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

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).

Jeff

Guess Who Showed Up?

Red-Spotted Purple butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek Park, PA, 8/03/09
May 20th was a good day at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge (Rock Hall, Maryland…On the Delmarva peninsula). The morning sky was mostly clear, with passing clouds here and there. I tried to disregard the fantastic airshow above and around me…Osprey, Bald eagles, Turkey Vultures, Indigo buntings, Ruby throated hummingbirds, Great blue herons, Mockingbirds, Cardinals…. Butterflies were why I came to this Refuge, surrounded by Chesapeake Bay.

The Butterfly Garden, planted next to the house that the Ranger lives in, was planted with nectaring plants, but they were not in flower as of yet. The trails were fun, but didn’t yield too much butterfly action. There were a pair of 50 foot trees near the Rangers’ house, in full, and I mean full bloom! Perhaps hundred of thousands of white blossoms, each producing a faint aroma, not unlike vanilla. The leaves were Holly leaves. Bees of many species were flying around and around the larger tree, oddly not landing, but flying. Protecting their claimed sector of treescape?

I photographed the tree and its blooms. And I wondered. If most of the native plants are not yet in bloom, and most of the nearby garden is still developing its blooms, will butterflies be drawn to these katrillion flowers on what I think is an American Holly tree (Ilex opaca Ait.).

I waited. Waited. Then there one was. It was a good sized butterfly. A brushfoot. Which one? Then it came closer. A red-spotted purple butterfly. Characterized as a generalist, a species that seeks sustenance from a large variety of flowering species. It never came close enough for a solid macro- photograph.

The table was set, the settings were overflowing…and Red-spotted purple butterfly dropped by to enjoy some of the hundred of gallons of sweet that our tree was pumping.

Jeff

Note: This is not an image of this butterfly on American holly.

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.

Jeff