Singing Auld Lang Syne

Striped hairstreak butterfly photographed at Powdermill Refuge, PA

Here’s one I’ve not seen for more than 20 years. We met in the butterfly garden at the Powdermill refuge in Rector, Pennsylvania. This field station of the Pittsburgh Museum of Natural History, established for the study and conservation of birds, was just 1 hour and 25 minutes from my home in Pittsburgh.

These sylvan 2,000+ acres were home to a host of threatened species, including that Eastern Timber Rattlesnake that I met up with there. It was under a tree, in the shade, that 90F+ morning. I see it there, and now when I look back these years later, Frieda A”H was right (again). How did I get those closeup images of the rattler, when I should have know the risk that a father of 4, and husband, works to get closer and closer and closer to . . . ?

This “R-U” rare to uncommon (Glassberg, A Swift Guide to Butterflies) hairstreak was doing what most hairstreaks do, resting on a leaf, being very territorial, when I spotted it. It didn’t take more than a nanosecond for me to realize that this was a new one for me, and I shot away. As Stripeds do, it met my slow, robotic movement with no alarm, and I shot away. What a stunning butterfly!

Its been decades since, and I’ve not met another . . . I think. Their range is said to be Maine to northern Florida, the Atlantic coast to west of the Dakotas, but rare, Oh so rare.


Pyle, Berthet, Lawson, Childs . . . and Zablow?

Edwards Hairstreak photographed by Jeff Zablow at Lynx Prairie Reserve, Ohio

Over these decades, every so often, the Media announces the discovery (!^!!#**!) of a heretofore unknown animal. Like you I drop what I’m about to do online, and quickly open the news dispatch, to read of the new OMG! mammal, reptile, fish. I’ve given up on Sasquatch, that Loch Ness thing, the Dodo bird and especially sadly, the Ivory Billed Woodpecker. We’ve way too much populated Earth, and there’s not much territory that has not be trekked over. The African Veldt of my youth is now full of people, full of guides to show you whatever you want, and it seems has been compartmentalized into people place and game reserves.

The loss of the Ivory Billed bit! I took it personally. How could we/they not protect their huge, dense forest stands?

Butterflies? There are some who seek little explored, dense pristine habitat to find rare and they dream, undiscovered butterflies. Pyle’s Big Year, wonderfully described in his book Mariposa Road, Berhtet’s recent explorations, Ian Lawson’s wide travels as well as Child’s, often cause me to question my own reluctance to hit the road, by the hundreds and thousands of miles?

Just recently, I came to a resolution. I will resist the siren’s song of the road, and the airport terminals that I so dislike. One more airport men’s room and I will lose it. One more full body frisk, with me struggling to keep my served my country, OCS completion, ready to go riot control platoon leader in Brooklyn in the late ’60’s, with mouth SHUT.

I will make few long journeys, with the exception of searching the Negev, Galilee & Golan regions of the HolyLand (Israel). I will get my VAVAVAVOOM with the butterflies of our beautiful USA and Canada. No way I’m going to be kidnapped by Shining Path or whatever. That too, that the $$’s lecture.

This Edward’s Hairstreak was one of a fresh flight of 50 or more that marked my first Edward’s ever!!!  Lynx Prairie Reserve, Adams County, Ohio. That was bonkers! exciting, and was just a 6-hours drive from Pittsburgh. Newly discovered butterflies may well exist, but I’m not to travel deep into Cuba or enjoy the unexpected company of latter-day headhunters in Borneo.

Anyone who wants to chat about trips in 2020, I’m all ears. No Uzbekistan. No Honduras. No Mongolia. No Myanmar. Please.


I Photograph Butterflies

Gray Hairstreak photographed by Jeff Zablow at Fort Federica, Saint Simons Island, GA

It’s frustrating to watch sylvan habitat lost to development. I’ve been bemoaning the loss since as far as I can recall. That must have begun when I was some 12 years old, and fine ‘bay-side’ land was invaded by bulldozers in the Arverne Section of Rockaway Beach, in New York City’s Queens. I roamed those acres before the ‘dozers came, and their loss, even for a wide awake 12-year old, was forever irreversible.

We didn’t travel at all, and I had no idea how vast the United States were. Pre-teen me thought that soon there’d  be nothing left between Brooklyn and Los Angeles (where many of my friends ended up moving to).

It sure may well be that I still retain that apprehension that butterflies and orchids (didn’t know about natives back then) and bumblebees and darners and such will disappear, on my ‘watch.’ It’s true that back in about the 4th grade, in Public School 244 in Brooklyn, my teacher told us that bald eagles, beavers, and mountain lions would all be gone, during our lifetimes. I’ll never forget that, for it was clear that I’d never even get a chance to see them, except for those sad, forlorn captives in the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn.

So there I was celebrating the losses sure to come, of so much, including plants and animals that were then unknown to me: wildflowers, trees, snakes, lizards, birds (I still hate knowing that the Ivory Billed Woodpecker is lost), bison, the Eastern Timber Wolf, the Regal Fritillary Butterfly that flew where my East 58th Street, Brooklyn house stood, when the British and Hessians marched through there, as they prepared to make their pincer attack on New York, New York.

I am thrilled to go into the bush to find and photograph butterflies. They are still flying, and often in good enough numbers to dissuade me from believing my 4th grade teacher.

There are way too few of us, who seek and shoot butterflies, but that’s what we are doing, and will seek to continue to do. My move, 2 years ago to central Georgia’s Piedmont region pleased me, for there I’ve seen so many new butterflies, some of them in my own yard, it, now busy with hostplants whose siren aromatic signals draw butterflies that we greet with Oohs! and Aahs!

I photograph butterflies, as for example this spiffy Gray Hairstreak.


Red River Valley & Those Red-Banded Hairstreaks

Red-Banded Hairstreak butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at "Butterflies and Blooms in the Briar Patch," Eatonton, GA

The backstory here goes back to Brooklyn, me as a boy, a pre-teen enduring a less than happy existence, truth be told. A release, an important one was the radio. I cannot recall home many hours I listened, safely inside away from there asphalt, concrete and brick that was my milieu day in and day out. Hours, countless hours with my radio sweetly bathing me in Paul Robeson (Old Man River), what I think was Dixieland (that I heard like one million times, and that nearly got me into Big trouble, for I loved to whistle, and sometimes when I was teaching in New York City and in Pittsburgh, I’d realized OMG’ I’m whistling Dixieland in my Big City classroom, or in the school halls during passing!!) and Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Coming . . . . My favorite of them all? Red River Valley, which I must have heard one billion times, and sang aloud too many times to count.

I survived the streets, grew up, still singing, whistling those loved songs/tunes. The irony of all this was not lost on me. But . . . Where was the Red River Valley, and why wasn’t I there? Why did I grow up where I did, why was my early association with Them preordained?

In 1962, me and a friend hitchhiked from Binghamton, New York to Miami Beach, Florida. We must have been dumber than stumps, for once we entered ‘the Deep South,’ as soon as we opened our mouths, my poor boy from Brooklyn and his rich boy from Westchester, New York tagged us as prospective troublemakers! Not! We reached Miami Beach, and I was not lynched after I left that Greyhound Bus Station in that town in South Carolina. How was I to know that I misread the sign on that mens room door??

I’m now a resident of Eatonton, Georgia, to the puzzlement of my own family and friends. Why Daddy? Why? Those country tunes sung to my heartstrings. I tired of carrying that huge folding knife those 4.5 years of riding the subway to and from college. I must have always wanted acres, sun, trees, civility and butterflies.

I just did research using Google. I listened again to Red River Valley, sung in turn bye Gene Autry, Eddy Arnold, Connie Francis and Chris Isaak & Steve Nicks. The lyrics vary some, but this sticks:

Then come sit by my side if you love me, Do not hasten to bid me adieu, Just remember the Red River Valley, And the one who has love you so true.

It turns out that the real Red River Valley is out in the U.S. northwest, but that didn’t matter so much to me. Butterflies became a Sweet pursuit for me, and Virginia’s Butterflies & Blooms Briar Patch Habitat in Eatonton, Georgia riveted me, with its fly squadrons of fresh, beautiful butterflies. Field guides had teased me, suggesting how much more beautiful butterflies were in the American South. Especially memorable was their mention that the Red-Banded Hairstreak butterflies were amazing, with broad, richly red bands and more.

Well there they were, including this one in the Briar Patch Habitat, and Scrumptious swallowtails, yellows and oranges and more, so much more. I found myself singing Red River Valley time and time again in that special place, and the haunting memories of a life on the streets, an unhappy childhood home, teaching and disciplining tough kids who were notorious in their own neighborhoods . . . and Frieda’s A”H battle and passing softened and slipped away.

Yes we’re not in the famous Red River Valley, but this new home so works for me, and the excitement of planting new natives, that may one day draw King’s Hairstreaks, Goatweed Leafwings, Hessel’s Hairstreaks, Great Purple Hairstreaks and more, excites me.

It seems that Johnny Cash sang Red River Valley also, but I could not Google that. As I close, I’m brain singing it, as he would have.


Four Butterflies

American Snout Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Habitat, Eatonton, GeorgiaGray Hairstreak Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Habitat, Eatonton, GeorgiaClyitie ministreak butterfly (3) photographed by Jeff Zablow at the National Butterfly Center, Mission, TXGray Hairstreak photographed by Jeff Zablow at Fort Federica, Saint Simons Island, GA

Once every so often, I reflect on my butterfly fascination. When some of you share your image captures, I Ooh! and Ahh! Some of you, truth be told, produce excellent, A+ work. Jeff experiences that 1/100 of a second of doubt, some sort of a throwback to maybe junior high school self-consciousness.

That’s when I regroup, so to speak, and recall the fun I have when I am on trail, when a Wow! butterfly appears, and we play ‘lion stalks zebra,’ ’til I get the images I want, or not. I recall how sweetly many of you receive my work, and reward me with encouragement and sometimes praise. I reconsider the expen$e of some of my travel, the co$t of scoring the third image down, a Clytie Ministreak butterfly, found at the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas.

But most of all, I smile, for I Love the beautiful color and pattern of butterflies, and I savor the rich real-time color that my Fuji Velvia slide film delivers,.

Four butterflies that bring a smile to this once kid from Brooklyn’s mean streets.