Athens Review, Athens, Texas

January 30, 2014

The Little Things

Athens’ Wayne Stafford explores a smaller world through his camera

Rich Flowers
The Athens Review

Athens — Wayne Stafford likes to take the time to notice the little things - very little things.

Stafford, retired from years on the job at New Era electric is now in his 80s, but that hasn’t slowed down his curiosity. You might say he’s wild about wild flowers and of late is enchanted by butterflies.

With his camera he’s located and photographed some colorful species you might run across if you spent a little time in your back yard or a nearby vegetable garden.

  Stafford won a Texas Master Gardener Association 2011 first place award for his graphics presentation “Wildflowers of the Post Oak Savannah.” More than 200 flowers, photographed in Henderson and Anderson County are included in the presentation. The photographing and cataloguing of the flowers  over a period of about three years.

 “I’ve always been interested in photography,” Stafford said. “I recently got more interested in it when I took a course about twenty years ago at the junior college.”

 Stafford remembers taking pictures on black and white film and developing them himself.

“I had some good pictures of spiders and spider webs. Then I got started taking wildflower pictures.”

Stafford was an award winner at Texas Master Gardeners again in 2012, but by then he’d turned his attention to butterflies. He’s planning on shooting more pictures and getting together a new presentation. In the meantime he’s been learning a lot about the little creatures that brighten the area in the spring and fall.

When he was getting pictures of flowers, Stafford found the early morning best, when dewdrops were still on the petals. For the fluttery creatures, it’s a little different.

“The best time for butterflies is probably the latter part of the day,” Stafford said. “I like it when it’s a little cloudy and overcast. If the butterflies see the shadows they’ll go.”

The Texas Cottage Garden at the East Texas Arboretum is attractive to visitors, but is also a prime location for butterflies, Stafford said.

Stafford explains that certain plants are attractive to butterfly larvae and nectar plants provide nourishment throughout the season. Enough of the right kinds of plants are planted in the Cottage Garden to produce an ample supply of butterflies. When you learn what species of plants are useful for what types of larvae or butterflies you can produce a butterfly friendly garden, Stafford said.

In nearby Anderson County, the Engling Wildlife Preserve has almost 11,000 acres, an array  of diverse plant and animal life.

“It’s a perfect place to learn about native plants and butterflies,” Stafford says in his presentation.

But many of his shots didn’t require a trip across the county line. Stafford said his home is habitat to a great number of Tiger swallowtails that feed on the lantana in his yard.

 “Our neighbor had a big ash tree which was supplying the butterflies and our lantana was supplying the nectar,” Stafford said.

Another type of butterfly abundant in the area is the Gulf Fritillary. Stafford has a slide of a tiny yellow egg on the side of a leaf.

“I got a real good close up picture of it,” Stafford said.

Within three to five days, the caterpillar will hatch, he said. The caterpillar will go through five growth stages before becoming a butterfly. In that last stage, he’ll be about two inches long.

A fascinating time in the life cycle of a butterfly is when the metamorphosis occurs and the chrysalis is formed. Stafford said the butterfly begins to take shape and will emerge in a few days. The chrysalis breaks open with crumpled wings. Fluid is pumped from its stomach to help the wings expand and take shape.

Stafford said butterfly wings are extremely thin with the transparent material called chitin stretched over a vein-like structure. The material is covered by tiny scales, that give insulation and strength to the wings.

What butterflies can you expect to see in Henderson County? Stafford names 13, with the Eastern black swallowtail leading the way. That’s followed by the Gulf Fritillary, Spicebush swallowtail, pipe vine swallowtail and the tiger swallowtail. 

Besides his outdoor shots, Stafford is also often seen with his camera snapping photographs as an officer in the  James George Chapter No. 59 of the Sons of the Republic of Texas. The Sons of The Republic of Texas is a direct lineage society consisting of members whose ancestors furthered the independence of Texas and resided in Texas prior to statehood, December 29, 1845.