The bus ride from the Be’er Sheva University train station was unforgettable. We traveled two hours eastward through terrain unknown to me, and then the road descends, and continues to descend until we were at the Dead Sea. The bus follows the western shores of the Dead Sea, finally arriving at its last stop, the Ein Gedi oasis, our destination.
Colotis phisadia was the butterfly species that I was looking for. It was December in Israel, and the majority of Israeli butterflies were absent during Israel’s winter season. But this was a different place, Ein Gedi. It is the lowest place on earth, 400 meters below sea level. Though Tel Aviv‘s daytime temperatures were in the low 60’s Farenheit, Ein Gedi’s December days were a Middle Eastern 80 Farenheit. So it worked. I had traveled nearly 5 hours from my hosts in Binyamina, and the Blue-Spotted Arabs were flying.
If southern Israel is desert, how can Ein Gedi be an oasis? When rain falls on the Judean mountains to the west of Ein Gedi it finds its way into underground water tables. That water works its way east until it reaches underground reserves at Ein Gedi. This system has sustained this oasis since well before David sought refuge there.
Blue-spotted arabs are very wary, and most of my approaches are not rewarded. Almost every attempt I made ended with the butterfly fleeing. This female was kinder than most, and here she is for you to examine.
Their habitat is limited in southeastern Israel and the southeastern coast of the Sinai Peninsula. All areas have a limited human population. To see them, you have to travel.
Photographing Blue-Spotted Arab butterflies is unique in another way. Their home territory is so striking, so unique, so breath-taking that you long remember your experience of going to Ein Gedi to photograph them in the Wadi.
This November I spent some time photographing in Binyamina, Israel. I am not far from the Mediterranean Sea, in Israel’s coastal plain region. The butterfly, Colias croceus has found Camphor weed flowers along an agricultural road that skirts this beautiful town.
It’s so different, for want of another word, to be photographing nectaring butterflies in late November, at least for this Pittsburgh guy. My grandson was born 2 weeks before, and I arrived in time for the celebration. I brought my film camera, gear, and unique clothing for field work. The TSA in Pittsburgh and in my New York stop all gave me that look when I raised my Ziplock gallon bag to let them see that I had 50 or so rolls of slide film for “Hand Inspection.” To their credit they all inspected it promptly and pleasantly.
Camphor weed was one of only two plants in flower along the farm roads that were within walking distance of my Dina and Misha’s home. It was magnet of nectar for the butterflies flying at the time, so I camped out there for several mornings.
There were few Clouded Yellows to be seen. They look quite a bit like other yellows in the United States. If it ain’t broke, as they say, don’t fix it.
I try to be at the Outdoor Gardens of the Phipps Conservatory as early as 8:30 AM. When I succeed at doing that (its 2.3 miles from home), I park, prepare my camera, and ready myself. Film loaded (Fuji slide), blousing garters on (a precaution – the same ones issued to me by Uncle Sam = they are among the best made things ever), 5-6 rolls of slide film at the ready, I enter the gardens area.
All that done, off I go. Who are among the first greeters waiting for me? Celastrina Neglecta. These pookies, as Michal would call them, are like the sirens that drew sailors to the rocks, only to be crushed. Why? We already have lots of images of Spring Azures (Celastrina Laden) and Celastrina Neglecta, but I want even better ones. So, for 0.05 seconds I debate the use of precious film to seek 10 to 20 shots of this darling. You see the result.
August 21st and here’s the best of that lot. Wingspan of 1″. Wherever I happen to photograph, there are never other people. When others do happen to come along, wherever I may be, Phipps, National Wildlife Refuges, Toronto, wherever, I watch to see if they have a look at the butterflies that flee from their path. They almost never do. Almost all people neglect to stop and examine these tiny Azures, so dainty and so finely marked. Nor do I see curiosity about the commas, red-spotted purples and other butterflies that also avoid giant soles of shoes as they come crashing down on trail. I am amazed to this day that more folks don’t want to savor the beauty that is within reach.
Like the elderly street-minders in Chinese cities, the Azures insure that you pass their stretch of trail safely, and then pass you off to the next trail monitor. You’re not alone on the trail from as early as March, through September.
This photograph was taken quite close to the borders of Lebanon and Syria. This trail rewarded us again and again with many beautiful butterflies and March’s horn of plenty of protected wildflowers in bloom. But, this Israeli Skipper butterfly?
Our library of butterflies in Israel does not enable us to satisfactorily identify this one. It flew down from the higher elevation to our right, and stopped here at trail’s edge. To rest, we imagine.
As with many of our posts of the butterflies of Israel, we knew that we had better use our Canon macro- lens (100mm) first at a distance of about 3.5 feet. Thousands have fled over the years, without a single exposure captured.
This individual remained in place, and I shot 4 exposures. There was no measured, calculated approach. Whisst! It was gone. So this one remains a tantalizer?
Would those of you able to suggest the identification and provide us with an ID?
Spices enhance food. Challenging identifications enhance our work.
It’s riveting to be in a region you’ve only been to once before and at that time for 3 days only. The aim of course is to spot, photograph and identify butterflies. This morning in the northern most Golan had me pumped to accomplish all of that. No distractions, well almost none. Forget that we were close to two heavily contested borders (Lebanon and Syria), or that these trails had there own unknown challenges (flora and fauna). Remain focused. Alert. Keep your peripheral vision on max alert for butterfly sighting. Waste not a moment. Don’t forget to drink (Here in Israel you must remember to drink, even here in March), no snacking, no daydreaming. Didn’t you fly 2 hours from Pittsburgh to JFK and then 13 hours from JFK and then take the train for 2 hours and then drive for another 5? Can you waste one nanosecond now that you are on trail in the Golan?
Fine. Then where are the prize-winning macro- photos of the butterflies of the northern most part of Israel? The entire world knows the Middle East. Arid, proud, contested, fortified, ancient, missiles, armies, biblical and well, hard to fathom. The butterflies of Israel mirror the region. They are faster, more unapproachable, more elusive and unpredictable. They exemplify all of the mores.
So this morning I never knew what to expect next. The skippers we saw were rocket propelled. Couldn’t be approached. Approach? Zip, gone!
We bring this Mallow skipper to you with your permission. Yes, we would have like to have been closer. Closer was not to be an option.
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