The Perfect Red Admiral?

Close up of Red Admiral Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow as it was basking on a trail at Raccoon Creek State Park in Pennsylvania

Many get ‘hooked’ by a Red Admiral butterfly. Their high school Biology teacher ( I was one, once ) solemnly declares that soon, very soon species will begin to lose ground and lose habitat. She , dogmatically repeating the mantra pushed by some, is resigned to the loss of all kinds of native species, butterflies, until the time that only Cabbage whites, Painted ladies, Eastern tiger swallowtails and the lookalike skippers are all that’s left.

Me? That’s hogwash. I cannot forget when I taught at the John Adams High School Annex in South Ozone Park, New York City. My classroom was on the 5th floor of an elementary school. The classroom ceilings  were some 18 feet high or so, so the 5th floor was as high as most 9-story buildings.

We faced the west in that room. Some 19 or 20- miles away, we might have seen the Empire State Building and the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Huh? We couldn’t see them, for there was a permanent blanket of smog preventing us from seeing Manhattan and those fable skyscrapers.

New York’s electricity provider, Consolidated Edison, announced that they would be installing new “scrubbers” in their chimneys, to combat the smog. The federal government made all car makers install catalytic converters. Scrubbers and converters, token solutions. Yeah, yeah, yeah . . . the same old, same old. We were New Yorkers, those kids and I, and we didn’t buy it, zero. One summer later, and I returned to that room that I loved, awaiting those kids from every corner of the world, those big, strong, street tough kids. I looked out that wall of windows, to the eastern half of Manhattan and Oh My Goodness!! there they were, I was seeing the Empire State Building and the Twin Towers. That moment jarred me. Really. It can be done. Progress can be made. Slow as a snail New York City and bureaucratic Con Edison can work together and clean the air of that enormous city. Mamma Mia!

Lesson? Don’t buy the doomsayers. Keep your mind open to change and  . . . . For sure, that’s why I never bought the ‘Global warming/Al Gore’ pitch. Nope.

When jaded Nature lovers visit the State Parks or Wildlife Management Areas or such, the chance appearance of a Red Admiral, like this one, can startle. Wwwwhat was that? No Tony, there has not been a mass extinction of butterflies and more. Admire this gorgeous butterfly before it once again takes off to ??? Hey, if this is out there, what other Holy Cows? are there flying in a place like this, Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The several hundred times I was there flushed out a slew of OMG!’s including Goatweed leafwing, Red-barred sulphur, Harvester, White M hairstreak, Meadow fritillary, Pipevine swallowtail, Compton tortoiseshell, Milbert’s tortoiseshell  and a Bronze copper butterfly.

The perfect Red Admiral butterfly cannot be readily forgotten and jumps the curiosity quotient in one’s cognitive whatchamacallit. You’ve just gotta’ get back out there, away from that 97% that cobwebs you up, and find that rare, incredible, drop-dead-unbelieveable butterfly you had no idea was . . . .

Jeff

Compton Tortoiseshell Butterfly

Compton Tortoiseshell Butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow in  Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Should I or shouldn’t I? This has been one among many debates that have been bouncing around in my cranium for some time. A Nymphalis vau-album once flew right past me and landed on a tree stump. OMG! It was gorgeous and about ten feet ahead of me. This butterfly and I were at the Wildflower Reserve in Raccoon Creek State Park, southwestern Pennsylvania. I carefully made my approach, camera ready. I whispered a plea for Help from above (I really did). I wanted this image sooo much. I began to lower my left knee. It left at a very high speed, heading uptrail.

Several years have gone by, and several hundred trips into the field hadn’t found one Compton tortoiseshell. Here, on July 1, 2012 on Nichol Road trail in that same park, a Compton flew in. Another OMG! Cech and Tudor, in their superb field guide Butterflies of the East Coast, note that this species is “exceptionally skittish and hard to approach.” I knew that by now. So, I first took several pictures from a moderate distance and then began my approach (See the Technique feature found at the top of your wingedbeauty.com screen). Yep. As I continued my approach this Compton sped away. Far, far away and out of sight.

So I do have an image of this northern U.S. species. Like other Comptons this one emerged from its chrysalis within the last handful of days, and would fly until late October or into November. They overwinter as adults, in trees or woodpiles. Come early Spring, they fly again, and seek mates. Eggs are laid, caterpillars feed upon willows, birches, aspens and cottonwoods. Adults emerge from their chrysalis in late June to early July.

You needn’t search for them in July and August. Why? Like other species of butterflies, they abhor the summer heat, and aestivate during those months. Aestivate? This means that they search for a hiding place, and in that safe place, begin a period of hibernation-like rest.

Quite a story, Huh? Of course you know a better image is very, very high on my list. Note: The further north that you go in the eastern U.S., the greater are your chances of spotting a Compton’s. But be nimble, because they are one cautious butterfly!

Jeff