Shocked by How Beautiful a Milbert’s Tortoiseshell Butterfly is in Raccoon Creek State Park

Dorsal View of a Milbert's Tortoiseshell Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Regrets? I regret that so many of our southern USA friends have never seen such a Milbert’s Tortoiseshell Butterfly. Guides such as Glassberg’s Swift Guide to the Butterflies of North America have Milbert’s rare south of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota and the southernmost far Western USA. In Canada and the northern tier of the USA it can be found in June through October.

When you are fortunate to see a fresh Milbert’s, as I was here at Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania, you are near shocked by how beautiful this butterfly is. I was, and was again each of the few times I met one.

Nectaring on Teasel here, the oranges and yellows are starkly bordered bye nearly black, the 2 reddish epaulets on each forewing, the white spots on the forewings, the blue dots on the trailing edges of the hindwings, and more fit my sometimes shared recognition, that the finest jewelry produced by the studios of Tiffany, Cartier’s, Van Cleef & Arpels, etc. do not come close to matching the beauty of G-d’s finest butterflies. I’ve seen both and know.


My Heart Beat Jumps when I see a Milbert’s Tortoiseshell Butterfly

Ventral View of a Milbert's Tortoiseshell Butterfly on a Teasel Flowerhead photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Your heart beat jumps when a Milbert’s Tortoiseshell Butterfly flies in! Mine does. You just never see them in pairs or threes, and do you expect to see one? No. East of the Mississippi River, they are a northern butterfly.

When this one flew in, and set on this Teasel flowerhead, I was so Thankful for being there, being there then. Add to that the Milbert’s slowly worked the Teasel flowers, one by one, methodically. Better yet, it did not flee when I made my long, protected Macro- lens approach. Icing on the tiramisu cake was that the one was . . . gorgeous. Just look at that flash of nourishing orange on the dorsal surface of that right forewing.

I’m humbled by such limited experiences. I expect that few of you have been so fortunate as I’ve been, to have met and spent many minutes with Milbert’s (this one went to several Teasel flowerheads before it flew).

Raccoon Creek State Park, Nichol Road trail, southwestern Pennsylvania, about an 8-hour drive from the Statue of Liberty boat landing.

(Teasel is an alien plant, FYI, although truth be told, many, many butterflies adore its nectar (as do bees, such as the one shown on the far side of the Teasel)).


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.


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?


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.