The Envelope Please! Start with the Monarchs

Monarch Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park. Jeff blogs about the art and science of butterflies at http://www.wingedbeauty.com

I took a stroll . . .   Oops! a scroll down through our more than 800 images. The thought came to my mind, “Which of the butterflies that I have photographed, are the most compliant, which hold their pose, allow me to shoot them? Which produce the most consistently pleasing images?”

Let’s start with which have been the most difficult, most elusive and most frustrating? My personal list begins with Mourning cloak, Georgia satyr, Gemmed satyr, Red-banded hairstreak, Goatweed leafwing and Compton tortoiseshell. In the Lower Rio Grande Valley two weeks ago, I surely add the usual suspects, the Yellows, large and small, and Metalmarks as well as those butterflies that I saw, shot and winced when I realized how beaten-up they were (Hairstreaks, that Mexican Bluewing).

I used to watch the annual Oscars award show on TV, and that interesting moment, when the movie star asked for, “The envelope please,” fits here, so nicely. The butterflies that I have most enjoyed shooting, affording the most enjoyed images? Start with the Monarchs. This one here, on Joe Pye Weed, at Raccoon Creek State Park in Hookstown, southwestern Pennsylvania is one of many Monarch images I am glad to say are mine. Monarchs get the ‘Oscar.’

Easy runner-ups are the Gray hairstreak, Northern metalmark, Red-spotted purple, Tiger swallowtails at sunrise, Red Admiral, Baltimore checkerspot, Great spangled fritillary and the Regal fritillary.

Funny that, how so many people don’t understand why we love and seek out butterflies. You will spend half a lifetime seeking that 12-point buck, or one image, any image of a northeastern cougar or a brief glimpse of a bird not seen in 30 years. OK, those? But really, really want to finally seek and capture an image of a Creole pearly-eye or a Dingy purplewing  or a Milbert’s? 98% of folks I’ve ever met don’t see the sense of that.

And what’s in your Envelope Please!

Jeff

Danaus Plexippus Stopped By

Look! Look! There she was in our very own ‘peanut garden’ this afternoon. What a rush it was to watch her, superbly fresh and lush, working this 2017  benchmark garden. I kept going to the our large window, again and again to see if she was still there. She was still there, and she worked these native perennials for more than an hour. Our very own garden, now in its 5th year, and full, verdant with nectar here there and everywhere.

She was chased off several times by an equally pretty Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly. Royal as she is, our monarch patiently allowed the frenzied fritillary to do its thing, and each time she floated back in. What kept her highness in the peanut garden for more than an hour?

The peanut garden is in our side yard, and our side yard abuts Frick Park, a heavily wooded Pittsburgh (city) park of many hundreds of acres. The natives and others in the peanut garden:  Common milkweed; Swamp milkweed; Butterflyweed; Monkeyflower; Celery (in flower), Bergamot, Balloon flower; Buttonbush, Shrubby St.John’s wort, Green headed coneflower, Rue and Chocolate mint. All 3 of the milkweeds (Asclepias spp) are in height of bloom, and buff! very buff.

The instant monarch butterfly shown here was not the flier today. This photo is of another female, who flew in Raccoon Creek State Park, in southwestern Pennsylvania. Today’s monarch’s colors were deeper, richer. She was . . . gorgeous.

How much do I hope that she rewards us with her eggs?

Jeff

Excitement on Beechwood Boulevard

Monarch butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

Monarch butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State ParkA

A sight for sore eyes! Petra and I arrived home last night, completing an 188 miles drive down from Frewsburg, New York. This image was captured in Raccoon Creek State Park in Beaver County, southwestern Pennsylvania. This very morning I looked out of our window, to the side yard, and its ‘peanut’ garden. And what did I see? A female monarch butterfly, like this one, flying to and fro amongst my 26 common milkweed plants. Yippee! She may then head to the 30 or so milkweeds in the front garden, and . . . set her eggs nicely there, too.

This is the 4th year that our milkweeds ( Asclepias syriaca) are in, purchased from Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas. They are beautiful this year, 5-6 footers, with big round flower heads.

We pushed off for this most recent trip on June 12th, and arrived back home on June 21st. Adams County in the south of Ohio was our destination. We met other naturalists there, and spent days visiting fens, wooded trails and prairies. Fantastic , it was, with knowledgeable friends, discovering rare orchids, showy orchids, rare botany. Why, why did America allow its prairies to be developed? They are habitat of boundless life and beauty.

My slide film ships to Kansas tomorrow, and I wait. Images of Northern metalmarks, coral hairstreaks, Baltimore checkerspot caterpillars, Zebra swallowtails on butterflyweed(!), Common ringlet, robust pipevine swallowtails and Edward’s hairstreaks, abound. I simply cannot wait to share.

Pumping that anticipation is my desire to see the fruit of my new Cannon 100mm/2.8 lens, with, with image $tabilizer. Will it, can it, deliver?

Appreciative, I am.

Jeff

Year After Year, For Thousands . . . .

Monarch butterfly (female, tagged) ovipositing, photographed by Jeff Zablow at "Butterflies and Blooms in the Briar Patch," Eatonton, GA

She was fully focused on depositing her eggs on Asclepias plants, milkweeds. The Butterflies & Blooms Briar Patch Habitat in Eatonton has hundreds of these plants, leaving her with lots of good leaf surface to choose from. Only the best for your Monarch butterfly eggs, this September 2016.

Those caterpillars that successfully survive will then develop in chrysalises, and then emerge, as adults, female and male. They will feed furiously for a few weeks, and then, having survived all the rigors and dangers of the wild, take wing and ride to warm air currents, to their winter home. The mountains of central Mexico. My drive to Eatonton, Georgia is 693 miles, and Petra and I arrive some 14 hours later.

The flight of this female’s progeny to Mexico just amazes me. Thousand of miles, usually alone or in small group. No GPS, no maps. That tag on her left hindwing promises to provide future understanding, but we’ll have to wait

Year after year, Mexico to Eatonton . . . Eatonton to Mexico. My major? Biology. What do I think as I watch her eclose? I think, Amazing! Who doesn’t?

Jeff