In the Land of the Giants

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly on Tithonia photographed by Jeff Zablow in the Briar Patch Habitat in Eatonton, GA

This Pittsburgh northerner thought that he’d drive down to the Butterflies & Blooms in the Briar Patch, and collect a good sized library of superb images of Giant Swallowtails. I was right on one score. This haven for butterflies attracts Papilio cresphones from mid-morning through early afternoon. They were there, and they were plentiful.

Problem(s) was(were) many were bird-struck, and . . . they hover over these Tithonia (Mexican sunflowers) in constant motion, with wings moving quickly. Compound that with a universal aversion to being approached. I shoot macro-. They leave on approach. They all leave on approach. No laggards among these Giants. I come, they go.

Strategies had to be deployed. Which strategies? Good question. The only strategy that worked was try, try and try again, followed by more trying. Kid you not. Yes, I once or twice found Giants sun-bathing on broad leaves in the surrounding wooded area, but they too refused approach.

Here then is a share of one of those giant swallowtails. Don’t know if male or female, as they are outwardly alike. Do know that seeing giants, dozens on dozens of them, makes the trip down to the land of the Giants, a real, long awaited treat. Eatonton, Georgia.


A “Not So Common” Wood Nymph

Common Wood Nymph Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in Clay Pond, NY

Years ago, at Raystown Lake in Central Pennsylvania, I saw Common Wood Nymph butterflies whose blue centered eye-spots dazzled me. I worked that habitat for a single day, and never forgot how those eye-spots evoked memories of fine gems, that I’d seen in Christies’, Sotheby’s and Dole’s magnificent jewelry auction galleries in New York.

Since then, I’ve sought to find comparable Common Wood Nymphs. Little success there.

This year I visited Clay Pond, a New York State conserved wetland. Not the New York metropolitan area that I came to have a love/hate relationship with, but Western New York, green and pristine. High grasses surrounded the Pond, and there were lots of butterflies. Seeing them was difficult, because their flights were short, quickly descending down into the tightly set grasses and sedges.

This one showed itself, then went into the above, fly up, descend to hide, flee my approach through the grass (which must have been easily detected). After repeated escapes from me, it descended, and stayed, hiding and resting.

As I closed in, Bazoom! It was gorgeous. Those eye-spots, baby blue, and circled by light orange rings, all against a background of Stetson hat chocolate brown. It shot, shot,shot. Waited for my slides to be returned from Dwayne’s Photo, and Yippee Eye Ay, Yippee Eye Oh!! A satyr image, Good enough to share.


Regal Fritillaries . . . Together

Mating Regal Fritillary Butterflies photographed by Jeff Zablow in Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, PA.

The 128 other guests of Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation were spread out over the vast meadow, seeking Regal Fritillary butterflies. I was split off from the rest, with another guest, and a Post naturalist. This was a Wow! day for me, June 10, 2015. The forecast a week before was for rain. The weather that day? Sun!

Yes we saw Speyeria idalia. Most were males, and many of them were older, and worn. I wanted to see Regals, but I also wanted to photograph young, handsome, and fresh individual butterflies. Most were worn to very worn, and some had been struck by birds.

What! Did you see that? A mated pair flew from almost underfoot, into nearby meadow growth. I followed. A mated pair: Holy Cow!  Would they tolerate my macro- approach, would they stay put? They did. I photographed shot after shot and another participant took a few too. We did not have an opportunity to talk, as focused as we were. (pun intended)

Here are female and male, and they are fully engaged. I tried to crop images that convey the reflection of the sun off of those bold white spots.

How exciting! I don’t know how many of you have such an image. Rare, challenged fritillary butterflies, striving to produce next year’s Regals. I love it!


Preening Between Kills

Praying Mantis Preening photographed by Jeff Zablow in Traci Meadow, Fayette Township, PA

There were lulls in the butterfly sightings in Traci’s Meadow. Those breaks in the action usually sent me off the trail, into the meadow of golden goldenrod. September 2015, and the late summer killers were out in good numbers: Argiopes (large garden spiders) and Praying Mantises. A day or two before, I joked that Pennsylvania spider webs tasted just like Georgia spider webs. More truth than joke.

This Praying mantis (Mantis Religiosa) was slowly cleaning her mouthparts and forelimbs. She didn’t mind my close approach much. Supported by the sturdy goldenrod stalk, that first meal must have been OK for the moment, but she would soon assume the frozen statue-like position, for as long as it took to capture her next flying, crawling, jumping, wiggling prey.

Jeff the young boy tried to capture many such insects by hand, back then when development in Brooklyn had temporarily stopped at the end of east 58th Street. That invincible thing, that boys feel for that short stretch before adulthood. My report back after trying a hand capture a praying mantis, without harming it? Never try this, for believe it or not, those forelimbs close vise-like, digging its spikes into your fingers, and it hurts like . . . well it really hurts.

Fascinated by insect diversity,


Viceroy Adorns Kelso Swamp

Viceroy Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in Kelso Swamp, Fayette Township, PA

Great images of Viceroy butterflies have long eluded me. Difficult to approach, quick to flee, wary, that’s been the menu for these many years. I jumped at the chance to see Kelso swamp, just 14 or so miles from my home. Traci was right, the beaver-made, pocket swamp was rich with wildlife, and habitat for Viceroys.

Willows are the hostplants of Viceroy butterflies, and sure enough there they were at the swamp.

Why didn’t I make a closer approach? See above for that. What lens was I using? My Canon macro- lens, 100mm/2.8.

Am I happy with this photo? Yep. The white spots are white, the orange is sweet orange, the black veins are strongly black and the black postmodern lines of the hindwing are prominent.

A word about this pocket swamp. It is on private property, and areas nearby have begun to be developed. The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy scouts such places, and has conserved many. May they go see this one, and save it for our children . . .

Thanks Traci.