24 Years of Adoring This Wildflower

Butterflyweed at Doak Field photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

I’d visit the same spots in Doak Field, often just at the right time! What was I checking for every year? I was hoping to find Butterflyweed in peak of bloom, in this more than 100 acre meadow in Raccoon Creek State Park, 45 minutes west off Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

We went there in the last week of June 2018. I vividly remember leaving the Nichol Road Trail and entering Doak Field. A 5 minutes hike through the cut paths in the meadow, and I arrived at the main ‘spot.’ Look here what I saw! The Butterflyweed plants were numerous and lush. In those last 24 years, there, I cannot remember a finer, more beautiful population of this milkweed.

I adore these flowers, for they often attract squads of butterflies: Tiger Swallowtails, Great Spangled Fritillaries, Monarchs, Silver Spotted Skippers, the hardly ever seen Aphrodite Fritillary, various Skippers and my favorite, the Coral Hairstreak.

I’ve come to understand this amazing Asclepias (milkweed). It took those decades for me to fathom its puzzling behavior. I only visit it in the morning, a total of some 24 years of observing Butterflyweed.

I’ve learned that it only ‘pumps’ nectar for a very brief time in the morning, perhaps for 45 minutes or less, and that applies to the 10 or 20 or more found in those 100+ acres. Butterflies visit much when it is producing nectar, and then, usually around 10-ish in the morning, they stop coming.

I’ve come to expect to not see my beloved Coral Hairstreaks, for they often completely skip a year, even a year with a rich crop of Butterflyweed. I love those Corals, for they remind me of those good times, when Frieda A”H was with us, and how she loved Coral, and scoured here and there to find jewelry with richly tinted coral, she explaining that wealthy Chinese love fine Coral, and will pay a premium to the market to acquire it (reminds me of those many visits to Sotheby’s and Christie’s, especially Christie’s).

What happened this day, here? Did the Corals fly in, the others? No. Nary a single butterfly was seen on any of the Butterflyweeds. I went here again the next day, with the same disappointing result.

So Butterflyweed’s Big Mystery remains. Full, lush, gorgeous flowerheads, peak. Peak, yet it is clear that they are not the sirens on the rocks those days, drawing few if any butterflies to their full flowerheads.

I had my grandson with me this morning, and on the drive to Doak Field, I told him how I hoped to see just such Butterflyweed, told him how when they pump they resemble Grand Central Station in NYNY, and I forewarned him that we might see Corals, and that would be Wowwww! It was kind of sad that we didn’t see our Corals, or most other butterflies, but we did see prize-winning Butterflyweed, albeit very lonely Butterflyweed.

Jeff

Cloudless Sulphur Blush?

Cloudless Sulphurs Coupled photographed by Jeff Zablow at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, GA

Dogs mate, and I quickly turn my head. Video of African elephants mating . . . I turn away. Horses go at ‘it,’ and I turn. Even Turdus migratorius, the American robin, mating, and I prefer to watch scenery instead.

Not with butterflies though. This pair of Cloudless Sulphur butterflies found one another, actually he, at the top of the image, found her. Despite or because of my great fondness for butterflies, when I’ve seen Monarchs, Regal Fritillaries, Zebra Swallowtails and Eastern Black Swallowtails couple up, I do not feel that necessity to divert my eyes.

We were at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge’s Wood Pond, and it was a relief to finally have at butterflies that were not in constant motion or did not flee upon my approach.

So, why turn away when a bull mounts a cow but stare when Eastern Tailed Blues reproduce?

Jeff

Gulf On Liatris

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

That August trip to Townsend, Georgia was fantastic. I photographed butterflies and more in Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge ( a national birder destination ) and at Ft. Federica on St. Simons Island.

Go back in 2019? Oh, I hope. Little Metalmark butterflies and Eastern Pygmy butterflies eluded me, and I so miss these tiny winged beauties.

The coast of Georgia features a ‘necklace’ of very special refuges, and I never did get to Sapelo Island, Jekyll Island and  . . . .

My life will be forever richer for the sights and critters that I saw those 6 days, alligators, wood storks, egrets, great blue herons, green herons, rails and maybe 1,680. butterflies.

This was a big year for Gulf Fritillary butterflies, like this one, nectaring on resplendent Liatris blooms.

Good for you Georgia, successfully preserving so much of your Rich coastal habitat!

Jeff

Gulfs . . . No. 1 Or # 2 In The Southeast

Gulf fritillary butterfly sipping nectar on thistle, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Wildlife Management Area, Kathleen, GA

These 4 years shooting butterflies in Georgia have been a joy. So many butterflies, they flying in rich, verdant habitat, from Cloudland Canyon to Jekyll Island. Best of all there are so many of them.

Used to be that I’d struggle to find butterflies in southwestern Pennsylvania. That made finding a fresh butterfly a very exciting experience. In Georgia, the fraction of fresh, beautiful butterflies is so much higher.

Which southern butterflies are most numerous Jeff? Gulf Fritillary Butterflies and Cloudless Sulphur butterflies, so says my hundreds of hours in the field.

Do you get glazed over when you have seen dozens of Gulf fritillaries in a single morning? Nope. Huh? I am forever searching for fresh Gulf Frits, and that accomplished, I want to capture an image of the sunlight reflecting from the dazzling ventral white spots. Not easy to get. Not easy.

Here our Gulf Frit’s lower wing spots are 100% brightened by the morning sun, and the thistle flowers dazzle too. Oakey Woods Wildlife Management Area, guided by Mike.

Jeff