Discovering Those Zebras

Zebra heliconian butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at the National Butterfly Center, Mission, TX

There were summer weeks when I visited Doak field 6 mornings a week. That 100 plus acre field is a gem, set in Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania. I got to know several trails in the park well, very well. I knew where to spot Mourning Cloaks, Northern Pearly-Eyes, Harvesters, Milbert’s Tortoiseshells, Comptons too. Monarchs, Swallowtails and Coral Hairstreaks. I’d seen a single Goatweed Leafwing there too, and what I don’t doubt was an Orange-barred Sulphur butterfly.

Wingedbeauty.com’s audience continues to grow, but there was a time that it became clear that offering up butterflies found in northeastern USA was becoming limiting, was not going to be enough to satiate my new friends here and around the world. That’s what prompted my first drive, those 700 miles down from Pittsburgh to Virginia’s Butterflies & Blooms Briar Patch Habitat in the town of Eatonton, central Georgia’s Piedmont region, that 2015.

New, amazing new butterflies. The kid from Brooklyn, who grew up watching lions and hyenas on those tiny TV screens, stalking their prey on the African veldt, found his zebras, though they were different zebras, strikingly gorgeous, were those Zebra Heliconian butterflies, first shown to me by Mike in Kathleen, Georgia. They float in the air as the ballerinas did when we had orchestra central seats at the New York City Ballet. Graceful as cannot be believed, you don’t know which is more stunning, their striking coloration or their floating athleticism.

They are show stoppers, necessitating your turning away from Giants, Black Swallowtails and American Ladies when the fly in as they do, unannounced, but show stoppers for sure.

This one was was flying in the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas. Those wings, that head, thorax and abdomen. Fine work this, No?

Jeff

 

That Rare Visit by an Erato

Red-Rim Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at the National Butterfly Center, Mission, TX

The 4 or 5 folks who were really excited about  the discovery of an Erato Heliconian butterfly were all very familiar with the National Butterfly Center. It was December 2017, Christmas week, and I was there for the first time. I knew the appearance of a Very fresh Erato was very special, it had to be with the excitement that was riveting the air there. An overcast day, with few visitors besides the handful of us there.

A fresh Erato! My Canon film camera’s built-in light meter had been giving me fits, that entire time in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. I shot away at this Erato, nevertheless. Here is an underlit view of the left ventral wing surfaces. Despite the obvious absence of light, the orange forewing band shows color true, as does the whitish-yellow hindwing strip. That they appear vivid against the black background is right for this butterfly.

Booked again to return in late November 2019. That is good, Very Good.

Jeff

Who Choreographs the Zebras?

Zebra Heliconian butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Wildlife Management Area, Kathleen, GA

Life when I was a kid? Tough. I was always thinking, thinking that there was no way that I’d ever not succeed in life. I would not ever have a house with empty cupboards. With no one to offer my guidance and direction as I approached my post-teens, I knew one thing, I’d alway have bread on my table, a roof over our heads, and savagely product my kids, should I be so lucky.

It all worked out, I married very very happily and we had 4 children. I was determined to smooth my rough edges. I read the Safire column in the Sunday New York Times magazine carefully, pursued my interest in fine art, and we purchased season tickets to the American Opera and the New York City Ballet, at Lincoln Center.

When Virginia suggested that Mike Barwick would agree to lead me to the Zebra Heliconian butterflies that lived in a grove of Passionflower near his home in Kathleen, Georgia,  I jumped at the opportunity.

I tell you, when we hiked to that place, and within minutes the Zebras flew in to nectar at those Passionflower vines, I was transfixed. Their gentle, elegant flight so evoked the memories of those operas, with Frieda A”H (Of Blessed Memory). The beauty of the dance of the ballerinas . . . It was as if they studied under the Zebras, and vice versa.

Frieda has Left Us, and it’s clear to me, W-o choreographs the flight of these mesmerizing butterflies, Cathy, Susan, Leslie, Virginia, Melanie Jim, Deepthi, Lois, Marcie, Anthony, Lauren, Sylbie, Debi, Margaret, Kenne, Roger, Angela, and Barbara Ann.

Jeff

The Eyes of Texas

Erato heliconian butterfly (Dorsal view) photographed by Jeff Zablow at the National Butterfly Center, Mission, TX

It’ s 42 degrees F here in the Georgia Piedmont region (central Georgia). Linda and Debra and others have been posting exciting images of butterflies they saw in the Lower Rio Grande Valley these last few days. Oh, how that brought back memories of my trip to the National Butterfly Center and the “Butterfly Wall” in late December 2017!

I’ve posted some dozens of those images here, and this one remains a favorite. The very rare, and very exciting! Erato Heliconian butterfly, seen at the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas.

We saw it in a heavily wooded area, and I followed it as it lazily moved from one place to another. Jet black with with screaming! red flashes and the equally loud! yellow stripes. 

I returned some minutes later, and it was still in the same shaded area. I shot away, and then, it flew, along a narrow poorly lit trail.

I was treated to a revelation! As it flew straight ahead on that trail, a straight run of some 200 feet or so, unrushed, those red flashes were constantly in view, not seen and hidden, but the blasting red color never disappeared from view.

The Biology major in me concluded that this Erato heliconian must be toxic to the taste buds of any predator, and that uninterrupted double red surely warns, ‘Stay Away, Or You Will Regret It.’

Texans have much to be Thankful for, butterflies for one, Joanne.

Jeff

Your Feedback?

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