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Find Unique Butterflies
Along Hiking Trails

2 butterflies on yellow flower - craggs trail

Photographing butterflies while hiking through forests and fields is much more challenging than in any other setting since the insects are less accustomed to the presence of people. Also, they tend to flit about very frequently in order to cover more ground in search of harder to find flowers. Nevertheless, getting a shot of a species of butterfly I have never seen before in its native environment is very rewarding and I find it's worth the effort.

brown with orange spot butterfly - craggs trail I usually have to use my 300mm zoom to get close enough to these wary subjects - their personal space seems to be about 4 to 5 ft. minimum. Even though my Sony DSLR-A100 camera body has a "super steady shot" function, with a zoom lens I have to take extra care with arms held tightly to my sides and holding my breath to get as sharp an image as possible. The speed has to be high because of rapid movements and, if it's a sunny day, 1/125 or higher might be good. An image is flattened slightly with a zoom lens, so the aperture can be open fairly wide (f/7.1 - f/10), allowing you to still get a lot in focus, including most of a flower the butterfly has landed on. Experiment with your camera settings, aiming for the richest saturation of color and sharpest focus of the subject as possible.

orange butterfly on gravel - craggs trail

Moving to Colorado and exploring area hiking trails has made wild butterfly photography an exciting pursuit. Though my patience is regularly tested and my arms get tired, I am exhilarated when I take what look to be promising photos (I never really know until I examine them on the computer). Butterflies are most likely to be in wide-open sunny fields with many wild flowers. I park myself by different clusters of flowers, holding still for a few minutes. I am often fortunate to have a colorful visitor land within two yards of me. Sometimes I will slowly chase a butterfly and have success that way, too. I usually hike somewhere between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and those times, with full summer sun, have worked well. Even photographing subjects in the shade can turn out well on a sunny day.
brown butterfly on  forest floor brown butterfly on branch - no direct sun

orange butterfly in waldo canyon - co

One time near the end of June or early July I hiked the six mile loop in Waldo Canyon (about 12 miles west of Colorado Springs off hwy 24 on the north side) and found five ft. high bushes with tiny white flowers that attracted butterflies like magnets. I was also delighted to find numerous Columbine growing on the forest floor. On another hike in August along the Craggs trail (western slope of Pikes Peak) my husband and I passed through a large meadow spotted with wildflowers and butterflies I had never seen before. I had so much fun and really enjoyed the view at the top of the trail. We could see distant mountain ranges all around us.

I know I have only touched the tip of the iceberg of what Colorado has to offer in regard to lovely trails, flowers and butterflies. Colorado ranks fourth in the United States for the greatest number of butterfly species recorded, coming behind Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. The Lower Rio Grande Valley at the southern tip of Texas is a great spot to observe a large variety of species of butterflies and is along the path of migratory Monarchs coming up from Mexico.


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