Buckeyes Tease

Buckeye butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at the Butterflies and Blooms Habitat in Eatonton, GA

Shooting a Buckeye butterfly with a Macro- lens requires that you approach within about 18″. Now how are you going to do that, with such a skittish butterfly? They are especially wary, and your careful approach is usually rewarded by . . . gone! flew! gone!

A fool’s errand is trying to make approach to a Buckeye resting on your trail, or here, at the Butterflies & Blooms in the Briar Patch (Eatonton, Georgia, A 5 **** butterfly destination), catching a breather on one of the paths. You approach robotically, you have a good feeling about your chances, and then nada! zilch! for it’s . . . . gone!

This Buckeye was nectaring on Lantana, that southeastern and southwestern cultivar that releases its sugar juices periodically over the course of the morning.

I made my Technique (see above) approach. Good. So far. Now comes the Buckeye Challenge. Meaning, Bet you can’t get all of those eyes, and Florida orange bands, and golden ring margin borders, and forewing wider bands, and forewing chevrons and forewing margin dots and wing background color, and abdomen, thorax, head, eyes, palps and antennae, together, and all in focus!

So this image is returned from Kansas, and the slide taunts. I love most of the eyes, I love other hindwing color action! but, the head, eyes, palps and more, nope!

Decision time that night. I decided to share this, for I still love those hindwings, and who knows when Virginia will once again dish up such a shmeksy! Buckeye?


Miracle at Jamestown NY

Monarch Butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park in Pennsylvania

Hadn’t seen a Monarch any of those several days spent in the Jamestown, New York area. Some east of Erie, New York, these July ’16 days were sunny and comfortably hot. Petra and I were happily housed in a neat cabin in Frewsburg, surrounded by hundreds of blueberry bushes in full, glorious fruit. Horses across the road, farm field abutting us, and birds about, galore.

That week we visited that hidden, basically secret acid bog, and were greeted by a flying squad of rare Bog Copper butterflies, amidst pitcher plants, sundew and native wild cranberry. We went to other wildlife hotspots, but the crown jewel of them all was the reserve at Jamestown Audubon Center. The wildlife greet you there and if that’s not enough, the friendliest , most helpful nature center staff existent, make it a . . . destination.

Working the trails at the Jamestown AC. I saw Baltimore Checkerspot butterflies, Eyed Brown Butterflies, Eastern Tailed-Blue butterflies, Great Spangled Fritillaries and much more, but . . . not a Monarch to be seen.

When I followed a Jamestown AC trail through a wetland, I looked down to the swampy habitat, and set my sights on a Swamp Milkweed plant, looking lush and in full, luxuriant bloom. Then, Battlestations! A Monarch flew in, and went straight, straight to the milkweed. A FEMALE!

I practically dived over the low rail bordering the trail, and fought gravity, which . . . sought to make me tumble over!! Brooklyn boy kept his balance (grad of OCS! too), and that whole ¾ of a second, I was praying internally, don’t fly, don’t fly!!

It was dark there, and I had no time to adjust my manual settings. OMG!!! She was not nectaring . . . . She was fresh, Shmeksy! and she was laying an egg, Ovipositing. Totally excited for a guy who has seen so much in his life, totally. Would she allow me to shoot her out, would she stay, would I have enough light, Oh, so many “would she’s!”

So please, give me a little license here to share, a not exactly perfect shot. Understand how much drama and suspense this image retains for me. Who said doing this is not FuN???


The Menagerie at the Briar Patch

Anole lizard photographed by Jeff Zablow at the Butterflies and Blooms Habitat in Eatonton, GA

Jeff, why do you go back to that Eatonton, Georgia place so many times? Aren’t there so many other places that you could head to? Sounds like this makes a whole lot of sense, No?

Originally, it was that I had few images of southeastern USA butterflies, and I kept alert, looking for an opportunity to find them, and photograph them. The entire South remained a question mark to me. You just can’t drive hundreds of miles, with your Black Russian pup aboard, and have a house fly’s chance of finding a butterfly trove.

Then one day, on Facebook, I noticed mention of the Butterflies & Blooms Habitat in this sweet town in central Georgia, Eatonton. I continued seeing posts of its inception, progress, and achievements (more and more species of butterflies reporting there, and establishing populations there). I hesitantly contacted the founder of this illogical effort (illogical, for who would invest the HuGe effort needed to create a butterfly oasis, without enormous resources??).

Did I get the disinterested response I had grown accustomed to, from folks near and far, from organizations that should have Loved my interest? Uh uh! Virginia Linch practically screamed it across these 694 miles! Come, come, come. I haven’t regretted my 7 visits there, to date, not for a moment.

Never, anywhere, have I enjoyed 29 species of butterflies in a single morning. If Virginia’s plans come to fruition, that number will increase in 2017.

Butterflies and more. You never know what other animals you will see there. This summer I was searching for Monarch’s ovipositing (setting eggs on milkweed plants) and . . . look what I met? An Anole. A little, Pookie! of a lizard. Did not flee, seemed to be taking a brief pause. I looked it in the sweet little eye, did the: Should I ‘waste’ film on this svelte beaut? A no brainer. Another terrific menagerie find in the Briar Patch, in Eatonton, right in the center of town! Who woulda thunk it???


Those Southern Viceroys in Georgia

Viceroy butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at the Butterflies and Blooms Habitat in Eatonton, GA

Our Viceroy butterflies here in Pennsylvania (8 hours west of New York City) are beautiful, elusive butterflies. We don’t see too many of them, they are now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t, and they are only found when 2 conditions are found together, wetlands and willow trees/bushes. No, my slide storage cabinet is not jam-packed with slides of Limenitis archippus. I have not seen as many of them as you would think. They are solitary butterflies and that means that you might see one here, see another later, a distance away there, and that second? Worn and wings bird-struck.

My trips to the U.S. southeast took me to the Land of possibilities. I might possibly find butterflies new to me. That I did: Georgia Satyrs, Giant Swallowtails, Little Metalmarks, Eastern Pygmy Blues, Zebra Heliconians (bold because that was a Kick!!), Juniper Hairstreaks, Cassius Blues, Palamedes Swallowtails, and more.

There was a type I wanted to see, but hadn’t yet seen. That takes us back to Viceroys. I so wanted to see the Viceroys shared in field guides of the eastern United States. Images in those guides showed southern Viceroys with spectacular hues, colors deeper and more Yummy! than the viceroys of Pennsylvania, northeastern viceroys.

Leave it to the Butterflies & Blooms Briar Patch Habitat in Eatonton to make that introduction. In this latest creation of Virginia Linch and company, August 2016, there I was staring at a Shmeksy! (read gorgeous) Viceroy butterfly . . . of the South. Near impossible to determine the gender, but this one cooperated, while it was resting for a bit, and I was pleased with its rich, sweet color. Very pleased. The slide louped well (on my light box). Back from the scanners (Rewind Memories), I gazed at this image, and it confirmed . . .  that Georgia is a butterfly destination. No doubt about it.


Hard To Look At?

Argiope with sulphur prey photographed by Jeff Zablow at the Butterflies and Blooms Habitat in Eatonton, GA

August brings new denizens in wild habitat. Photographers of wildlife need no reminder that this is the month when Argiopes and Orb Weavers appear. We had better remember this or we will walk into their huge webs, and find these Big spiders scrambling down our shoulders or backs, determined to flee from us as quickly as they can. I still remember when this happened to me on this trip down to Georgia. Last year, I joked that I field discovered that Georgia spider web proteins and Pennsylvania spider web proteins . . . tasted exactly alike!

Butterflies produce large numbers of offspring, raising questions such as, why then, don’t we see more butterflies about? An answer is provided in this image. This sleepy orange butterfly miscalculated. As soon as it flew into the web filaments, it stuck to them. This female, Black and Yellow Argiope spider felt the web vibrating, and sped down the web, to the hapless yellow. Here, she has arrived, and speedily circles the butterfly, ‘throwing’ web filaments around the yellow, as the spider circles its prey, over and over again.

Totally ensnared, the Argiope then rushed the butterfly, and sunk her fangs into it, paralyzing it into passivity.

Spiders, wasps, birds, mantids, lizards, snakes and others hunt for butterflies, and that is part of the Plan. This Plan has worked well for millennia, well before we came along to witness it, and cringe, when we see winged beauties become food for predators.