Palamedes, Up to my Calf

Palamedes Swallowtail Butterfly on Pickerelweed photographed by Jeff Zablow at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, GA

August 2018, at Harris Neck. This National Wildlife Refuge is on the coast, not too far from Brunswick, Georgia. A near wildlife overload those 6 days. A stand-out trip, for I saw there many, many butterflies common to the southeastern USA and especially typical of southeastern wetlands.

The wading birds, waterfowl, anhingas, osprey and bald eagle were all so robust and handsome looking. In their rookeries, on the pond surface, exposed trees and light footed as they worked the pond edges.

I reached this pond edge, and was ecstatic (true!) to see the pickerelweed in full bloom. Vunderbar!! Now, I’m shooting Macro- and have got to get within at least 24″ to cop good shots. Decision time!

In I went, with the pond now up to my lower calf. My beloved Merrell boots submerged, and every step taken risky, for that water was feeling awfully slippery when my feet came down on pond mud.

Decision #2, which I dismissed maybe a bit too quickly, was an unknown = where was the nearest 8-foot alligator, 10-foot or 12-foot alligator? I thought back to those years on the streets, Brooklyn, and how G-d must have been especially kind to me.

This Palamedes swallowtail butterfly was having one fine time at the pickerelweed nectar bar. Must say, there, then, in that, surely confirms that real-time, up to my calves, y’all have got to take my word for it, there cannot be any global . . .

Jeff

Party Crashing Viceroy

Viceroy Butterfly on Sumac (Woody Pond) photographed by Jeff Zablow at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, GA

That very same week, the Georgia Native Plant Society (GNPS) shared a FB post, letting us know that native Sumacs were just about ready to bloom. Back up in Pittsburgh, all one heard of was a “poison sumac.” Ellen of the GNPS sung of two native sumacs, and I was interested, wanted to meet them.

I saw them days later, along county and state roads, they just hinting of the telltale dark rust indicative color.

Sunday I drove to Townsend, Georgia, and arrived at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge the next morning. Coastal Georgia is wondrous, and Oohs and Aahs! reigned. Great blue herons, Wood storks, Glossy Ibis, Lots and lots of alligators, Clapper rails, maybe 3 species of snow-white egrets, Zebra heliconians, Palamedes swallowtails, Anhingas, Salt marsh skippers, the biggest spiders I’ve yet to see and the sense that snakes were at hand, but hidden out of sight. It was a dreamland for folks like us.

I think it was Wednesday, along the Wood Pond Trail that I saw it. One of those natives Sumacs, and its flower buds were beginning to open. A first for me, native sumac, in bloom, at the edge of Woody Pond, and those alligators seen and . . . unseen . . . ?

A shadow flew in. What! A fresh, deeply hued Viceroy butterfly. They are always “Uncommon” (Glassberg’s Swift Guide to the Butterflies of North America), for I see them rarely, and always briefly, they with something more important to do, some other wetland away, that how it seems.

I shot away, lots of film exposed. It was a clever one, remaining within the inner bounds of the sumac. When it flew, I just stopped, and cynically laughed, at how, with all that was around me, this likable Viceroy came in and stirred the pot, the party crashing Viceroy . . . on a McLaren day in Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge.

Jeff

 

Who Knows Shrimp Plants?

Shrimp Plant photographed by Jeff Zablow in Eatonton Georgia

I waited, and my time arrived. For years, living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I’d heard of the great magnet for butterflies, the southern Shrimp Plant. It a native wild flowering shrub that pumps nectar, I was told, and well, Jeff, you won’t be able to cultivate it in your Pittsburgh yard, for it’s a southeastern wildflower.

With the annual icing of Pittsburgh, that year (was it 2014 ?) when the thermometer did not rise above 0 degrees F for an entire week, and those 2 or 3 bad falls when I was walking Petra on icy sidewalks, and Oh No! a dog or a squirrel appeared, and she abandoned the heel position, and her 96 pound heft left me sprawled on the sidewalk of Squirrel Hill. Yes, the very same Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh where Bowers slaughtered 11 innocent Jews just 2 days ago.

Friends had become ‘snow-birds’ and split their year between “Boca [Raton]” and Pittsburgh. Me? I’d been traveling to Georgia to photograph butterflies, and the Georgia Piedmont beckoned me. The thought of gardening in February/March/September/October & 1/2 of November was an elixir, it was.

I had long dreamed of southern natives gardening, those Shrimp plants, Mistflower plants, Passionflower vines, Hibiscus, Pawpaw, Hercules Club, Mountainmint, Hoptree, Pipevine and more, all growing robust and strong in the affirmative Georgia soil.

One year in, I have that garden and more on a fenced in lot, and Petra is ecstatic.

Remains the question . . . this, my Shrimp plant. It’s strong, luxuriant and always bears flowers. Virginia gifted it to me (Thank you! Virginia). After 3 months of fine production, I have not yet to see a butterfly on this, my Shrimp plant. Friends in Shellman Bluff told me of its butterfly prowess. Mine? Zero.

Who knows Shrimp plants? Phil, Kelly, Ellen, Melanie, Heather, Virginia, Cathy, Mike, Jill, Lisa, Marcie and Debbi?

Jeff

 

The Wait for Butterflyweed

Large Clump of Butterflyweed photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

My grandson and I reveled in one of the world’s finest stands of Butterflyweed this past June. I revisited Doak field in Raccoon Creek State Park with him, and I told him how much I loved those 2 weeks or so each year when the Asclepias (milkweed) was in bloom. More than that, I told him how this was the first time that one of my grandchildren ever, ever joined me in the field, of how Happy!!! I was to be with him there, then.

Eureka! We found the most luxurious clumps of Butterflyweed that I’ve ever seen, anywhere, let along Doak field in southwestern Pennsylvania. We were there early, very early, and now the wait. We waited for that time, usually around 9 A.M. when the butterflies sense these spectacular blooms, sense that those flowers are set to pump nectar, sugary nectar to support their athletic flight.

We we wait, and wait, and now it was 10 A.M. and few butterflies appeared. 10:45 A.M. arrived, and this is usually the time when no butterflies return to these deep orange flowers. The numbers for those hours? Disappointing.

We discussed how such things cannot be predicted, as this was surely a good example of lush bloom with good history, yielding scant swallowtails, monarchs, fritillaries or skippers. I must share that the usual suspects, Silver -spotted skippers, could be counted on one hand.

My take away? What I know is I must wait to next year, 2019, and hope to again see Coral hairstreaks here, on Butterflyweed.

My grandson, all of 7 years old, understood that day, that flora and fauna cannot be comfortably predicted, that a lesson in and of itself.

Jeff

Where Have You Been All My Life?

Malachite butterfly (facing right) photographed by Jeff Zablow at the National Butterfly Center, Mission, TX

Count just 10 months ago, and I was here, right where you see this ephemeral Malachite butterfly. Too bad you were not there with us. You would have seen this almost child-like smile on my face, when they quietly beckoned me, ‘Come Jeff, you’ve got to see this!’

Our Malachite was a singleton, resting peacefully in the dimly lit corridor, bordered by tall, thick bush. The National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, some 2 miles or so from the Mexican border. it remained there for some half hour or so, changing its leaf lounge 2 times, each time resuming its unhurried rest.

Described as “Uncommon,” I knew right then that this was something Special, coming along at this point in my journey. Hey, Look at Me! Meeting the hidden Gems of H-s work, nicely beyond the middle of life.

This repeat of ‘Where Have You Been All My Life’ has included our Malachite, that Erato Heliconian, a bunch of Metalmarks, the famed Gemmed Satyr, Red Rim, Common Mestra, Milbert’s Tortoiseshell, Georgia Satyr, Eastern Pygmy Blue, Regal Fritillary, Zebra Heliconian and more, much more (Leonard’s Skipper for one).

Just can’t find enough gigs to share my work/enthusiasm. When young people are in the room, I urge them to consider studying butterflies as career, university teaching, and I suggest, find a rare, little known butterfly and embrace it, know it, and kind of own it. Make yourself, I tell them, The expert on that beautiful mysterious butterfly, and you may well be traveling the world, sharing of it, and that will be on their ‘dime’ and more will invite you to come and talk and hot-wire their people and . . .

Meeting the real celebrities, not the plastic ones of Hollywood, TV, sports or politics, now, and I hope in the coming years, whispering “Where Have You Been All My Life?” again and . . .

Jeff