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.

Jeff

Tawny Emperor & the Nixon White House Photographers

Tawny hackberry butterfly photographed at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Hannah and David gave me Dennis Brack’s Presidential Picture Stories – Behind the Cameras at the White House (2013)David Kleber was an NBC White House Photographer, and had alot to do with the book design and production of this fascinating book. One of those hard to put down reads. Inside recollections of their work and terrific anecdotes with so many U.S. Presidents of the 20th century.

So I get to page 98 … and there it is. Acknowledgment of a dilemma that I have experienced so many times in the field. The same tense drama that accompanied the taking of this photo of Asterocampa clyton. Sitting there having dinner, page 98 was the first time that I had ever seen anyone else moan about this game changer of a moment.

Brack writes of the day that Richard Nixon relinquished his job as President, his final day in the job…”…Nixon walked up the ramp to the helicopter and turned to face the crowd on the lawn. First, there was a wave, almost a salute-better get that, it might be all there is. Then he continued with his right arm, bringing it across his face and holding his hand high above-certainly want that. The photographers’ prayers started: “Lord, please let me be on frame thirty-one and not frame thirty-five.” Finally, the classic Nixon Double Whammy, his arms straight out and both hands making the “V” sign….Some photographers got the picture and were happy, some did not and were not so happy.”

Yes, I still shoot film (Fuji slide). I happened upon this Tawny Emperor (its other name) in the most unlikely place, and I had just done a no-no. I had left the roll from the day before, with more than ⅔ of the 36 exposures used,  in the camera. This butterfly was spectacular and in a priceless pose, on the horizontal member of a wooden trail sign at the trailhead of the Wetland trail in Raccoon Creek State Park, in southwestern Pennsylvania.

When I am impressed by a butterfly, very impressed, I like to shoot 40 to 50 exposures of it, hoping that 1 or 2 will be winners. The risk? The risk is that after 2  0r 3 camera clicks, the butterfly is goooooone! Now how could I do that with less than 10 unexposed shots in the camera? Like the White House cameramen (all men back then), I asked G-d’s help, shot the roll…held my breath while I removed the roll and reloaded a roll of ASA 100, and … it was still there, still posing. Was it injured, sick? I shot out the entire new roll, and again reloaded. At about the 5th or 6th shot of this 3rd roll, our Tawny Hackberry disappeared like a rocket, straight out of sight.

Here’s the best of those exposures. Thanks to Dennis Brack, David Kleber and Hannah Kleber.

Jeff

Tawny Emperor Butterfly

Tawny hackberry butterfly photographed at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

One of my most appreciated images. I had just arrived at the Wetland Trail at Raccoon Creek State Park. On the horizontal post of a trail marker sign I saw…Oh my goodness! This Tawny Emperor butterfly remained in full pose, as I gently pleaded with it to continue to bask in the warm morning sunshine….enabling me to capture more than a roll full (36) of shots. Then it fled! Eureka! This image was the result.

You never know what’s waiting for you at the trail head. Wings dabbed with golden brushes….spots circled by coral rings….all on wings that look like they’re……………………. Asterocampa clyton.

An 11×14 graces the wall of my dining room. It’s matting features a calligraphy of someone whom I admired, it noting roughly, ‘How beautiful are G-d’s creatures.’ I enjoy it daily.

One of the hackberry butterflies, a population of them usually signals the nearby presence of ……… trees.

Jeffrey