Hickory? Yes? Yes!

Hickory Hairstreak photographed by Jeff Zablow at Akeley Swamp, NY

It should have been drums and trumpets! but I was buzzed anyway. Barbara Ann and I returned to Akeley Swamp, in very western New York State. That sunny morning, with barely a breeze, the last days of June 2018 lined the Akeley Swamp trail with hundreds, really, hundreds of healthy Common Milkweed plants. 90% of them sported big, globular flowerheads.

Irony was the word. Hundreds of thousands of Milkweed flowers, and so few butterflies? The oddest thing happened. My cell phone, zippered away in a pouch in my backpack, suddenly rang. Wow! Reception is such an isolated place. I opened the call, and found myself talking to my credit card company, about a fraudulent transaction. Iron because I flew into Pittsburgh to see family and photograph, and the action was so limited, that I was calmly talking a cell phone call.

Call ended (not so pleasantly), I went back to surveying those hundreds of thousand of tiny milkweed flowers, slowly and carefully. That’s when I saw this. Hairstreaks always stop one in their tracks. That because if it were a Gray, it would be good. A Striped would be better again. A Banded? Wow! White M? Unbelievable. A Coral? Am I dreaming? An Edwards? In Akeley Swamp? Astounding. Should it be an Acadian? That’d be my 3rd.

I stared and stared. It moved ever so slowly over the Asclepias syriaca blossoms. That’s when I came to realize that it was . . . a Hickory Hairstreak!!! Drums!!!! & Trumpets!!!! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Hickory before, and own no images of one. Glassberg in Swift Guide to the Butterflies of North America? A “R-U” butterfly = Rare to Uncommon. Happy Days Are Here Again . . .

See, that’s the thing. When you photograph butterflies, you just, never, never know. Morning made, Yes, it must have never gone to modeling school, ’cause it just about never gave me a good look at it. That said, here’s my Hickory. Yes, ‘my’ Hickory. Thanks BAC.


A Rich Gray

Gray Hairstreak Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Habitat, Eatonton, Georgia

Working the Butterflies & Blooms Briar Patch Habitat in Eatonton, Georgia, I’m mostly keeping my eyes peeled for ‘fresh.’ It’s much like my careful, not rushed time spent in Giant Eagle or Publix produce sections. I look long and hard for fresh bananas, fresh cantaloupes (well marked netting, that dark green scar and no bruise ), corn in season, with the stem-tip light color (picked that morning) and oranges a deep color and free of bruises and dents. Maybe I should share my desired watermelon, that secret info the result of many conversations with farm owners at their farm-side produce stands. Good-looking shape, rich green netting and most important of all, a fine patch of sweet yellow color on the underside.

‘Fresh’ at the BBHabitat usually means seeking tiger swallowtail butterflies, pipevine swallowtails, monarchs, giant swallowtails, cloudless sulphur, gulf fritillaries, the rarely seen variegated fritillaries, hackberry emperors, longtail skippers, spicebush swallowtails, red-banded hairstreaks, zebra heliconians and the less often seen zebra swallowtails . . . I always want to capture each of these when they are spectacular, ‘fresh’ yes, and particularly good looking.

Seeing this especially handsome Gray hairstreak butterfly was a surprise, for they just don’t show themselves here much. A rich, very rich gray, whose orange spot rates a long satisfying look, for a guy who eats a fresh (and now you know carefully selected) orange every morning for breakfast.


Trail of Galilee Memories

Apharitis Cilissa butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow at Mt. Meron, Israel

It was a trail of surprises, this one on Mt. Meron in the Upper Galilee. So many butterflies, and so many surprises. This was the trail I worked, to find my goal for that week’s butterfly search. With no guidance, I reasoned that if I was in the right place, at the right time = June, just maybe I might find a flight of this rare (Protected) hairstreak butterfly.

I was booked for 5 days in the SPNI Meron reservation, in one of their field houses for visitors. I set out very early that first morning, on the main trail in the SPNI reserve. Some 1/2 miles or so down the trail, at a modest clearing with tiny flowers, there they were. Apharitis cilissa. Tiny, perky little hairstreaks, their upper wing surface speckled beautifully marked underwing surface. Most of them kept their wings closed as they nectared or perched. Some did undulate their closed wings, showing hints of lovely burns orange upper wing.

I worked hard and long to score a shot of those wings fully open. This male glowed in the early morning light, and here he is, resplendent in that flowerbed, along a trail in the very Upper Galilee.

Irony. Just some 2-3 miles north of here, the border with Lebanon, and the murderous Hezbollah, armed and financed by Iran, the same butchers who murdered our brave U.S.Marines.


That Moment when You Realize

Banded Hairstreak Butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow in Raccoon Creek State Park

We know it. That moment when you’ve covered the huge meadow’s margins for several hours, searching for butterflies, out of the ordinary butterflies. 100 acres plus or minus in Doak Field last Raccoon Creek State Park, just miles from Pennsylvania’s state line with West Virginia.

Great Spangled Fritillaries bounce in the air from one side of the cut-trail to the other, wood nymphs also cross the mowed trail, they hugging the ground, but no less difficult to follow and shoot. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail males fly that crazy, frenetic way they do, searching for receptive females.Silver Spotted Skippers flee their place at the nectar bar on your approach. A Monarch butterfly or two dreamily floats from one Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) to the next. Red-Spotted Purples deny you a click of the camera, vacating their perch when you close the gap with them (and shucks! didn’t that one sport really fine red spots).

So I’m working the forest side of the mowed trail, along the southern perimeter of Doak field . . . and my eyes, sporting thousands of hours of field work experience, register a curious geometry. I see a tiny triangular shape, resting on a leaf blade. Eureka!! My brain makes the ID in nanoseconds, a Hairstreak.

Now hairstreaks are usually few and far between, be they Grays, Red-bandeds, the hard to find Stripeds, the calendar-shy Corals ( with their 2-week or so flights ) or the rarest of rare White-M’s.

Huh? What! Are you sure?? It none of the above. Battlestations! (That’s how I think ). Can it be??? A Banded Hairstreak. A Banded Hairstreak?? That blue on the hindwing extends way out from the orange spots, as Bandeds’ blue patch does. There is one other possibility, that it’s the very similar Hickory Hairstreak.

We conclude that this sweetie is a Banded Hairstreak, and that is Good, Very Good.

Fun for Jeff, in the field. Who among you can claim such excitement in the field?


Why Do More And More People Seek Butterflies?

People viewing Gold-Bordered hairstreak butterfly at “The Wall,” photographed by Jeff Zablow in Mission, TX

The number of people who seek butterflies in the USA is growing. Some have made bold changes in their gardens, uprooting the tired traditional shrubs that can be traced back to Asia, and replacing them with butterfly hostplants and plants that produce the nectar beloved by butterflies. Others have begun to look for butterflies here and there, and have began participating in local annual counts. Many remain on the lookout for speakers at their local Audubon Centers or Native Plant Societies.

The joys and thrills of nurturing have caused thousands to collect caterpillars in their gardens, and raise them in protected enclosures . . . that to avoid heavy losses to predators and disease.

This group had sped to the “Wall” at the entrance to the Retama Village development community, when the call went out (on their cell network) . . . that a rare Tropical Greenstreak butterfly was seen in those tall shrubs, and was still! there, nectaring methodically. Many of these folks retired or relocated to this Lower Rio Grande part of Texas, just to be near friends who also pursue butterflies, and they move there to ogle the great variety of rare butterflies than fly up from Mexico.

Why are the numbers of butterfly enthusiasts swelling?

My thinking?

  • Butterflies appeal to our desire to protect and nurture. They are tiny, delicate and vulnerable. So many want to help them, benefit from the satisfaction of enabling their ongoing survival
  • Butterflies are compellingly beautiful. Unlike Tiffany’s, Cartier, the riches of Christie’s & Sotheby’s, butterflies are within reach, not subject to the barrier’s that money throws up
  • So many of us have known butterflies all our lives, in our neighborhood, nearby undeveloped land and in our literature.
  • We know that butterflies, many species of them are being seen in reduced numbers annually. Some, like the Monarch are thought to be at great risk. We worry that we may be the last generation to . . .
  • Birders have been searching for birds for many years now, many have almost ‘seen them all,’ and butterflies’ convert’ them, draw those birders, presenting new opportunities to open up a whole new world of fliers.
  • There is a sublime appeal in this butterfly pastime. Monied or near broke, butterfliers don’t need fancy hotels, tony restaurants are not needed either, dress is relatively inexpensive, as are binoculars and cameras.
  • Those who want to spend money wantonly, can find butterfly seeking tours to Costa Rica, Brazil . . . well to many corners of the world
  • For those who don’t go boating, golf, and have tired of sitting on this or that international beach, butterfly hunting is a whole new pursuit, and an active one at that.
  • There’s a sense of newness here, and a Big factor is, You never know what you might see, as these folks demonstrate in Mission, Texas. For sure you might see one not seen for 10 years, now that’s a rush.

I pause at this punchlist, noting that I could have gone on, again sharing my experiences at Pre-Sale Exhibitions at New York City auction galleries. That’s what launched me. Frieda A”H would try on multi-million dollars rings, broaches, necklaces, bracelets, just a foot or two away from me, that in the 1980’s. I have never seen Magnificent Jewelry  more beautiful than a Monarch or a Malachite or that fresh Common Mestra that flew just before I could cop my first exposure! A fresh Mourning Cloak sends me into a near swoon, Cathy, Kenne, Barbara Ann, Patti, Virginia, Marcie, Beth, Jim, Angela, Ian, Sylbie, Deepthi, Ginny, Laura, Peggy, Susan, Leslie, Laurence and . . .