Who’s Seen A Regal Fritillary?

Regal Fritillary Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, PA

There surely were 30,000,000 or more Regal Fritillary Butterflies when George Washington was President of the United States. That’d be 30 million Regals flying east of the Mississippi River. I have no doubt that they flew in my old neighborhood, East Flatbush in Brooklyn, New York in 1770.

Today, they fly only on 2 military reservations from the Mississippi to the Atlantic Ocean. The first is in central Pennsylvania and the other, is in the State of Virginia. In those places, expansive pristine meadows grow, protected and nurtured by the U.S. military.

I can’t even guess how many Americans have ever seen this handsome butterfly, once found in the tens of millions, and now rare, with perhaps 2,000. eclosed each year.

I’d been determined to see Regals, and when I finally saw them at Ft. Indiantown Gap, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, they were even more beautiful than I expected. Really.

Why now? This Butterflyweed, a milkweed, is now in bloom just about everywhere, and this is the week that Regals Fritillaries make their appearance.

Jeff

Metullah Mystery

Fritillary Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Iron Falls, Metullah, Israel

During those many trips to Israel, the HolyLand, fritillary butterflies usually eluded me. I hadn’t seen too many of them. There were Frits that were commonly seen there, and there were Fritillary butterflies that were uncommon, rare and super hard to even find, much less photograph.

Back in 2008, I was fortunate to have found and photographed a Frit that is uncommon, and found only on the peak of Mt. Hermon. That cable car up to the 7,000 foot tall peak of Mt. Hermon was difficult for me, especially since my guide, Etan, razzed me for keeping my eyes closed much of the ascent and descent. Heck, getting in the moving skip lift seat was trouble enough!

2017, April, and back in Israel (2 grandsons!!), I wanted find find other uncommon Fritillary butterflies. Up to the Galilee-Golan I drove, with a border town, Metullah, my destination. Border town with Lebanon, a sad country that has been overtaken by some one hundred thousand Hezbollah terrorists. It was extraordinary to stand in a parking lot at the border, and look into Lebanon, where you and yours should not enter.

I didn’t find Fritillaries, and decided to roam a bit. I found a city park, Iron Park they called it. I entered, parked my rental car, and spent several hot hours working their trails. Almost no butterflies to be seen, and those I saw were jet-propelled.

Discouraged some, I hiked back to the entrance to the park, sat on a picnic bench, and proceeded to open and enjoy a Coco Loco bar. Incoming! A butterfly flew in at great speed, and landed on the ground, just 8 feet from me. A Fritillary!! Forgot the Coco Loco, grabbed my Canon with its Macro-ISM equipped lens, and s-l-o-w-l-y made my approach. Still good. I shot. Moved closer and shot and shot again.

Adrenaline. I had given up, had not expected that day to yield anything more, just a day of some familiar butterflies, and then, this promising one rocketed in, near my snack bench. Mama-Mia!

After she fled, I returned to the bench and reflected on what I do, why I do it, and how it can provide such a Rush to a guy who’s seen soo much in his life.

Yes, this, good image, is a bit of a tease, but I want to think that she is Melitaea Arduinna Evanescens. A rare, uncommon Protected species, found only in 2 areas of Israel, and only in April and May!!

A Metullah mystery . . .

Jeff

Gulfs?

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly on Thistle photographed by Jeff Zablow at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, GA

How many Palamedes Swallowtails did we see those 5 days in Florida’s Big Bend Wildlife Management Area? I’d say 65 to 75 Palamedes. Spicebush Swallowtails? More than 5 Spicebush. Tiger Swallowtails? A good 10 or so. Georgia Satyrs? Some 15 or more. What I think were Zabulon Skippers? Probably 20 Zabulons. Viceroy Butterflies? About 20 Viceroys.

When I saw my first Gulf Fritillary, on our 4th day in the field, I was triggered. April 11, 2019, in the Florida Panhandle, and all we’ve seen was one (!) Gulf. When we climbed back into our truck the next day, April 12th, our Gulf Frit counted stood at that one Gulf Fritillary. Sunny, days, highs by 1:30 PM reaching 81F, and just that one Gulf.

I tossed that around in my head, and I’m still weighing the criteria. Passionflowers, the hostplant for Gulf Fritillaries were not seen anywhere that week, not in any of the diverse habitat that Big Bend boasts. Glassberg in his A Swift Guide to the Butterflies of North America cites them as “most common in late summer/fall.”

The Plan always impresses me. There is complex timing for all you’d see in such a destination as Big Bend WMArea. Regretably, the No-See-Ums (Sandflies ?) seem to resist such restraints.

This sweet Gulf here was seen in 2018 at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge along the Georgia coast in August, where there were then, legions like him, on the wing.

Jeff

Are You One Of The 54,000?

Regal Fritillary Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, PA

Armed with my 90’s and 95’s in high school math, and my ‘D’ (Yep!) in college Calculus, I have endeavored to determine what fraction of Americans have ever seen this one in the wild. The results of my exhaustive research provide the shocker, some one in 54,000 of us have seen a Regal Fritillary Butterfly in its prairie habitat. That’s 0.000018 of us.

We had to take account of the extraordinary rarity of Regal Frits east of the Mississippi River, they found in just 2 different prairie/wet meadow habitats in Pennsylvania and Virginia. West of the Mississippi, their range is extensive, found from Oklahoma to  Dakotas, but know that their habitat west is very, very localized.

I saw this male in the extensive meadows at Ft. Indiantown Gap Military Reserve, not far from Penn State University. I registered for the annual 4-days in June summer Open House at Ft. Indiantown Gap, and it was so worth it. The sun shone all day, and the Regals put on a show, accompanied by Monarchs, Coral Hairstreaks, Great Spangled Frits and more.

I did not want to ever have to pack it in (cease my field work) without having introduced myself to these splendid butterflies. I am among the one In 54,000.

Jeff

Cliffs, Falling Rock, Arroyos & ‘Gators

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly on Pickerelweed blooms photographed by Jeff Zablow at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, GA

This sure tantalizes, bringing vivid memory of that spectacular spot, with its pickerelweed growing in 4 inches of pond at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, on the Georgia coast. Stationed just away from the pond water, I was impressed with the diversity of butterflies that were visiting. Pickerelweed that must be pumping nectar, no doubt of that. This male Gulf Fritillary butterfly was fresh, complete (not bird struck) and hungry.

What’s the big deal? Harris Neck NW Refuge is loaded with alligators. At the time, the heavy traffic of beautiful butterflies to lush pickerelweed just could not be resisted. Even now, having survived the streets and all the rest, having taken guns from high schoolers back in Ozone Park, roaming the East Village before the East Village became what it’s now today, I sometimes (?) dissuade myself, internally arguing that risks are not as risky as they might be.

Might a 10 foot American alligator be near, just 15 feet from this spot? Isn’t it true that a ‘gator can accelerate, to cross 15 feet of pond’s edge in ‘x’ seconds?

Cliffs that give me the ‘Willies,’ Falling rock field where certain Satyr butterflies frequent, those Arroyos in Arizona and Israel where rain upstream can send a wall of water at you at what, 50 mph? Gators that are probably 5 times stronger than you think they could be?

Men who shoot butterflies are few and far between, and some of them devolve into 14-year-old -boy behavior when they see those certain butterflies, magnificent, exotic and challenging, no?

Jeff