Protected Middle Eastern Parnassians, Found and Engaged

Allancastria Cerisyri butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow in Hanita, Israel

Rare butterflies, limited to a hilly range in the northwestern corner of Israel, and they fly for a single month, March.

What I have learned about rare, protected butterflies, I can share with you. Most endangered species have experienced habitat loss. Generalists, like the Cabbage White, nectar on a wide variety of flowers, and tolerate a broad range of habitats. They flourish almost everywhere, and individuals often seek new ranges, expanding their footprints into all new counties, states and regions.

Endangered butterflies remain in their original territory, and continue to feed upon the same flowers that they have depended upon for hundreds of years. Their flight time is usually limited, and often very predictable.

These parnassians are closely related to the Swallowtail butterflies (tiger, black, spicebush, giant, pipevine, palamedes – in the USA). I’ve never seen our US parnassians, all of whom fly west of the Mississippi river, most in the western mountains. This 2015 has been so good to me, largely because I’ve met generous folks, who have offered to show me actual site destinations, and who have met me there and enabled some OMG! fieldwork.

This trip to Israel’s Upper Galilee regions (northwestern Israel’s coast in this case) was a plucky one for me. No one guided me to the place you see here. Using field guides, I decided I wanted to see this winged beauties, and that had to be in March and it had to be where they fly. So I rented my Hertz car, drove for hours, and the next morning, followed my instincts, took a side road that promised to go through the prescribed habitat. Found a nature site with a car parking area. Switched to boots, blousing garters on, film loaded ( yes, Fuji slide), lens cover cleaned . . . and began to hike. OMG!! Not 100 feet into the trail, my first Allancastria Cerisyri. I saw 23 of them that morning. Bliss.

Should you want to enjoy seeing rare butterflies, most of the time the formula remains the same: Be able to travel when they are in flight, have the resource$ to do that, travel great distances to destinations where they have been regularly seen. Field guides are the resource you will need. Maps can be bought when you arrive in the area. Guides will often disappoint, and they are expen$ive. Know all along, that if you are young at heart, and fancy beauty, discovering rare butterflies is fun work.

Another option? Contact me, and see if I can join you. I’m always alone on these forays, and it would be fun to share the rush of a new, gorgeous find.

Jeff