Spectacular Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Tiger swallowtail butterflies photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA
The common name is Tiger Swallowtail butterfly. I’ve added the word ‘Spectacular’ because that was the thought that shot through my mind when I made my approach. Bedazzling colors. Fresh, strong, vibrant. We were on the trail minutes after 8 A.M. He and others flew out of their nighttime tree roosts, and each found a flat surface to begin that slow, steady warm-up. I love those few minutes. They enable me to make careful approach. Approach that 15 minutes later would be impossible to do.

His ventral wing design reminded me of the primary reason that I have for photographing butterflies. I’ve lived in New York City. I’ve frequented Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Doyle Galleries alot. The workmanship displayed here . . . exceeds the finest work of the finest jewelry houses. The origin of this beauty, ah that is quite a question.

Papilio Glaucus enjoyed early on a June 2014 morning. What will he do over the next 9 to 10 hours? Fly madly, almost non-stop, searching for a mate.


Counting the Weeks

Nichol Field photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek Park, PA, 7/06
On April 27th, just days ago, I visited this same field at Raccoon Creek State Park, in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Spring growth had not accelerated yet, and almost the entire 100 +/- acres were covered with 3” tall plant stubble. Evidence of planned field husbandry could be seen here and there, most easily noticed were areas of controlled burn.

We are looking at a section of the field during the first week of July. Fast forwarding to that time in this place, how much fun it is to be greeted by American Coppers, Orange Sulphurs, Tiger Swallowtails, Duskywings, Silver-spotted Skippers, Spicebush Swallowtails, while at the same time enjoying the silent company of Apis Mellifera and Bombus Pensylvanicus (honeybees and bumblebees). Unexpected overflights of a larger Darner simulated our pride and sense of well-being when we are lucky enough to spot a US Air Force jet flying near the horizon. Would you look at that, a Monarch!

Adding to the warmth of the day, time and place would be spotting another naturalist headed my way, and could it be? Yes! It’s…………You!

NB, I’ve received my Fuji film, back-up Canon camera, and the first of what I hope are, several airplane tickets. Good to go.


The Day You Heard (Faintly) My “Yes!”

Swallowtail butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow at Mt. Meron, Israel

It was that 2nd week of June 2013, and you were wherever your happened to be, some minutes after 11:00 AM, Israeli time. Savannah, Moscow, La Jolla, Seoul, Madrid, Rockefeller Center…wherever you were, your eardrums vibrated faintly, prompted by the Scream I, Jeffrey, booomed out from Mt. Meron, almost at its peak. Six years of watching Papilio machaon syriacus elude my Macro- lens, and now, and many flights on El Al and Air Canada (no  thanks) and Continental Airlines, 12-13 hours aboard the Kennnedy or Newark take-offs… I achieved a long awaited goal, images of Israel’s most common swallowtail. When I captured my exposures, after he flew off, I caught my breath, brought myself up from the left knee (TommyCo knee pad (Love it)), and Ecstatic, I yelled “YES!” at the top of my lungs… Sheer ecstasy. I have seen much, done much, suffered too, escaped sure calamity several times, experienced Joy! with much Gratitude… but as you will all understand, there is so much left to savor and claim and overcome. Those minutes on the mountain were owed in part to sheer determination and doggedness, learned steadily and over time.

This swallowtail flies from February to December in Israel. They are solitary, fly at great speed, and are unapproachable. How did I get these images with my Canon 2.8/100mm Macro- lens? I was almost where you see I was. After an attempt to photograph other butterflies there, it did not work out. 70 yards from end of the trail, I was to get up from that crouch, when my left eye caught the flight of a large butterfly, heading to my general direction … ? My turned head saw …Papilio m. fly almost to me, and land on this tiny bloom. Tiny. How long could this mini-blossom treat its guest to sweet nectar? Do you see? The whole experience was improbable! I was at the end of my morning’s search, I was hot and tired, the swallowtail flew in from who knows where to this 1 cm flower, and remained feeding on this lilliputian bloom long enough for me to depress my shutter button about 14 times. OMG! You know where I’m going with this ….

Sure you’ve seen similar images, much closer up. All that I can offer is that this image, and the other I posted earlier, is in the wild, not photo-enhanced, more than difficult to get, and I think that the colors (actually I know that …)  are correct, real-time.

Thanks for reading through….


Swallowtail (Israel) at Mt. Meron

Swallowtail butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow at Mt. Meron

Finally! Three weeks in Israel would soon end, and yet another flight back home (Pittsburgh, PA, USA) without a passable photo of Israel’s Papilio machaon. Ramat Hanadiv, Mishmarot, the foot of Mt. Hermon, Tel Dan Reserve, Tal Kadosh Nature Park, and other northern Golan locales, and now Mt. Meron. Still no decent image of this beautiful swallowtail.

It was a lesson in perserverance. I was returning on a Mt. Meron trail, after having worked both sides of it for ¾ of a mile. It was hot, as it should be in mid-June 2013. But it was not excessively hot, and . . . the wildflowers were in bloom everywhere . . . and the butterflies were everywhere. So I was thankful for all that I had accomplished. A fantastic trip, joyous time with family in Mishmarot, travel in Israel without mishap, fair enough  rental car, met many fascinating people, the personal  joy of a strong, upright Israel, tremendous weather . . .

I was approaching the trailhead and my rental car. I’m thinking in total, Thank You. Ok, so maybe the next trip for images of Swalowtails and Two-tailed Pasha butterflies. My eye catches sight of a fresh Lep just off the trial, and I go to it, with my roll of slide film still waiting in my camera. Good, a couple of images . . . Then, WHOA! I see a swallowtail fly in  and land on the tiny flower that you see in the image. Battlestations!

Do I risk moving closer to it? Isn’t the flower too tiny to keep the swallowtail interested, as I make an approach? Hasn’t it been years, without a shareable image? Move? Don’t move. Didn’t Uncle Sam train me to make decisions and execute them? I made an especially cautious approach. Careful Jeff, don’t risk getting too close. She will flee like a rocket!

It may well be that some will look again at this image and think, Eh! I tell you this is one wild, unapproachable species, this Papilio m.. This female had not just exited her chrysalis in a house or shed, slowly drying and waiting to spread her wings and then, then fly. Lady Machaon is a wild as they get. I stopped 5 feet away from her, followed the steps in our Technique feature (See the Technique click near the top of your view) and shot,  shot, shot, shot . . .

I am more than happy with the product. Her splashes of blue are dramatic. A bit of her orange/red hindwing marking can be seen. Her wings are sharp and intact. Youthful beauty!

That morning your ears did not deceive you. Whether you were in London, Calcutta, Mexico City, Charleston or Toronto…You did hear a faint, “Yes!” Faint because it was a scream that I let loose, from near the top of Mt. Meron, thousands of miles from wherever you were! I finally, finally scored images of Papilio machaon, just minutes before my final field work in 2013 in Israel.

The author confirms that this is a true and accurate account of one man’s passion for ….