Tortoiseshells & Mourning Cloaks Call

Milbert's Tortoiseshell Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

My new home in Georgia has lots and lots of butterflies. They fly in November (back in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania almost all butterflies are gone by mid-September) and reappear just 3 months later, in February! When we are gifted with days of mild weather here, Cloudless Sulphurs reappear from their hiding places, to my wonder and amazement.

Georgia has introduced me to so many new butterflies: Eastern Pygmy Blues; Palamedes Swallowtails; Zebra Heliconians; Great Purple Hairstreaks; Red-Banded Hairstreaks; Giant Swallowtails; American Snouts; Carolina Satyrs and more and more.

There are butterflies that I miss, miss alot. I’ve this feeling that I haven’t yet shot them to my own personal satisfaction, and they’re either not seen here at all, or they are rarely seen here. Mourning Cloak Butterflies, Compton Tortoiseshells and Milbert’s Tortoiseshells (shown here, seen in Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania).

I want to get reacquainted with them, and share new, fine images of them with you. All of them, fresh, are eye candy, visual works of art! This month, October 2020, given some fair weather in Pennsylvania and western New York State, I will drive back there, make an overdue cemetery visit, and scour refuges and parks and national forests for Tortoiseshells, Cloaks and Commas.

As long as snow and ice don’t make an early Hello! that’s what I plan to do.

Jeff

This Magic Moment

Milbert's Tortoiseshell Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

What was it like? Jay and the Americans helped with that:  And then it happened, It took me by surprise, I knew that you felt it too, By the look in your eyes.

I was at the Nichol Road trail, hiking into Raccoon Creek State Park (Hookstown, Pennsylvania). I waded into a stand of Teasel wildflower, and waited by those 6.5 foot flowerheads, waited for butterflies to fly in. With the sky a baby blue, I knew that if I could get lucky, and butterflies flew in, captures of them with the blue sky in the background would be good, very good.

Instead, look, LOOK what flew in. My very first ever Milbert’s Tortoiseshell butterfly. An uncommon, very uncommon butterfly. Look at that glimpse of the upper surface of its forewing! Words cannot adequately describe how beautiful that dorsal  (upper) surface is.

What was missing that morning? You, there with me, to feel it too, and enable me to confirm how magical those minutes were, by the look in your eyes.

Those surreal moments have almost always been solitary ones, and that is how it is. No?

Jeff

MadMan Butterfly

Milbert's Tortoiseshell Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Where’s this going? I was just scrolling down the more than 1,000 images saved in our media library, when I came upon this one. Instant hot memory.

I’m at the long walk to the entrance to the extraordinary Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A world class arboretum. The long promenade walk to the entrance is lined with hundreds of Tall Verbena. I’m there because the sum total of tens of thousands of blooms lining the walk draw scores of butterflies, they coming from the outdoor gardens and the surrounding Schenley Park.

Just like that, !!, this Milbert’s Tortoiseshell butterfly flies in. I’m startled!!! I don’t see a Milbert’s for what, 8 or 9 years or more? This one is fresh, fresh.

I’m working with my Macro- lens, and the Phipps staff Frown upon anyone stepping foot in the beds.

I’m lit-up with excitement. Buzzed with joy! Like OMG! Boy from Brooklyn meets Super Star Celebrity!!!! Got the picture?

Alone? No. Dozens of people are passing by, to and from the Phipps entrance. Dozens.

I must have looked like a possessed madman, if they had bothered to notice.  Take it or leave it, I’m bouncing around like a monkey, my face Buzzed with a capital ‘B.’ The large number of folks walking by, unaware. Totally unaware that a very uncommon butterfly, one of America’s most startling and beautiful, was just 6 to 10 feet from them!!!!

It occasionally changed its flower. They were oblivious. I was stunned by this surreal scene. Me monkeying, they passing, passing the madman, not pausing to ask, “Excuse me, why are you . . . ?”

This thing I do is often the other side of surreal, Caron, Mary, Phyllis, Deb, Angela, Barbara Ann, Leslie, Cathy, Phil, Melanie, Laura, Virginia, Kenne, Deepthi, Nancy.

Jeff

It’s Been Years w/o Milbert’s

Milbert's Tortoiseshell Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

When you pause, to devise your list of things you miss you rediscover how much you enjoyed such, and maybe you allow yourself to imagine . . . how Happy! you’d be to be reunited with those sustainable memories. Sitting here now, my mind is awash with them, the things I deeply miss. Share them? No, they are personal to me, and surely don’t resemble any you have on your own list.

I will mention a butterfly that I would Love to see again. It’s been about a decade since I last saw a Milbert’s Tortoiseshell butterfly. This is a butterfly that flies in to blooms at high speed, then nectars lazily for quite a long time. If you’re positioned nicely, it will tolerate careful approach, and will often allow you to continue following it from bloom to bloom.

This one flew to Teasel, shown here. It was a good stand of Teasel and Common Milkweed at Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania. The modestly colored lower wing surface does not prepare you for the spectacular color display of the upper wing surface. OMG!! I had the Honor of seeing what few have seen. This butterfly opened its wings fully, and I was standing just a few feet away. I saw the fabled dance of ‘fire’ as the sun’s powerful summer rays lit the wings ‘ablaze.’ At that angle to the wings, it looked like the wings were on fire!

I saw Milbert’s again in the gardens flanking the walkway to the entrance to the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh. It was nectaring in the planted beds. I was shooting Macro- and the Phipps folks do not tolerate anyone stepping into those flower beds. For that, my Milbert’s images there do not have the intimacy of this image here.

Truth be told, it’s been years since, and I’ve off and on thought that it’s time to get reacquainted. Where? Canada.

Jeff

Who’s Seen A Milbert’s?

Milbert's Tortoiseshell Butterfly

Sure this is one of my favorite butterflies. I’ve seen Milbert’s Tortoiseshell butterflies several times. Always an OMG! butterfly, for when the morning is doing just fine, and you’re having good success with butterflies here and there . . . . One flies into your field of view, and it’s not a this or a that, its . . . OMG! a Milberts!!!! Battlestations!

That how I’ve felt when I’ve seen Milbert’s, a northern butterfly for those of us east of the Mississippi River. I remember each and every time I got that healthy buzz. Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania (2x) and here, Bonkers! unexpectedly in the middle of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the Outdoor Gardens of the Phipps Conservatory.

When the upper side is at a 90 degree angle to the strong morning sun, and your eyes are level with the wing surface, the sunlight dances on those reddish-orange wing bands. It looks just like fire! dancing. I saw this with my own eyes at Raccoon Creek. I subsequently read such an account in one of the butterfly field guides.

I’ve learned to temper my tales of Milbert’s, for when I ask folks here, there and everywhere, have you ever enjoyed a Milbert’s, my statisticians count a 99.874% No. Keep vigilant, for if you’re there enough, you just may.

Who’s seen a Milbert’s?

Jeff