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.


Edwards Hairstreak Finery

Edwards Hairstreak Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Lynx Prairie, OH

This was a day that remains vivid in my memory. Angela, Barbara Ann, Dave & Joe led the way, to this largish prairie relict in Lynx Prairie Reserve, southern Ohio, just a handful of miles from Kentucky.

These Edwards Hairstreak butterflies were new to me, and this for sure was a fresh flight of them. Close approach to these tiny hairstreaks wowed! me, for their color palette was strikingly beautiful.

Shooting with my Fuji Velvia 50 slide film, I shot away, determined to capture those reds and blues amongst that handsome grayish brown, and sharp white and black.

This one will do just fine. I tried so hard to meet one universal goal of mine, capture the butterfly’s eyes in good focus, but the depth of field bugaboo denied my 100% success with that.

Winged beauty? Yep.


Bear Oak & Edwards’

Edwards Hairstreak Butterfly in 1/2 Shade photographed by Jeff Zablow at Adams Lake Preserve

My 2 foot tall Bear Oak (purchased from Nearly Natives Nursery in Fayetteville, Georgia, an A+ natives nursery) will never be a 100′ tall giant. It is one of the ‘small oaks,’ and I would love to live and see it reach some 20 feet. Its leaves are unique looking, and it acorns, well I’ll have to wait some for them to be produced.

I’ve enriched my grasp of the plants and animals of these United States, to include those of southeastern America. Bear Oak is native to the US, and to America’s South.

The first time I saw Edwards’ Hairstreak butterflies was in June, 2017. They were a fresh flight, some 35 or so Edwards.’ I was struck by their rich, stunning reds, blues, white and black. They are usually described as ‘Locally Rare,’ and that morning, in. Lynx Prairie Reserve in Adams County, Ohio, I was so Thankful that we were there that week, to savor that artists palette of color, against a solid background of grayish-brown.

My young Bear Oak? Glassberg’s A Swift Guide to Butterflies of North America range map shows Edwards’ Hairstreaks flying just about as far south as my backyard. and Bear Oaks are their preferred hostplant.

Would it not be AmaZing! if one showed up next year? What’s that rock n’ roll song of maybe I’m a dreamer? Two or 3 more Bear Oaks?