From the Hospitality of a Mississippi State Park: a Phaon Crescent Butterfly

Phaon Crescent Butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow in Leroy Percy State Park, MS

We were down visiting family in Greenville, Mississippi. Leroy Percy State Park was nearby and it was a treat for me to be introduced to new, southern-based species of butterflies.

Phyciodes Phaon flew very low, keeping close to the edge of the lake. Similar to the closely related Pearl Crescent, they fly and descend on foliage, repeatedly. So we were able to photograph the Phyciodes Phaon.

Our individual here I believe is a female, and sports the characteristic whitish median forewing band.  Others may be creamy or yellow.

A wetland butterfly, Phaon crescents never flew far from the lake shore. Phaons prefer wetland habitat. Pearl crescents don’t. Related species, different habitat.


We enjoyed the hospitality of this Mississippi state park. In the west-central part of the state, it offers comfortable cabins. It’s a sight for us Pittsburghers, sitting near our cabin, at lakeside, watching the herons, egrets and alligators. Nice. Very nice.

Painted Ladies are Good Candidates When You’re Starting a Serious Campaign to Photograph Butterflies

Monarch Butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow in Eastern Neck National Wildlife refuge, MD

This butterfly is beloved across the Globe. Vanessa Cardui enjoying a brief break from the work of gathering nectar from this hybridized Joe Pye Weed in the Butterfly Perennial Garden at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland.

A good candidate for folks who are beginning a serious campaign to photograph butterflies, because when Painted Ladies nectar, they tolerate a close approach, and they can be depended upon to remain motionless and nicely posed for brief, but long-enough intervals. When not feeding, they are almost unapproachable, playing it seems, the I fly 10 feet away, let’s do that again game.

Both this Vanessa and Vanessa Atalanta (Red Admirals) are well known and good friends to devoted gardeners. When tedium almost begins to set in, suddenly a Vanessa appears as if out of nowhere. They usually remain long enough to lighten your mood. Then these spreaders of cheer fly off to titillate yet another gardener toiling in soil, somewhere nearby.


Several Hundred Trips into the Field hadn’t Found One Compton Tortoiseshell Butterfly Until this One

Compton Tortoiseshell Butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow in  Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Should I or shouldn’t I? This has been one among many debates that have been bouncing around in my cranium for some time. A Nymphalis vau-album once flew right past me and landed on a tree stump. OMG! It was gorgeous and about ten feet ahead of me. This butterfly and I were at the Wildflower Reserve in Raccoon Creek State Park, southwestern Pennsylvania. I carefully made my approach, camera ready. I whispered a plea for Help from above (I really did). I wanted this image sooo much. I began to lower my left knee. It left at a very high speed, heading uptrail.

Several years have gone by, and several hundred trips into the field hadn’t found one Compton tortoiseshell. Here, on July 1, 2012 on Nichol Road trail in that same park, a Compton flew in. Another OMG! Cech and Tudor, in their superb field guide Butterflies of the East Coast, note that this species is “exceptionally skittish and hard to approach.” I knew that by now. So, I first took several pictures from a moderate distance and then began my approach (See the Technique feature found at the top of your screen). Yep. As I continued my approach this Compton sped away. Far, far away and out of sight.

So I do have an image of this northern U.S. species. Like other Comptons this one emerged from its chrysalis within the last handful of days, and would fly until late October or into November. They overwinter as adults, in trees or woodpiles. Come early Spring, they fly again, and seek mates. Eggs are laid, caterpillars feed upon willows, birches, aspens and cottonwoods. Adults emerge from their chrysalis in late June to early July.

You needn’t search for them in July and August. Why? Like other species of butterflies, they abhor the summer heat, and aestivate during those months. Aestivate? This means that they search for a hiding place, and in that safe place, begin a period of hibernation-like rest.

Quite a story, Huh? Of course you know a better image is very, very high on my list. Note: The further north that you go in the eastern U.S., the greater are your chances of spotting a Compton’s. But be nimble, because they are one cautious butterfly!


Clematis Flowers Greeting You at Phipps Conservatory’s Outdoor Gardens

Clematis Flowers photographed by Jeffrey Zablow in Phipps Conservatory Outdoor Gardens, PA Conservatory Outdoor Gardens, PA

How many of us shop in giant mega-supermarkets, with aisle after aisle of choices to select from? The natural world can be seen to resemble those super-supermarkets.

These Clematis flowers greet you at the entrance to the Outdoor Gardens of the Phipps Conservatory. I have spent considerable time posted there, awaiting the arrival of nectar-hungry butterflies. I have never seen a butterfly go to a Clematis flower. Colors that nearly defy description yes, but has their vividness summoned butterflies? No.

With the multitude of different flowers in bloom in the Outdoor Gardens, some, such as the Zinnias and Cone Flower, regularly host hungry fliers. Others, as our Clematis, do not receive a visitor. How does this work? What is the plan? Does Clematis bring butterflies in their native habitat? Is this yet another instance of flowers whose guests arrive at night? Have the attractive qualities of Clematis been bred into oblivion?

So it is that in the mega-stores I look down aisles that I never, never go down, with food offerings that I never shop for. We are not then that much different from a Monarch or a Red Admiral butterfly, are we?

If you are expert in this area, you are welcome to weigh in.


Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly Methodically Sipping Morning Nectar at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly ( Black Form) photographed by Jeffrey Zablow in Eastern Neck National Wildlife refuge, MD

She is sipping nectar methodically in the morning sun at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Rock Hall, Maryland. August is a bountiful month for butterflies. Wildflowers have ended their effort to produce flowers, but that’s half the story. Other genera of wildflowers have taken over, producing rich loads of sugary/protein-rich mixtures. Papilio glaucus (Dark form) has chosen to fly in from the surrounding Refuge acreage to do her shopping, so to speak in Dave’s full perennial beds.

Those wings. Do they evoke a cape? The form of a Wright brothers early airborne prototype? Are they nearly outsized for her body? If they are outsized, how do they get this butterfly airborne? Have they in fact mimiced the coloration of the toxic-tasting wings of the Pipevine swallowtail butterfly (Battus philenor)? If they earn predator avoidance, how do/did those birds, reptiles and insects learn this behavior? Are there not dozens of bird species in this same Refuge that would enjoy eating this defenseless butterfly?

Winter here in the U.S. will end soon. Where are these butterflies at this time? Did you know the answer to this puzzler? They overwinter as pupae, hidden in tree hollows, wood piles, and perhaps between the timbers beneath your deck. Lucky you.

If by now you are thinking that has posted another image of this butterfly recently, you’re correct. Just as a jewelry catalog presents different views of gems, we present different views of winged beauties.