Upsetting…Very Upsetting….

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?


Horace’s Duskywing Butterfly (RCSPark)

Horace's Duskywing butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek Park, PA, 5/08/07

May 8th and we’re not alone as we travel Nichol Road trail in Raccoon Creek State Park. These pert, excitable little Duskywing butterflies flank me on either side of much of the trail. Some hold their position, others flee, only to set down 15 feet ahead or back. Very territorial, are these butterflies. Female Duskywing butterflies are more brightly decorated, this one here an especially well-adorned miss.

That she’s a Erynnis horatius is fairly certain… but not guaranteed. Juvenal’s, Wild Indigos and possibly other Duskywings are also flying here in May.

Duskywings, when they are as fresh as she is, remind me of certain men’s haberdashery shops that used to line spiffy Madison Avenue in New York, New York in the 1980′s. Enter those hatters and you’d enter a world of the richest chocolate-brown hats that could be imagined. A well dressed, confident man in a rich brown hat…

Good little butterflies, keeping you company, and keeping you sharp  and aware, ready for the Leps that your camera lens is aching to capture. Good.

Funny too about Duskywings… I’ll bet that only 1 in 20 who hike these trails, notice our tiny Duskywings. As I meet hikers on these trails, to my question, ‘What butterflies have you seen?” Answer (guaranteed): None. Me, I’m thinking, actually you have probably set your eyes on dozens, though few such nerve impulses have made it all the way to that locus in your brain that….


Mallow Skipper

Mallow skipper butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow at Mishmarot,  Israel

Two mountains in Israel provided me with very exciting experiences. Mt. Hermon, even though closed to civilians, offered many butterflies along its base. Mt. Meron was just too much fun, and the #1 goal of that effort, good images of the breathtaking Two-Tailed Pasha butterfly, remains yet to be realized. Once I found Pasha habitat, once I figured out the strategies that were needed to photograph them Macro-… it was time to load the rental and return it to Haifa. Now that’s an experience. Drive to Haifa to return the rental car, through busy, curvy roads, without a Hebrew vocabulary of more than 15 words…stopping here and there to ask directions… of men whose English vocabulary also consists of 15 words. But, I did it. Then, the rental people told me that the train back to Binyamina was … just across the avenue and down the street. Ah, NO. With few people down the avenue and across the street, I had to seek advice from  two young men. It’s been a bit since my hardscrabble days on the streets of New York City, where then, you had to immediately know who was benign and who required your 100% full attention…to remain healthy. These 2 guys were OK, and were walking to their fast-food jobs. They got me to my train, and from then on helpful folks enabled me to get to Binyamina station. Turns out they liked my business cards (Moo) and I enjoyed their questions and interest.

Our Carcharodus alceae met me in the agricultural fields near my daughter’s home in Mishmarot. North of Tel Aviv and not too far from the Mediterranean, these fields are among the millions of acres of farmland that cover Israel. Easy to forget that those millions of acres had turned back to desert over thousands of years. Israel north of Beersheva is mostly green. Food supermarkets are loaded with excellent fresh fruits and vegetables, the produce of those very same fields. Pity that much of the world is unable or unwilling to favor this land of Milk & Honey….

The Mallow skippers were mostly perching on dried flowerheads in this June field edge. Even though it was early June, it was more than 90 degrees Farenheit. As I passed each one of these pookies, they would leave in a huff! and within a minute or so, return to that very same tiny perch. This female tolerated my approach and I shot away! Yes, she is not the OMG! type of butterfly that jolts my senses… but once you take the time to get to know her better … she bedazzles!


The Universal Subject Butterfly

Gray-spotted skipper butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh

The place to be on a July 6th morning. The Outdoor Gardens of the Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh. Sun above, minimal wind and flowers abloom everywhere. Few folks about yet, except for a lone woman sitting on the benches under the low tree, across from the large perrenial bed, and the couple strolling the garden paths, no doubt taking mental notes, should we try this or this in our garden next Spring?

Like Pyle, and Cech and Kauffman, I’m working the garden paths, seeing what’s come to bloom and thinking…now that the flower buds have opened, what butterflies may come to enjoy the sweet nectars now pumping.

Reaching a turn in the path, there stood this yummy cultivar. Clair?

I positioned myself and awaited the Monarch. Or the Eastern tiger swallowtail. Or the Eastern black swallowtail. Or dare to dream, the errant Milbert’s, still flying this first week of July.

Nothing, nothing, nothing…then action. Who? This Silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus) the universal opportunist across much of the United States.

Good, Pop! pop! Pop! pop! Flash your “Bold, irregular white patch” (Cech and Tudor, 2005). A real butterfly not shy to sip at a beckoning bloom.