Duskywing on Blueberries

6 04 2014

Duskywing butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek Park, PA, 5/06/08

You can’t not like Duskywing butterflies. These little brown bombshells are just about everywhere when you hike the woodland trails in the Spring. Every so often one will accompany you part way on a trail, flying 10 feet ahead of you each time you reach it, and repeating this again and again. Springtime also finds certain beloved plants in active bloom. Among those are wild blueberries. They evoke such warm memories and many recollections of mouth-watering blueberry muffins and . . . blueberry pies. Pause to regain my composure . . .

This sunny morning on May 6th AOTA (all of the above) were right before me in Nichol field in Raccoon Creek State Park (southwestern Pennsylvania = arrive at Kennedy Airport in NYC and drive your rental car 8.5 hours to the southwest). Juvenal’s Duskywing (Erynnis juvenalis) nectaring seriously on Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium).

An image that I sought for some time. Catching a good one seemed achievable, though each time I positioned myself, he would move to the next tiny bloom, and I’d have to refocus my macro lens.

This is one of those reminders of how crucial it is to conserve places like this. Duskywing butterflies, happily nectaring on blueberry bushes. Sweet. Naturally connecting the dots of happy memories.

Jeff





If You Were A Hungry Bird….

2 04 2014

Gray Hairstreak butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA, 7/11

Let’s go with the “If” thing, something that we normally steer away from doing (i.e., If I had million of dollars) But let’s do it here.

If you were a bird, happily habituated in Schenley Park in the center of Pittsburgh, and it was a sunny July morning with blue skies, and you did your normal Park crawl-flight and flew into the Outdoor Gardens of the Phipps Conservatory but, come to think of it, you’ve eaten few insects this morning, and even fewer seeds…. So the sun is heating up the Gardens, you’re a hungry bird, say a Cardinal, or a Mockingbird, or a Blue Jay. Hungry, thirsty, hot sun . . . and there you see it! A tiny morsel of yummy food, with a pair of long antennae, a pair of deep red eyes, each fitted with a black eyeball, a pair of gray wings . . . Our bird becomes a deadly predator, pause, prepare, Strike!

Biologists and naturalists for more than 100 years have positioned that the posterior end of Hairstreak butterflies, as with this Gray Hairstreak, have come to resemble the anterior end of the butterfly, especially when these Grays methodically move the “tails” in a alternating motion. Why, they offer? Because of what often happens next.

The bird strikes, the Gray begins to flee, and the butterfly survives, but remains ‘bird-struck.’ That is, a bit of the ends of both hindwings have been bitten off. Can it fly still? Yes, seemingly with little loss of flight agility. Will the end of the hindwings regrow? No. But, can it reproduce young? Yes, as long as it can convince prospective mates that it is still shmeksy!

Better to be bird-struck . . .

Jeff





Upsetting…Very Upsetting….

30 03 2014

Leonard's Skipper Butterfly at Raccoon Creek State Park

March 27th and the USPS letter carrier delivers our latest issue of NABA’s American Butterflies (Vol. 21: Numbers ¾). Titled The Conservation Issue…I looked forward to reading about the successes that butterflies were enjoying across the United States That did not happen. Most of the articles left me upset and saddened.

Ann B. Swengel writes of the challenges that grass skippers were encountering in their tall grass prairie habitats…but soon she was examining the status of Regal Fritillaries in those same grasslands. I’ve wanted to photograph regal Frits for years now, knowing how limited they are in my home state of Pennsylvania. For various reasons, that has not been accomplished, yet. Jeffrey Glassberg reports in that same issue of American Butterflies, “Regal Fritillaries [were last recorded in Westchester County, NY] in 1975.”

Then Jeffrey Glassberg discussed the disappearance of Leonard’s Skippers from Westchester County. “The last individuals were seen in 1988.”  The last 2 colonies known were decimated by 1) a musical festival that apparently pounded them into the ground and 2) the construction of townhouses that destroyed their habitat.

I will never forget my encounter with Leonard’s Skipper (Hesperia leonardus) in 2006. We’ve posted that experience earlier, so you are welcome to have a look. It was September 4th, sooo late in the season to meet something 100% new…and she was stunning! She flew onto the trail cut through the 100 acre meadow at Raccoon Creek State Park, in southwestern Pennsylvania. She posed with her lush wings fully spread. After lots of exposures, she fled.

These reports are very upsetting. Have the small populations at Raccoon Creek State Park…undergone… I don’t want to think about it.

The American Butterflies articles go on to discuss the absence of Silver-bordered Fritillaries, Meadow Fritillaries, Coral Hairstreaks…can we not anchor the butterflies that we have, and guard their habitat?

Jeff





Heinz Ketchup and the Phipps Conservatory

23 03 2014

Gray Hairstreak butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA, 8/25/10

Here we are 3 days into Spring, and Pittsburgh thermometers read 38 degrees F, plus or minus. Most of the U.S. shares the same mood, popularized by those Heinz TV commercials, not long ago. A..N..T..I..C..I..P..A..T..I..O..N, there awaiting the tasty ketchup, born in this city and consumed nationally, and here, the retreat of wintry cold weather, and replacing that, beautiful moments like this one, Gray Hairstreak butterflies, nectaring peacefully on tall verbena perennials, Outdoor Gardens of Pittsburgh’s Phipps Conservatory…one of the greatest botanical destinations in the world.

Verbenas are native to the U.S., though I’ll need feedback as to the origin of tall verbena. We’ve pictured this garden favorite several times before, noting how it is so easy to grow, produces flowers from June to October, and PUMPS nectar for just about that whole time span. Oh, and it is pretty, quietly, elegantly  pretty.

Strymon melinus is also a native butterfly, and it’s found across most of the United States. When fresh, like this instant one is, it is a gem, offering any who will lean in to examine it, a richly red patch with built-in black spot, against a fashionable gray fedora colored background, complemented by that tri-colored post median dash line, and those tails, those tails that often are moved this way and that.

The tail thing is fascinating. We see hairstreaks like this Gray, with birdstruck hindwings. Birdstruck? Some time in the last several days, a bird or mantid or lizard has attacked the butterfly. Concluding that the tails and red patches (with black dot = eyeball?), twitching this way and that, are the nutritious head, thorax and abdomen, the bird strikes! What does it often get? Just the posterior ends of the hindwings. The butterfly loses a bit of hindwing, but retains 90% of its ability to fly…so it goes on to live…

Heinz Ketchup, Yummy. The Phipps Conservatory Outdoor Gardens, Yummy. Gray Hairstreaks, Yummy. Spring and all of the above? Right, around, the corner.

Jeff








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 87 other followers

%d bloggers like this: