The Day You Heard (Faintly) My “Yes!”

7 01 2014

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

22 11 2013

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 ….


Parnassius Mnemosyne (Protected) (2)

18 11 2013

Parnassius mnemosyne butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow at Mt. Hermon, Israel

This one stayed in my Neumade metal slide cabinet since my June 2008 trip to the peak of Mt. Hermon. Every butterfly I spotted on the mountain top denied me an easy approach (See our Technique feature). So the slides came back from the lab, and sure enough, they were not perfect…my subjects just kept moving, shifting and fleeing. Found only on Mt. Hermon, at the northernmost tip of Israel, this Parnassius m. only barely tolerated my presence. What an annoyance I was, she seemed to be concluding…then, zip! She jetted away, out of sight. I saw just 2 of them that day, and the second was a distance from me, and on the move.

With War! at the base of the mountain (Syria!), I was unable to return to the mountain in June 2013. No civilians were permitted up the mountain. Earlier, in March 2012, we couldn’t photograph butterflies up there because…the summit was snow-covered. Magnificent, but its butterflies were not flying.

So this image, now much more valuable to me, has deeper significance, and looks much, much better to me. War! Preparation for armed conflict.Infilitration by terrorists. Land mines that were supposed to have been removed…but were missed, and still waiting….(See our earlier post, when Eran Banker discovered one right where I was working the top for Leps).

The U.S. has Parnassius species. I’ve yet to see one. Here’s Israel’s Parnassius. They are most closely related to the swallowtails. Ahhhhh, if only one of our American butterfly scholars would share how………………………………………?



Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly (Black form) Bejeweled

9 11 2013

Tiger swallowtail butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh

It’s New York, or Charleston, or San Francisco or Tokyo or London or Sao Paulo or Paris or Beijing…or Toronto, and you are strolling along a much too- expensive avenue of designer shops and boutiques…and there in the window you see the most captivating bejeweled broach or pin. That is how I feel when I am able to make my close approach to this beauty. What rivals her flash of color?

July calls countless butterflies to the Outdoor Gardens of the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh. A recent post notes that youngsters from the above cities earn their undergraduate and graduate degrees within sight of the spot, at the University of Pittsburgh and at Carnegie Mellon University. Imagine, I crouch down to see her nectar on Tall verbena, and at the same time I see the buildings of these venerated universities.

Pretty good for Schenley Park, within which Phipps sits. A relocated New Yorker, all I need do is travel 2 miles from my home, and here I am. Pittsburgh.

Much discussed as one of the Pipevine swallowtail mimics, Black form Papilio glaucus benefits from looking like the pipevines, because birds and other predators have learned that this pattern of wing color is associated with a very, very, very nasty tasting butterfly, the pipeline swallowtail. Only a dumb bunny bird will forget the lesson, hard learned by most.




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