Traffic Picked Up in the Perennial Garden Today

Hackberry Emperor Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA. Jeff blogs about the art and science of butterflies at

The sun came out today in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Traffic picked up in my perennial garden, so much so that there was double and triple parking going on on popular flower hot spots.

Who showed? Red Admirals came and went, sometimes in pairs. They make you feel so acutely sharp, their beaming red bands enabling split second identification. They stopped and sip nectar on  the anise hyssop blooms, our giant zinnias and on the purple and white coneflowers.

Great Spangled Fritillaries also found parking spaces, especially on the common milkweed, called Liatris (white), coneflowers (purple) and briefly on the magnificent ‘ice’ hydrangeas (Thanks to Joe Ambrogio Sr. for suggesting them).

Cabbage white butterflies flew in throughout the day, seemingly males, barely stopping for a sip of any nectar here or there.

Trimming spent giant zinnia blooms rousted a Striped Hairstreak, either from its perch, or from a nectar interlude.

Silver Spotted Skippers showed off their jet propulsion potential, jetting to the milkweed, coneflowers, hydrangea and surely more. Tinier Skippers, no doubt.

Did not spend the day sitting and observing, so I know that additional others have come by, and hopefully, among them Monarchs. When they come, they’ll not find blazingstar blossoms (a huge favorite of theirs in late summer) because . . . well, groundhogs love blazing star leaves and stems, I now know.

Soon to open and bloom? Mexican sunflower (TY VcL), native cardinal flower (Sylvania Natives, Pittsburgh), false dragonhead (Sylvania Natives), monkeyflower (SNatives), chocolate mint, swamp milkweed (TY BAC) and I hope, I hope, this year clethra.

Am preparing to put in 5 sennas, purchased 2 days ago at sylvania natives, to attract yellow/orange butterflies.

The show has begun here, Folks.


Hackberry Emperor (In the Delta)

Hackberry emperor butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow at Greenville, Mississippi

We drove nearly 900 miles from Pittsburgh, down to Greenville, Mississippi. It helped that my grade school teachers made the spelling of this beautiful state an absolute must. You had to be able to spell M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I. Greenville was a bustling cotton town, cotton brought to the docks was loaded on ships and sent to all corners of the globe. Although Greenville no longer thrives, the wildlife in the Mississippi delta region was all new to me.

Well, almost all new. Asterocampa celtis is also found in Pennsylvania. We have posted several images of our northern hackberrys. The Hackberry emperors and Tawny emperors (Asterocampa clyton) flying in western Mississippi were impressively rich in color. Their appealing coloration often led to confusion, i.e., was this one here a Hackberry or a Tawny? Leroy Percy State Park offered both hackberrys. Ours here is a Hackberry emperor.

A trip back to Mississippi included several mornings at Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately, the Rangers there declined my request to show me the most promising trails? Of course that little damped my enthusiasm to find and photograph new butterflies. Find them I did. Several species I had never seen before. After once seeing (I have not doubt about that) a Goatweed Leafwing (Anaea andria) in Raccoon Creek Sate Park in southwestern Pennsylvania (no photo and I was not expecting to encounter it, and it certainly was startled by me and zoomed away), early in the morning at Yazoo, I had one of those, Am I seeing what I am seeing? experiences. There was a Goatweed leafwing perched on a tree trunk, in the shade of the morning. I regained my head, looked, looked, looked and when I remembered, Duh! You are a photographer, I began to raise my Canon. Whist! it disappeared into the forest. Mississipi. Mosquitoes, moderate. Chiggers, Uh oh!


Hackberry Emperor Butterfly

Hackberry emperor butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

You don’t forget this. When you have just begun your serious goal to photograph butterflies, and begun your nearly daily fieldwork, the trails you travel can be thankfully free of other people, and sometimes, a bit too lonely and deserted. Both thoughts alternate, at times. There are several butterflies that break those moods, and provide a smile at the corners of your lips, and a bit of reassurance that you are not wholly alone in your quest for dropdead striking images of Leps.

Asterocampa celtis is an excellent example of a butterfly that will meet you on your trail, sometimes guide you along for a bit, and fly back to await the next hiker or whatever. Once in a while your hackberry host will fly onto your sleeve or hat or backpack . . . resting there a bit, as if to coach, “Keep going, I’ll go with you for a little bit.” You know that this is a smige of fancy, but, while you’re in their company, it ain’t that bad . . . Others will fly up from the trail, into a nearby tree, never more than say 10 feet up from the trail. Should you return in 5 minutes, that same fella will be right back at the same spot on the trail.

Our instant Hackberry emperor is a handsome gent, resting in the morning sun, and showing off his white dots, eyespots, chevrons and browns associated with the finest of shoe leathers. Madison Avenue in New York had the most amazing shoe stores. His assortment of browns reminds me of the shmeksy choices offered on those $$$ shoe racks, of the extraordinary perfume of the leathers therein.

Very territorial, these male butterflies stake out their territory along trails, for hours on end. Females are more difficult to spot. When you find these butterflies, you can be certain that their hostplants, hackberry (Celtis) trees and shrubs are nearby. So in Raccoon Creek State Park, in Pennsylvania, where we met this hackberry.

They are also often seen on scat. Whether in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Georgia or Mississippi, if there is fresh scat left by a carnivore, expect to see a collection of Hackberry emperor males and the closely related Tawny emperor males. Remember, males fly alot, resulting in much protein wear and tear. The proteins available in the scat of meat eaters, and the minerals therein, enable their bodies to synthesize replacement protein, to remain buff, and to give them the vah-vah-vah-voom to attract suitable mates.