Meadow Frit Eludes Tiffany’s

Meadow Fritillary Butterfly at Raccoon Creek State Park

Those were cherished moments, working the expansive Doak’s Field meadow at Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania. It was July, and the 100-plus acre  meadow was in full bloom on those hot, sunny July mornings.

I’d wade into the 5′ tall grass, if I spotted something nice on the Common Milkweed, or Bergamot or late Teasel. I’d be reminded of the classic (now) movie, “Jaws,” for after 13 whole summers on the ocean beach at the Rockaways in Queens, New York, that evil film really got to me, and I’d no longer go into the ocean surf beyond my mid-thighs. Yep, the street kid from Brooklyn met his match with that mind-blowing film. Why reminded of “Jaws?” Because wading through all that tall botany to reach the island of milkweed, I knew that I for sure risked picking up a tick or 2 or 5.

Now in the meadow itself, grass up to my chin, along would come a bouncy little butterfly, you’d know it was a fritillary butterfly, but it was too small to be a Great Spangled frit and Aphrodite frits are very uncommon there. Boing! It’s a Meadow Fritillary Butterfly. Yay!!! I’d go to that same field sometimes 5 mornings a week, but seeing a Meadow frit? That’d happen maybe once every 3 or 4 years.

Just rewatched the cute movie, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Reminded of those Meadow Fritillary Butterflies. Each time I saw these tiny beauts, I’d marvel at how other butterflies were often severely birdstruck, but the Meadow Frits were nearly always full in wing, unscathed.

I’d daydream when I saw them, that they were precious broaches at Tiffany’s (been there at times) that’d decided to take wing and fly out those heavy Tiffany revolving doors, and enjoy a brief flight along Fifth Avenue, to the pleasure of the throngs fortunate enough to take notice of them.

Jeff

Learning, 24/7

Great Spangle Fritillary Butterfly on Coneflower photographed by Jeff Zablow at Lynx Prairie Reserve, Ohio

I’m now a seasoned guy, with rich life experience. The deep beauty of that is that I am always learning, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This image so reminds me of that.

I’ve been digging holes in my gardens for decades, planting back then cultivars, and planting now native Georgia plants. I never invested much time with where did my new plants originate. I used to get my Pittsburgh natives from Sylvan Nursery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I didn’t ask them of the Coneflowers they cultivate and sold. I did find it puzzling, where do Coneflowers grow?

In 2016, I met Angela, Barbara Ann and Dave in Adams County, Ohio, almost a stone’s throw from the Kentucky. border. At Lynx Prairie Reserve, there they were . . . Coneflowers. I was short of stunned to see them, and to resolve one question. Coneflower is native to the USA, and resplendent in Ohio.

Our Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly is enjoying the rich nectar of the Coneflower head. Days later, Goldfinch birds will fly in and strip all the seeds from the Coneflower.

Yes, Ma’am, I continue learning, 24/7.

Jeff

Small Town Mystery?

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

This satisfying image brought me to thinking. Sure, I know that this Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge has been home to tens of thousands of butterflies, for as long as we can reckon. Yes, that puts these Pickerelweed blooms close, very close to butterflies like this Gulf Fritillary.

I have no doubt that these little blooms emit aromatic nano packets of sensory activating hydrocarbons. The Gulfs follow the ‘trail’ of those aroma bursts, some 100 feet or 400 feet, and reach this sizable flowerstalk, optimistic and hungry. All that reckons with my high school and college Chemistry understandings.

Tougher to grasp is this, my new garden. In February 2018 I started creating beds, where before there was mowed ground. From that mild later winter, to last month, those beds were planted with native Georgian plants, from Pussytoes to Hercules Club to Clethra to a slew of trees: BlackCherry, Hickory, Sassafras, Plums, Atlantic White Cedar, Hoptree and more. Sure, there were some setbacks, the most challenging the acknowledgment that there were most wet areas that retained below ground water for weeks. Ok, that forced some switharoos, but y’all had been there, had to do that.

The result? We were mobbed by butterflies. Gulf Fritillaries on the Passionflower. Cloudywings on the small Zinnias (non-native) and Starflower (?). Giant Swallowtails, Black Swallowtails, Buckeyes, Ladies, Zebra and Zebra Heliconians, many, many species of Skippers . . . Just mobbed. I loved it, I did. A lifelong dream that, butterflies from February to November.

Comes the mystery. There is not, to my knowledge, a garden like this in town (the County Courthouse is 2 blocks away, we are squarely in town) for at least 3/4 mile in any direction. I know why this Gulf here found this luxurious wetland Pickerelweed. I do not know how the hundreds (thousands) of butterflies found my garden, from such great distances?? Do you?

I’ve planted 2 Atlantic White Cedars. Will a very special Juniper Hairstreak ever know that their hostplant is here? I’m in the midst of a frustrating search for Sweet Leaf AKA Horse Sugar trees. Will the rare King’s Hairstreak, a big long shot, find those? How’d the Great Purple Hairstreak, my first ever seen, find my garden last summer???

Small town mystery?

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