yesterday, though most were Skippers nectaring on the Lantana shrubs. Interestingly, an American Anole was snacking on a moth among the Lantana blooms.

American Anole eating a moth

A quick look at the Butterfly Weeds revealed Monarch catepillars munching away on the leaves. We counted 6, total. These are firsts for us in Hot Springs Village, though we had a lot of catepillars one year in Norfork, AR. We have been planting pollinating plants for 5 years now in hopes of attracting butterflies and hummingbirds, and maybe it’s finally paying dividends.

As the morning started cool with a slight breeze, we opted to play golf mid-afternoon. It turned into a rather warm and quite muggy outing; I walked the 9-holes (4-miles), and was pretty wet from perspiration. Neither of us played our best.

Magellan Golf Course, Hot Springs Village, AR

Sunday through Thursday, August 30-September 3—A New Granddaughter and Rainy Days

Karyn, Ridge, and Aker went home just before noon on Sunday, and the house was once again absence the joyful sounds of grandkids. Kay and I ate a late breakfast, and lounged the rest of the day. We played bridge with Jim and Jackie in the evening, our first bridge game with them since early March! Jackie won, of course.

Monday was a very special day as Sutton, our third granddaughter was born. Jenny now has her hands full with an 8 year old, a 1+ year old, and a newborn, and she’ll be 40 this year.

Sutton, b. August 31, 2020
Sutton, b. August 31, 2020

That makes a total of 7 grandkids: Kaden, Jordan, Ridge, Harper, Aker, Linc, and Sutton. Never would I have imagined having 7 grandkids! 

Ridge and Aker began their 2nd week of school in 3rd grade and kindergarten, respectively. Harper also had her first day of 3rd grade, albeit virtually. It’s a different world in which we live!

Harper’s first day of 3rd grade, virtually

Tuesday, September 2, was also a special day. Kay and I celebrated 20 years of marriage, and the vast majority of them have been great, though there were a couple of years when my untreated depression could have been a problem had it not been for her love, care, and patience. We have traveled the world and a good portion of the US, suffered through two of our children divorcing, all of our children (three) getting married, and the birth of five grandkids. We celebrated at Luna Bella restaurant in Hot Springs with Jim, Jackie, and Pam.

Once again, we were besought with rain the last few days, lots of it. And combined with the heat, the humidity was almost unbearable, at least for me. Any outside activities resulted in soaking wet clothes. Photo making was out of the question, particularly butterflies, wildflowers, and dragonflies. Finally on Thursday, a semi-dry day was forecast, and I played golf with my Thursday group, shooting a good game at Balboa Golf Course in the Village. We are so ready for cooler temps and lower humidity.

Saturday, August 29—Wildflowers, Butterflies, and Grandkids

Good friend and photo buddy, Dan Olson, texted this morning that he was going out on a photo shoot for a couple of hours. He had a total knee replacement on his right knee about 4 weeks ago, and is slowly recovering despite the pain. We first visited Middle Fork Barrens Natural Area, our all time favorite place to photograph butterflies. It was still a bit early and heavy dew was on the plants; at first, the butterflies were far and few between.

Our first find was a robber fly, also known as an assassin fly. They are powerfully built, bristly flies with a short, stout proboscis enclosing the sharp, sucking hypopharynx.  Robber fly insects are a mixed blessing to gardeners; if they’re seriously perturbed, they can inflict a painful bite, but they also help rid the garden of harmful pests like grasshoppers, other flies, wasps, leafhoppers, white grubs and pupating beetles. Both Dan and I have become enamored with them, and most of the time we see them, they are eating prey.

Robber Fly aka Assassin Fly

Next, an Asiatic Dayflower presented itself adjacent to the road pathway.  Commelina communis, commonly known as the Asiatic dayflower, is an herbaceous annual plant in the dayflower family. It gets its name because the blooms last for only one day. It is native throughout much of East Asia and northern parts of Southeast Asia. Across the path was a Cardinal Flower, perhaps the first I’ve seen.

After an hour of wandering, the butterflies and dragonflies began go appear. We saw an isolated Dun Skipper and Southern Broken-dash Skipper here and there, and lots of Carolina Satyrs. Also, a few dragonflies kept still enough to photograph.

From Middle Fork Barrens Natural Area, Dan drove abound places where we had observed blooms and butterflies this time last year. The thistle was a few days from reaching peak bloom, thus the absence of nectaring butterflies. As a final stop, we walked the fence line at McClellan Beaver Dam Trail in Hot Springs Village. There we saw wildflowers, dragonflies, and butterflies, including the rare to us, Zabulon Skipper. (L to R: Guara, Horace’s Duskywing, Southern Brokenn-dash, Guara, Southern Broken-dash and Thistle, Guara, Common Whitetail Dragonfly, Dainty Sulphur, Red-banded Hairstreak, Southern Broken-dash, Zabulon Skipper, Zabulon Skipper and Southern Broken-dash on Thistle.

I arrived home just after 12 noon, and Karyn and the grandkids were there, all hyped up to go swimming. They returned from swimming a little more sedate, and played with their tablets and watched Netflix and YouTube. We all went to bed really early.

Friday, August 28—Sunshine and Butterflies

Tropical Storm Laura passed through quickly, followed by sunshine and high humidity today. After several inches of rain yesterday, none of the potted plants needed watering, but nevertheless, a walk around the yard to check on butterflies was a good way to begin the day.

Neither of us had anything scheduled, and it was too wet to play pickleball or golf, so we just hung out. Kay continued reading Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, a tell-all book written by Mary L. Trump, a niece of Donald Trump. I worked on long overdue blog posts and photo edits in Lightroom. Our lives seem so dull compared to others we read about in their blog and watch on vlogs!!

We each enjoyed a catfish dinner from Mulligan’s, here in Hot Springs Village; it’s the best fried catfish in the area!

Wednesday and Thursday, August 26-27—Hurricane Laura and Camping History (Part 3)

Our “camping” style gradually changed from relatively short trips to that of extended stays for escaping the heat and humidity in the summer and the cold and dampness in the winter.

And then after 10 years, we sort of burned out! We began taking more international trips, fly and drive domestic trips, and car treks. But after a year or so, we both missed the glory days of RVing, and spent this past January and February in Arizona, and parts of July and August in North Carolina.

And now, COVID-19 has changed our world again such that neither of us feels safe eating out or overnighting in a hotel room when car trekking and many of the wild places offering photo opportunities are remote, and actually beyond the motorhome’s capability. Besides, I just plain miss primitive camping and being off the grid, at least occasionally. As a result, a few months ago, I rekindled a longtime interest in vans and began watching vlogs related to van life; I was so envious, having always had a nomadic tendency. It was out of the question to have both a motorhome and a van, and the motorhome is very comfortable for staying a month or longer! And then, a vlog called Dome Life showed up on YouTube featuring a young couple from central Arkansas camping weekends and vacations in wild and scenic places in a tent. Wow, did this bring back memories, and yearnings. I decided to give it another whirl—a few more years of tent/car camping is still left in this old fella. After inventorying camping gear, we had most of the required items (though Kay’s days of tent camping are over) and the foul weather brought on by Hurricane and then Tropical Storm Laura provided an opportunity to assemble and consolidate all this gear. A sleeping bag and tent were missing, but soon ordered—the sleeping bag has arrived—and now all that remains to be acquired is an auxiliary, portable power source for the CPAP.  So, that is largely how we/I spent Wednesday and today.

To end the day, Thursday, August 27, Kay made a chocolate cake with chocolate icing and bought Yarnell’s plain vanilla ice cream to celebrate my 71st birthday. Pat and Dan Olson hosted us for dinner, and despite Tropical Storm Laura dumping lots of rain and wind, we had a great evening and a super birthday, marking an end to bad weather for a few days.