Butterfly Battle Stations!

Milbert's Tortoiseshell Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park
I’m asked many interesting questions with my work photographing butterflies. This one was bulls-eye to the reason for what I do. The Question? Which of your butterfly photos do you remember as being the most exciting?

Good question. it goes right to the heart of why do I do what I do? Almost no one, and no one I know, does what I do nowadays. This July 25th image kept catching my eye, as I searched among more than 400 images for the answer to this query.

Burma? No. Mexico? No. Salvador? No. Provence? No? Mongolia? No. Raccoon Creek State Park, here in southwestern Pennsylvania. A bright sunny morning, and I was there well before 9 A.M.. The usual customers came to the nectar bar, that day offering the following treats: Milkweed nectar, Teasel nectar (featured here), Black-eyed susan nectar and many, many others.

What an extraordinary place to be, for this lucky boy from Brooklyn! Then . . . Holy Cow! What’s that? It just swooped in, and descended on this teasel flowerhead. My first-ever Milbert’s Tortoiseshell!! (Exclamation marks required, because i was beyond ecstatic). Could I approach? I did, and it didn’t panic. Closer (dare I try?)? Yes. Raised my camera lens. Still there, Whew!

It opened its wings, wide. I was stunned. Why? The wings were parallel to the bright sun and, . . . Flames danced across the orangish-reddish bands. Flames! I had never seen anything like it. Ever. I tried to keep my mind clear, and I just kept shooting, as it offered good looks to me. I was yes, praying that 1 or more of my exposures would satisfy.

That’s why this post is entitled ‘Butterfly Battle Stations!’ A rush of adrenaline, ecstasy, and appreciation, as G-d shared a bejeweled treat with . . . me.


Yes to Both Questions . . .

Tawny Hackberry butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA
We see fewer and fewer Tawny Emperor butterflies at Raccoon Creek State Park. A recent email from someone who monitors the insects of Pennsylvlania included the Tawny amongst the rare and uncommon butterflies. I hope this is not the future for this brown masterpiece. Most encouraging is the abundance of its hostplant, Hackberries, tree and bushes.

I’ve shared this image with many groups of adults and children. Question #1 usually is, “Is this a moth?” No, it is a butterfly. Prominent head, relatively slender body and antennae (the plural) consisting of a pair of long stems with a club at its end.

Question #2 often expresses curiosity about those antennae. We have 2 eyes, 2 ears, 2 nostrils. Our Tawny has those 2 antennae. What do they do? Robert Michael Pyle’s National Audubon Society Field Guide to Butterflies ( Alfred A. Knopf, 2012) writes that “Antennae are probably used for smelling as well as for touching and orientation.” The antennae seen here are quite long, each with a whitish club. Looking at these antennae, see how their length enables them be aware of what is going on around them.

So ‘Yes’ to both questions. If you have an additional question, “A female or a male?” The answer to that one is . . . it is difficult to tell the sex of a Tawny, unless of course you are another Tawny.


Home or Away?

Red-Spotted Purple butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Leroy Percy Park, Hollandale, MS, 9/08/09
This morning I photographed at Raccoon  Creek State Park. I set the odometer on the Tundra. 37 miles, exactly. It’s Memorial Day, sunny, no wind, and the morning was seasonably comfortable, with temperatures hovering in the 60’s at 10:30 AM. The trail was all mine alone, save for one hiker and 5 on horseback. 3 and ½ hours of enjoyment. Enjoyment fueled by swallowtails, duskywings, azures, skippers and of course, one butterfly that was totally a mystery, and, did not stick around long enough for me to ID it.

The Tiger swallowtails made the morning. The came down from the trees between 9 and 10 AM. They were males. Fresh, smallish males, richly colored. Each of them flew down. Down, not around, and set out wings to bask and warm in the morning sun. They allowed my approach and I took maybe too many exposures…thinking, book cover opportunity = go for it. Fuji film, you remember, so they must go to Kansas and return for me to see.

Days ago I was in Rock Hall, Maryland, on the beautiful, lush Delmarva Peninsula. Dave and Bill, volunteers at the Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, helped out, offering suggested nooks and crannies to explore. 3 pleasant nights at the Mariners Motel in Rock Hall, then the 6 hour drive to Pittsburgh.

This stunning Red-spotted purple butterfly closely resembles the one I watched up in that American holly tree. Both were seen very far from home. Comes the question? Home or away?

We have a comfortable and growing number of people who view and follow wingedbeauty.com. I cannot say if they care whether my images are obtained in my home county, or 927 miles away in Hollandale, Mississippi. I greatly appreciate you all, and Love each and every visit you make.

There aren’t many who photograph butterflies and blog their work. One or two others do so all over the map. They post their finds from Texas, Colorado, California, the Florida Keys, the Jersey Pine Barrens, Alaska, and ….

This would be great fun, though it comes with great expen$e, airports, rental cars, motels and long, long rides. All this alone. Robert Michale Pyle and others do so, but the rub (for me) is that they have earned the friendship of so many authoratitive friends it seems almost everywhere, and when they set a destination, they have at least some assurance that time, place and conditions add up to probable success. And there is the human factor, friends to see, experiences to recall over home cooked meals, camaraderie on trails.

So I am presently weighing Home or Away? Do I perservere within a radius of 100 miles of my Pittsburgh home, or fly the now less than friendly skies, to share rare, little known butterflies flying in America’s holdout wildernesses? Add a final ingredient. I eat gluten free, necessitating that I take along a stash of food from our East End Co-op and Whole Foods (Bless them both).


Horace’s Duskywings Coupling

Duskywings Indelicata photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek Park, PA, 5/05/08
May 5th on Nichol Road trail in Raccoon Creek State Park. I almost missed seeing this. Male and female, after completing their appraisals of one another, now successfully coupling. Minutes went by. They remained motionless.

Provide butterflies and all other creatures with undisturbed habitat, fostering the host plants their caterpillars feed on, and the nectar or alternative food (scat, fruit, sap) that nourish the adults, and they will replenish their numbers. No need for corporate, or volunteer or government intrusion. Just don’t destroy the land they call their home, don’t indiscriminately release pollutants to the air and water, and … voila! generation after generation of amazing and beautiful butterflies.

No instruction manuals or how to videos, or coaches were to be seen. Vital, necessary behavior, after the ravages of a long, hard winter of zero degree temperatures.