Beauty on the Wing

Above left: Eastern black swallowtails; above right: Eastern tailed blue; bottom left: Little wood satyr; bottom right: Zebra swallowtail. Photos by Maria de Bruyn.


By Maria de Bruyn

While birds are quite active right now with nest building, incubating eggs, feeding nestlings and then guiding fledglings, there are also other beautiful flyers to see when we’re out walking and sitting in natural surroundings. Butterflies like those above are especially popular.

While some people dislike insects intensely, many others find them fascinating because they can give us lots of enjoyment — both through their beauty and through behaviors that give us something to learn about. (We do want to keep some of them at bay, however, and I strongly recommend using insect repellants and mosquito dunk in containers with rainwater.)

Above left: Banded pennant dragonfly; above right: Blue dasher dragonfly; bottom left: Female ebony jewelwing damselfly; bottom right: Male ebony jewelwing damselfly. Photos by Maria de Bruyn.

To see a variety of bugs, head to areas with water — creeks, ponds and lakes. Dragonflies and damselflies are often popular spottings. Dragonflies perch and fly with their wings spread out horizontally, while damselflies keep their wings mostly folded up over their back when they are resting.

Websites and apps that can help you identify which dragonflies you are seeing include:

If you capture a photo of one, you can upload it to and ask for help there in identifying the species.

Above left: Bee-like robber fly; above right: Parasitic fly; below left: Golden-backed snipe fly; below right: Long-legged fly. Photos by Maria de Bruyn.

You can learn about any kind of bug on BugGuide. I grew up thinking that flies were mostly annoying pests. In my adult years, I’ve learned that, while some do have a nasty bite, they can be quite unique in appearance and beautiful, as shown by the foursome above.

If you like pollinators, there is a lot to learn about them as well. They are, of course, of utmost importance in helping us grow vegetables and flowers. The many types of pollinators include flies, bats, beetles and bees.

The honey produced by honeybees can really satisfy a sweet tooth and our Chapel Hill neighborhoods have beekeepers who are contributing to the supply. In my neighborhood, for example, there are at least two households with apiaries in their yards. The Orange County Beekeepers Association has a wealth of information about beekeeping for those who want to learn more. And there is a beekeepers’ group for students in our area, the Carolina Beekeeping Club. The NC State Extension Service also provides information about beekeeping and links to other apiculture resources.

Maria de Bruyn participates in several nature-oriented citizen science projects, volunteers at Mason Farm Biological Reserve and the Orange County Senior Center, coordinates a nature-themed book club, posts on Instagram ( and writes a blog focusing on wildlife at

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