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Erato Heliconian Butterfly on Grass photographed by Jeff Zablow at the National Butterfly Center, Mission, TX

Friends asked me to join them and fly to the Lower Rio Grande Valley, a handful of miles from Mexico. There were so many reasons to leave my ‘comfort zone’ and once again see Texas. My friends were A+ butterfly scouters, the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas regularly astounds, with butterflies so rare that they create near riots when they are seen and y’all deliver heavier traffic on wingedbeauty when I share the rare, the beautiful and exciting tales (true) and adventures.

I ponied up the money ($ignificant) and Delta flew us to San Antonio, followed by that 4-hour drive down to the southern tip of Texas.

Here’s part of the Jackpot! A very rare, very mysterious and Very Beautiful Erato Heliconian butterfly. Just as exciting was the Red Rim, that Malachite, the elusive but gorgeous maestro, Pavon Emperor, Tropical Leafwing, Tropical Greenstreak, Julia Heliconian and . . . lots more butterflies, all new to me.

Now, with Fall ’18 here, I’m scouring field guides and wondering? 2019 beckons, loudly. Do I again sit in airports (I shoot film, so I must always consider that the necessary ‘Hand check’ of my film might cause a 1/2 hour of more delay, when an overzealous TSA agent methodically inspects my Fuji film cartridges)? Endure airport terminals, which I am not in love with. $pend the money for air fare, car rental, Airbnb/VRBO living quarters, drive where I’ve never been, and most vexing, find good Habitat with no one to lead me?

The alternative? Travel to nearby states, in my own F150, with Petra riding shotgun? Do Florida, Tennessee, South Caroline and the Okefenokee Swamp? No flying, no airfare, no TSA.

So may I have your feedback, what think you? Fly to Montana, or the Chiricuaha mountains in southeast Arizona or search the Florida Panhandle, Kissimmee Prairie or that Okefenokee Swamp of all swamps?

Jeff

American Zebras

Zebra heliconian butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Kathleen GA

These 4 years visiting Georgia? So many beautiful and new to me butterflies. Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island and Pittsburgh sure had beautiful butterflies. Georgia had them and some, opening my eyes to a whole slew of new Leps.

These Zebra Heliconians that Mike led me to, in Kathleen, Georgia, ignited a ‘fireworks’ of thoughts that day, when I first met them. First among those recollections were the dancers of the American Ballet, that year shortly after the Ballet opened in Lincoln Center, NYNY. We watched them dance, effortless, lighter than air grace, elegance plus. Zebra heliconians fly with that same beauty. You’ve never seen one? Oh, you must, for I do not exaggerate here. Seen one in a ‘cage’ in a local museum or arboretum? I regret to offer that that is just not the same.

When I was a kid in bricks and mortar/asphalt Brooklyn, New York, relief from the urban stale life was to watch movies (before video) of zebras on the African veldt. Those Zebra Swallowtails in Mason Neck State Park, Virginia and Zebra heliconians like this one have forever replaced the African zebras in my mind. You say ‘zebras’ now, and this is what I bring up!

Jeff

Back to the National Butterfly Center?

Erato Heliconian Butterfly on Grass photographed by Jeff Zablow at the National Butterfly Center, Mission, TX

It is a jolt, seeing way different butterflies at the southernmost tip of Texas. The National Butterfly Center (NBC) in Mission, Texas is visited by many dozens of butterflies that are native to Mexico, and make very rare appearances in the NBC. Now more than 6 months after we visited there, I easily remember the excitement that was unleashed when we saw this Erato Heliconican butterfly.

Yes it’s a bit far away, but this is a “rare” visit to the NBC. This butterfly is rarely seen there. We were there, and sooo Happy to enjoy it’s shocking beauty.

Other rare and uncommon butterflies those 6 days? Red-rim Butterfly, Tropical Greenstreak, Malachite, Mexican Fritillary, Julia Heliconian and those I could not shoot.

Mike, Javier and lots of other folks frequently share Lower Rio Grande butterflies that are new to me or that are very rare, i.e., not seen in the U.S. for 5, 10 or more years.

The desire to return there in 2018 is real. The expenses are also real: Delta flight to San Antonio, Enterprise rental car, and rental apartment all add up to big buck$.

It does rival Florida, because you can find butterflies there in November and December . . .

Think it’s easy when you have the lust to go and find spectacular butterflies?

Jeff

Tracking Erato Heliconians

Erato Heliconian Butterfly on Grass photographed by Jeff Zablow at the National Butterfly Center, Mission, TX

Our “Rare” Erato Heliconian Butterfly remained in that vicinity for some time. There were just a few of us that caught a glimpse of it in the National Butterfly Center’s Mission, Texas reserve. It riveted the gaze, for those red, broad streaks were red-beyond-red.

Each time it flew, it flew to a new perch, never much more than 15 feet from where it had rested before.

Some time later, the gawkers left to find other Wow! butterflies. I too left, and soon returned. I descended down into that crevice-like trail. When I came within 10 feet of the Erato, it flew. I eagle-eyed that flight, wondering all along . . . how many here in the U.S.have ever seen the Erato’s flight manner?

The Erato flew away on that trail, a straight trail that did not meander left or right. It flew some 4 feet or so above the ground, in a perfectly straight trajectory. No dips, no dives, no meander left or right. I’m thinking that whole time, that the numerous predators around, bird, reptile, insect, mammal . . . ? would have no difficulty snatching this Erato out of the air.

That was when it struck me? Throughout the 100 feet or so of observed flight, those shocking-red streaks remained in sight. The red was visible 100% of the time.

What did I think? That totally visible, bright red must serve as a bold, critical, cryptic warning to any and all: I am toxic, very toxic, and remember what your mother taught you or bide the genetic warning bells your’re hearing . . . for I might just give you a mouthful of hurt!

Like I said before, I could’ve used such a jacket, cape or shirt when I was a kid on those Brooklyn streets: You don’t want to even try it . . . !

Jeff