A Monarda Few Have Ever Seen

Rare Monarda Wildflower Plants photographed by Jeff Zablow in Hard Labor Creek State Park, GA

2015, fast slipping away from us, could be remembered as the year of the Milkweeds. Hundreds of thousands of us sought to learn more about milkweeds, asked advice about milkweeds, searched for them online, at nurseries and quizzed their friends: Do you have milkweeds that you are willing to share? This army of Monarch lovers planted milkweeds in their gardens and in promising other locations, by the millions. Did all this bring dividends? Sure looks like it played a role in the good numbers of Monarchs that took off and headed down from the East and Midwest, down to Mexico.

Milkweeds, in many US households, are now synonymous with Mom, Apple Pie and Santa Claus. They bring joy, fulfillment and a sense that America is working to fix itself.

Here’s another member of a worthy family of wildflowers. I know Monarda and I know Bergamot. Phil brought me to this exotic member of the same family that Bee Balm belongs to, here in Hard Labor Creek State Park, in central Georgia. Spotted Bee Balm (Monarda punctata) I can say that I spent many minutes captivated by this Monarda, it looking almost otherworldly. A new one for me, and for almost all of you.

Monarda’s blooms nourish ruby throateds, fritillaries, swallowtailsskippers and a host of other butterflies. These Georgia blooms stuck out as different, and refreshingly so.

Thanks Phil and Thanks to the beautiful Georgia State Parks.


A Very Exciting Meeting with Rare Butterflies

Regal Fritillary Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, PA

The 19 states that rim the U.S. eastern coastline have a total population of perhaps 150,000,000 people. The sole population of Regal Fritillary butterflies in those 19 US states this year probably included 1,200 butterflies, all living in one isolated location at Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, just a short drive from Pennsylvania’s capitol of Harrisburg. Yes, it’s whispered that there may be 1 or 2 remnant populations in Virginia, but that is a well kept secret, if it is true at all.

Busting with expectation, I arrived there on June 10, 2015, ripping to get going, with my 129 fellow visitors. Roughly 20 naturalists awaiting us, and guided us to the prairie grassland in the military reserve. Orientation came first. Jeff: impatient. Then the mass of us drove in caravan to the prairie grassland. Jeff: Can’t wait. We left our vehicles and all headed to the wide-open meadow-like grassland. Jeff: Come on, come on. Soon the group began to separate into smaller groups. Jeff: How in the world will I be able to score images of . . .  with all of these folks around? Finally, it was just me and her, a naturalist. Jeff: Thank Y-o.

Regals were there in good numbers. Most were males, and some were young and fresh. They were sipping nectar hard: on Butterfly weed, an Asclepias milkweed. They were not please with my approach, though some remained in place, anxious to sip their sugary cocktail. The photographer? Transfixed might be a good choice of characterization for my hours there. My 12 years of wanting to do this, absent support from butterfly aficionados, was beginning to pay off.

This male, on lush Butterflyweed, shares his ventral wing surfaces, sooo much shiny white, awash in a bath of oranges and black blacks.

A very rare butterfly, that once flew on my childhood street in Brooklyn, New York, finally rendezvousing with Kid Zablow, in a verdant meadow in central Pennsylvania! So cool!

Jeff . . . Happy Holidays!

What’s This? What’s That?

Wildflower with Skipper Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in Big Bend Wildlife Management Area, Florida's Panhandle

Driving down Interstate 75 from Georgia to the Florida Panhandle, I was psyched. Florida! I was finally headed to Florida. Trail maps from NABA’s magazine article, and retrieved from Big Bend Wildlife Management Area’s website. Anticipation: Very high. Energy Level: Super-charged. Film? Lots. Hotel? Hampton Inn in  Perry, Florida. Guide/Volunteer Expert? Nope – Alone again, naturally. On a Mission to capture all new images? Absolutely.

Those 4 days at the Spring Unit in Big Bend were all that I had hoped they would be. That forecast of rain, changed to Sunny. Yay!! Sunny and new butterflies and wildflowers everywhere in this coastal swamp.

Now, all new everything is challenging. Take for example this large bloom on the “Old Grade” trail. It was very handsome, and each and every time I approached one of these plants, 2 or 3 skippers would flee. Come minutes later, skippers back at the blooms, and then, gone! Robotic, ultra slow approaches and I was able to shoot these tiny skippers embedded into these large blooms.

What is this wildflower, growing along the edge of the trail, most about 15 feet from the swamp edge? Barbara supplied the ID. It is Pineland hibiscus (Hibiscus aculeatus). What is this tiny skipper? Not sure there either. Who is the photographer? One very Happy Jeff Zablow, Who loved Eatonton and loved Big Bend.


Gulf Feasting on Tithonia at the Briar Patch

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly on Lantana Flowers photographed by Jeff Zablow in the Briar Patch Habitat in Eatonton, GA

With snow, freezing rain and zero degree temps just weeks ahead, this reminisce at the Butterflies & Blooms in the Briar Patch bucks up my excitement for the coming year. The potential for an exciting 2016 is very real. The desire to capture ever more satisfying images of southern butterflies, challenges. That’s among the many motivations that will send me back down those southern highways, G-d willing, to this butterfly oasis, in Eatonton, Georgia.

The first Gulf Fritillary butterfly I ever saw was . . . here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was in the Outdoor Gardens of our Phipps Conservatory, and I could not believe my eyes. That one was hundreds of miles north of its usual range. Later, I would see them intermittently, in Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, both in Maryland. Finally they were much more numerous in the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, at the South Carolina – Georgia border.

This one here is working a Mexican Sunflower bloom (Tithonia). Most flowers pump nectar for a short time, and then butterflies pass it up. Tithonia is the exception. Butterflies visit and work these flowerheads for hours, I think because the blooms continue to produce the sugary food staple.

The Briar Patch is a butterfly dreamland, shared in several recent posts here. 29 different species in a single morning, is well, Wow!


No Limits in the Briar Patch

Question Mark Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in the Briar Patch Habitat in Eatonton, GA

When you watch the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Cincinnati Bengals, you know who you will see on those 100 yards of football field in Cincinnati. Players of those 2 teams, and NFL referees. Maybe some medical techs and a doctor or two, and that’s it.

At this really neat town in Central Georgia, in their Butterflies & Blooms in the Briar Patch these acres, masterfully designed by Virginia C. Linch, the wizard behind this successful habitat, you just never know what will fly in from above, or at ankle-height. You expect to meet Monarchs, Tiger swallowtails, Long-tailed skippers, Gulf fritillaries, Black Swallowtails, Giant swallowtails, Silver spotted skippers and some other butterflies. Exciting? Every single one of them. But that’s not the end of it there. Add to that excitement, the real prospect of seeing many, many other species of butterflies. Which ones?

Here’s one I was not expecting to see. A butterfly that much prefers to fly at the forest’s edge. Satyr that it is, this Question Mark butterfly kept to its zone. Fortunate for me, time and place were right. Necessity sent it onto a platform to warm itself in the early Georgia sun. One that always flees Jeff, it was briefly programmed to stay and warm, and that, that enabled my macro-lens to go to work.

I love browns and shades of brown, and well-turned form, and this young and fresh Question Mark butterfly sports it all.

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