Adios Empress Leila . . .

Empress Leila Butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow in White Tank Mountains Regional Park, Arizona

We who travel to find new butterflies, capture, rich, sweet memories. As the years go by, those memories pile onto one another. It’s good to occasionally shake those mental ‘piles,’ and free-up some of the earlier recollections.

Grandma Lehman, my mother-in-law, lived for many years in Sun City West, Arizona. That enormous Del Webb town, for seniors, was just about 30 minutes from White Tank Mountains Regional Park. When we visited Eda, every morning I could, I’d drive to White Tank Mountains, leaving around 6:30 A.M.. The sun is so strong in those beautiful mountains, that working trails in the arroyos had to cease at 10-10:15 A.M.. Stay any later, in those boulder-strewn arroyos, and risk heat stroke/exhaustion and alone as I was, death. An earlier post here describes my brush with death, when I was having so much success working that arroyo, that it Hit Me! without warning. I struggled to get back through the arroyo, and prayed . . . .

Grandma Lehman had a very serious stroke event recently, at age 95. Five and one-half years in a series of German concentration camps, and she is still with us, in a Brooklyn, NY senior home. Hitler? She survived and now has upwards of 30 great grandchildren. Thank G-d our children never will have to know a life where getting your hands on potato peels was something only to dream of. Best keep America strong, No?

With the Arizona house sold, I will surely no longer enjoy this Empress Leila butterfly, a closely related butterfly to several eastern USA butterfly species. We used to meet one another in those very arroyos. I’d see solitary ones perched as here, on sun-baked boulders on the arroyo floor. Approach, it flees, and we continue this until that predictable moment, when the Empress would remain on a boulder, and tolerate my robotic approach. They were fun to pursue, just so long as you keep one eye on the time, or you risk becoming a butterfly photographer memory (for about the last thing I’d do back then was use my cell to call 911 for rescue! Men!!).

Jeff

Jeff In The Presence of Royalty

Empress Leila Butterfly at White Tanks Mountains, AZ

Sitting here, happily enjoying the warm air rushing through our HVAC duct vents, the 6F outside vanishes, as I reminisce, sweet memories of my discreet approach to this royal butterfly, Empress Leila. Was this regal Lep a male or female, well, I’m not sure.

We were both in the bed of that Arizona Arroyo, 40 minutes from Sun City West, where I was visiting family. Many know the saying, “Stay too long and you begin to smell like fish.” Seeking to avoid that, I’d leave the house at 6:30 A.M. and search that arroyo for butterflies until about 10 A.M. those March mornings. After 10 A.M. I found it difficult to go any further. Alone, naturally, I blogged some time ago that one of those mornings I almost bought it. Briefly shedding my good sense, I continued seeking winged beauties after 10:30 A.M. and then SUDDENLY, instantaneously I began to lose my senses. Didn’t use the cell that family forces me to carry, and didn’t call for help. D . . b.

So here this Empress Leila was motionless on this rock, and everything was perfect, the sun at my back. Patented approach. He (probably) flew to another rock. I froze, waited. Back to this rock again. I continued to close in. He moved slightly, but held the rock. We came closer and closer. Necessary for macro- work. I’m thinking “Don’t go. Don’t leave.” Here is the image. Blue eyespots on his right hindwing and all.

Close relative to Eastern Brushfoots, an extraordinary opportunity for Jeff to pal around with royalty.

Jeff

Empress Leilia Butterfly

Empress Leila Butterfly photographed in White Tank Mountains Regional Park, Arizona

September in southcentral Arizona, west of Phoenix. White Tank Mountains Regional Park was in full splendor that morning, and HOT!

I’ve been to this Park over the years, slipping out mornings from Sun City West to take in the wonders of habitat so different from that of eastern USA. Only the arroyos offered wildlife, bone dry as they were.

Asterocampa leilia as expected remained vigilant on rocks in the arroyo. These silent sentries, this then presumably a male (not easy to determine, usually by wing girth) kindly allowed my approach. Arrive to close and poof! he’s moved to a new rock perch, a boulder some 30 feet away. So this image was not immediately captured. We played the move from rock to rock minuet until he mercifully permitted me to approach and shoot-shoot-shoot.

Empress Leilia and other xeric butterflies simply amaze me. There is no water evident for miles, they perch in full, overwhelming sun and no, there wasn’t an abundance of nectaring flowers around. In fact there were only these little tiny flowers along the arroyo, and few of them at that.

As the most dedicated wingedbeauty followers know, I am a big fan of butterflies with blue-centered eyespots. And there they are!

Jeff

Empress Leilia Butterfly

Empress Leila Butterfly at White Tanks Mountains, AZ

The rock strewn arroyo bed was as dry as the proverbial bone. September 12th at White Tank Mountain Regional Park west of Phoenix, Arizona.

Nectaring plants were very hard to find. Though 9:40 in the morning…and of course full Arizona sun, Empress Leila butterflies were here and there, flying and perching, flying and perching.

Astercocampa leilia are similar to, and closely related to the Hackberry butterflies (see our Hackbery Emperor posts).

Photographing here was difficult. When we spotted the butterfly, our approach had to overcome huge rocks. How these rocks were randomly placed in that arroyo is a tantalizing exercise in Physics.

Territorial like the Tawny and Hackberry Emperors, persistence paid off. That is if the Empress Leilia fled my approach, I knew it wouldn’t fly much beyond a definable perimeter.

Their host plant is spiny hackberry, a hackberry of course.

So the heat (very real), boulders, and nearly unapproachable Leilias made for good memories, and a fair enough photo.

The heat, the heat, the heat.

Jeffrey