Butterfly Horn of Plenty

Giant swallowtail butterfly on tithonia, photographed by Jeff Zablow at "Butterflies and Blooms in the Briar Patch," Eatonton, GA

Nine years old and in Brooklyn, New York, we lived on the very edge of development. Just beyond our street corner, there were undeveloped, hardscrabble lots. There was my dream world. After the games of punchball, stickball, stoopball and roller hockey, I’d slip away and head to my favorite ’empty’ lot on E. 57th Street and Clarendon Road. Two to three hours there, in mid-June afternoon, I’d see maybe, 4 or five butterflies. That was the normal, I thought then.

From 1975 to 1990 we lived in suburban Long Island, New York. Doug Tallamy would tell you that my high ranch-style house was typical, with its many nectar -pumping cultivars, and surrounded by hundreds of houses carefully manicured by professional landscapers, and they planted 85% with alien shrubs. My squadron of butterfly bushes (Buddleia) drew perhaps 5-6 butterflies daily.

My third house in Pittsburgh marked my big epiphany. I took Kathy’s advice and read Tallamy’s ground breaking book, and I planted 90% natives, Clethra, Coneflowers, Milkweeds, Obedient plant, Pagoda dogwoods, American plum, American hornbeam, Senna, Monkeyflower, cardinal flower, and so much more. When attendance was taken, by day’s end, a sunny day would count 10 or more butterflies about.

My move to Georgia’s Piedmont in 2017, and now my largest garden ever, most of it in full sun, hit jackpot! I’ve put in hundreds of plants, almost all native to Georgia. At any given time, 30 or 40 butterflies may be flying, with many more busily nectaring on the tens of thousand of flowers there. Squadrons of Cloudless Sulphur, Dozens of skippers, too many Gulf fritillaries to count, platoons of Buckeyes, Painted ladies and American ladies, Giant swallowtails, as many as 5 or 6 at a time, Zebra swallowtails and Zebra heliconians and  . . . . At times, it’s battlestations, for I’ve seen my first ever Great Purple Hairstreak there, and some unlikely ones, as that Palamedes swallowtail that Kindly paid a visit.

There are several excellent nurseries that specialize in natives, including Night Song Nursery and Nearly Natives Nursery, and they are just a moderate drive from my home. You visit them, and Katy and Debi and Jim are 100% friendly and helpful.

This Giant swallowtail typifies the heady times that I enjoy here in this, my garden in sunny Georgia. Butterfly horn of plenty . . . dream . . . realized.

Up from the streets. My life.

Jeff

Monarchs & Neuron Transmission

Right side view of Monarch butterfly on Tithonia, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Butterflies and Blooms in the Briar Patch Habitat I, Eatonton, GA

There were three of them on my Tithonia (Mexican Sunflower) that day in December 2018. I spotted them when I approached bed #2 in my now one year old Georgia Piedmont natives garden. A cranial barrage of thoughts exploded in my head when I saw them. A near overload of positive, inspirational, sensual brain transmissions, all instantaneous and all lit by the sight of those three Monarchs.

I may have logged more hours in the field than almost all of you. True that when it comes to seeking butterflies. Countless times I’m intent on copping an image of a swallowtail, or a fritillary, or a brushfoot, or a skipper, when from the corner of my eye I spot a Monarch gently flying in. What do you and I do next? We know what we’ve done, time and time again. We politely abandon the butterfly we were working to shoot, and we head over to the Monarch. Monarchs sing a siren’s song, they do.

Why do Monarchs trigger so much nerve cell activity? How’s about I begin to list the why’s for me, and you take the ‘baton’ from there and share your ‘why’s.’

Monarchs provoke because:

  1. So much that is good and positive is associated with Monarchs
  2. Monarchs are widely considered to be the most beautiful of Northamerican butterflies
  3. We admire Monarchs for their epic migrations from Toronto to the mountains of central Mexico, and for their round-trip journey the following Spring
  4. Monarchs, of all butterflies, evoke poetic thoughts
  5. We fear for Monarchs, their numbers now depleted, and our concern has been validated by academics and naturalists
  6. Monarchs remain fresh and rarely birdstruck, and whatsoever the reason for that, we admire their puck and self-confidence
  7. The Monarch metamorphosis remains incredible, and from that 2nd grade classroom, we continue to try to intellualize the unfathomable biology of it
  8. They stand out as butterflies that are large, yet often tolerate Jeff’s close approach
  9. Monarchs love milkweed plants, and bright as we might be, how in the world do their caterpillars consume milkweed, the same milkweed the would gravely sicken us, or the birds that give them a free pass?
  10. You cannot ever get a perfect Monarch image. Period. There will always be a better one in your future. Who among us, for example, has shot the best look of a Monarch ‘eye’ ever?

I will be beyond Happy to see what you may add to this list, my List. Caron? Leslie? Marcie? Virginia? Melanie? Laura? Barbara Ann? Angela? Sylbie? Beth? Phyllis? Deepthi? Yaron? Phil? Mike? Rose? Cathy? Nancy? Peggy? Hollie? Lisa? Bill? Curt? Debi? Melania? Nancy? Mary? Traci? Terry? Joanne? Jim?

Jeff

Change Your Place, Change . . .

Monarch butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at the Butterflies and Blooms Habitat in Eatonton, GA

700 miles. That’s how far I moved last year. Family and friends know how much I enjoy this pursuit of butterflies, and they’ve heard of why I do what I do.

It’s 55 degrees F in my former home now, and its’s a whopping 80 degrees F in middle Georgia, the Piedmont region. Back there, in Pittsburgh, the Monarch butterflies were singletons, and you might see 3-5 any given year. They would be seen until mid-September each of those 27 years, and October might shake out a stray Cabbage White butterfly, maybe.

Today! Today in my 1-year old natives garden, I went out to give Petra some exercise, and there in Bed #2 of my garden, together on a group of giant Tithonia (Mexican sunflower plants) . . . were Five (5) Monarchs, males and females at the Tithonias, the nectar bar for thousands of butterflies this year. Five! I’ve never seen such a grouping together, ever.

I’ve driven down here, beginning back in 2015, and butterflies fly well into November. I L-U-V it!

Change your place, many Moms say, and you Change . . .

Jeff

The Largest Monarchs?

Monarch Butterflies Coupled photographed by Jeff Zablow at the National Butterfly Center, Mission, TX

We were in the perennial beds of the National Butterfly Center. It was seriously hot. Two miles from the Mexican border hot, there in Mission, Texas

The female Monarch butterfly flew in to Asclepias (milkweed). She was the largest Monarch I’ve ever seen. Make that the largest of what, 8,000 monarchs? Before I could make my patented approach, Whamo! this brute of a male Monarch landed on that same Asclepias. They communicated briefly, and then as fast as you can say ‘Howdy Doody’ they were coupled together in this embrace.

He is closest to you, she can be seen below him. Both were very, very large Monarchs. The Land of the Monarch giants!!

Jeff

National Butterfly Center Monarchs Engaged

Mating Monarchs on Milkweed photographed by Jeff Zablow at the National Butterfly Center, Mission, TX
We were working the perennial beds at the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas when I happened on this pair of Monarch butterflies, fully coupled. They were on an Asclepias flowering plant.

They were standouts. The largest Monarchs I have ever seen. Big, very big. I’d grown accustomed to seeing Monarchs of one uniform size. These 2 were behemoths, for Monarchs.

Here the male is closest to us. He was a hunk!

The publicity and press for the NBC holds water. This place offers surprise and surprise!

Jeff