Dogbane Exposed

Dogbane photographed by Jeff Zablow at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, Rock Hall, MD
Curt first introduced me to Dogbane during a butterfly count (NABA?) many years ago in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands. Dogbane is one of those ubiquitous wild flowering plants that just seem to always go unnoticed. That day Curt said that many butterflies rely heavily on the nectar produced by Dogbane. That information stuck in my head, and every season since, when I am in a field or meadow, I look for dogbane. I look for it because it is a destination for butterflies frustrated after having had little success locating milkweed or bergamot or the other wildflowers that share the same bloom times.

This Dogbane was growing strongly in Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge on the Delmarva peninsula in eastern Maryland. It’s about 90 feet from the shore of Chesapeake Bay. A great place to grow. We’re seeing it in May 2014. Dogbane blooms in June and July. At this time in August, the tiny flowers have been replaced by longish fruiting pods.

A wildflower that grows alongside the Asclepias milkweeds, and bergamots and thistles and other superstar nectar destinations, and does its part to make sure that all the butterflies, bees, moths and flies that just need a bit more sugary nectar . . . have just one more selection, if they so wish.


Pragmatic Spring Azure Butterfly

Spring Azure butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Nichol Road, Raccoon Creek State Park, PA
Can’t tell if this Celastrina ladon is a male or a female. That determination awaits a peek at the upper surface of it wings, and this one was not interested in showing me its dorsal surface. We met on June 1, 2014. Just this morning, August 27, 2014, I was on the very same Nichol road trail at Raccoon Creek State Park, near my Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania home. Tinier than your thumbnail (take a moment to gauge that), I met 6 or 7 Spring azures during my field exploration. I decided to photograph some 3 of them, and all would having nothing to do with that, flying fast to the high grass nearby. Males all, they had no time to spare, as they searched tirelessly for new mates.

Once and a while I puzzle over why we strive to save much larger butterflies whose numbers decrease steadily, pay little notice to Azure species, and our Azures endure just fine, each year greeting you on the trails, and escorting you to the next Azure down the trail. Today their escort work was less obvious, perhaps because in the waning  days of August, procreation has become a driving instinct.

Our Azure shown here is most definitely a male, and he is ‘Pragmatic’ because all that flying, almost non-stop for hours, causes him to have to replenish those proteins that he burns out in his wing muscles. To do that, he needs certain raw materials, especially certain minerals. He’s standing on a cache of those precious minerals, and the ‘Pragmatic’ part is because . . . those minerals are abundant in that dark pile of scat (feces or ‘poop’). Yes, butterflies can be very practical.


A Tree That Butterflies Love

American Holly tree photographed by Jeff Zablow at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, Rock Hall, MD

Took a break mid-morning at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge ( Rock Hall, Maryland). May 2014. The Ranger’s house was smack in the middle of their best butterfly habitat. After so much looking down and looking straight ahead, this tree drew my attention, and I look up. What did I see?

This American Holly tree ( Ilex opaca ) had dozens of butterflies flying around it. The Red-spotted purples were numerous among them. Problem was that I don’t bring binoculars with me, so I couldn’t ID the dozens and dozens of smaller butterflies that were up there. This is a 60′ tall tree, so the species zipping about were left to my imagination. Bees and flies were uncountable, and wasps and other predators flew about, on their hunt for prey.

I have seen heavy action around Paw paw trees, and several trees further South, but I don’t remember ever seeing a tree that was so supportive of butterflies, as this one was.

The field guides all cite this tree as equally valuable in the late Fall and Winter, its berries placing it among the Best Trees to Attract Birds (Stokes Bird Gardening Book, Little, Brown and Company).

A native tree that supports wildlife of dozens and dozens of species. Nice. Didn’t need to bring it here. It was always here.


Gray Hairstreak Euphoria

Gray Hairstreak Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh. Jeff blogs about the art and science of butterflies at
It was just a few days ago that I spotted a Gray Hairstreak nectaring on the coneflowers in my very own ‘peanut garden.’ It was a fine, fresh one, and caught my eye as I watched through the dining room window. That triangular form jutting out from the coneflower! Immediate Euphoria! I got out to the garden in a split second, and you know what? Any and all concerns that had been floating up there in my brain vaporized. Vaporized. The $100 water bill. The parking ticket that costs as much as a fine meal in a fine restaurant, the murderous ISIS mutilating others somewhere ½ way around the world, the why? is the shout of support for tiny, little Israel so difficult to hear, the day after day rain/thunderstorms impeding my photograph field work, all washed away.

That is one BIG reason that good folks strive to block development of good land. These and other butterflies provide us with hope, beauty, piece of mind and a reminder that there is a Higher order.

The first Gray Hairstreak in our newly planted ‘peanut’ garden, abutting the 900+ acre Frick Park. Who knows what else will visit today? Tomorrow?


Colors Captured

Tiger swallowtail butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA
It all happens so quickly. Got to my favorite trail at Raccoon Creek State Park (Beaver County, PA) really early on this sunny May 2014 morning. Parked the Tundra and hiked the ½ mile to that stretch of the trail  that has been so good to me over these years. So now it’s 8:25 A.M., and the sun is just beginning to warm last night’s cool forest air.

I set myself in place, and waited. Which butterflies might fly in from the forest, and select flat leaves, to sun themselves? Remember, flying around with reduced body temperatures is tough for butterflies. It slows them down, and at reduced speed, they are vulnerable to swifty birds and other predators.

Within 10 minutes, several male Tiger Swallowtail butterflies flew in and began to sun bathe. These males were fresh, could be from a new flight.

This guy was a dandy! Then I got a look at his hindwing markings. Hot blues and reds. Nice, very nice. I shot, shot, shot. Here he is.