Celebrating 34 Days

Mourning Cloak Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

Yesterday we posted here, seeking to encourage all that though it was -4F outside our windows, hang in there folks, because February 26th is coming, and with it snow drops and multi-hued crocuses. We enjoyed a fairly strong response to that message. Tens of millions of northeastern Americans are anxious to see this super-frigid weather vamoose.

This morning, on our drive to Chatham University, the outside temperature hovered between zero F and 2F. Out we trot further evidence that our doggedness will soon pay off. March 4th is a reasonable target date for finding Mourning Cloak butterflies on trails. They are often the very first butterfly to fly each year. I haven’t, but others have seen them flying with snow still covering its territory. They are heroic fliers, because most other butterflies will not take to the air unless the thermometer registers at least 60F. Our Nymphalis antiopa here goes through a shivering-like burst of activity, and that produces the raised body temperature needed to fly.

Last September we planted 8 pussy willow bushes, to attract Mourning cloak females. Willows are their preferred host plants. Wouldn’t it be great if they laid their eggs on those 8 willows? Whether or not pussy willows will attract them will remain to be seen, but I’d enjoy that alot!

So, March 4th, 2014 is just 34 days away. What a terrific harbinger of Spring that would be. Hike along your local trail, snowy spots left here and there…and OMG! isn’t that a…Mourning cloak butterfly, resplendent in not too worn mahogany, yellows and to top it off, sky blue spots!


Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Mourning Cloak Butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow in Raccoon Creek State Park

This has been a good Spring for Nymphalis Antiopa. These Mourning Cloak Butterflies are plentiful along the trails in Frick Park. They favor trails that cut through a forest. Today Petra (my black russian terrier) had just left the Frick Off Leash Exercise Area, when we saw a young Mourning Cloak butterfly flying at the forest edge. It responded to us by flying up into a cherry tree blanketed with sensational blooms. I thought about how this butterfly depends heavily on scat only to realize that it was sipping on nectar from cherry flowers. Petra and I waited there for at least 2 minutes. Yes, it was still methodically and slowly moving from flower to flower. Mourning Cloaks are not that predictable!

This image is of a different Mourning Cloak butterfly, at Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania. It’s late Spring and the yellow marginal bands are scrumptious-looking. There’s no northeastern butterfly like the Mourning Cloak. I want you to notice those two blue spots on its left forewing, as sweet as they are. I LOVE those Sky Blue spots. I do.

One of my short term goals for these coming weeks is to capture an image of a Mourning Cloak that is better than those that I already have. Nuts, huh?



Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Mourning Cloak Butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow in Toronto Canada

Toronto, Canada. I was visiting Toronto which is clean, welcoming and beautiful. Along with my wide angle lens, I often bring along my Macro- lens on trips which include photography. I try to keep my Canon camera as busy as possible, and I ask around if there are any nearby parks in the city, parks that might host a population of butterflies. Yes, I was told, why don’t you drive to West Don Park? It is an easy 10 minute drive from my hosts. I was blessed with light traffic and courteous drivers. My Pennsylvania license plates provided me with quite a bit of latitude once it was noted that I was a visitor.

West Don Park? Bingo! A gold mine of butterflies that particular week in mid-July.

In Western Pennsylvania I encounter Nymphalis Antiopa infrequently in the spring and even less often in the fall months. Often, the individual butterflies I see are worn and show evidence of failed attacks from predators. This morning in West Don was sunny, no wind and milkweed (Asclepias Syriaca) was in bloom. Three Mourning Cloak butterflies were eating nectar on a single milkweed plant. OMG! Back home I rarely see them nectaring, and those that I do approach, flee once I am within ten feet. Nymphalis Antiopa in Toronto allowed me to approach and photograph from just 18 inches away, and they were sizable butterflies. My heart must have been pounding! I was in a heaven of Mourning Cloak butterflies.

These butterflies had fresh colors and an absence of  significant wing damage. Their colors were a rich, rich maroon; carribean islands blue, and sunflower yellow. This image captures many of those striking hues.

Is this a candidate for being my favorite butterfly? I answer with a sheepish y-e-s. Our two earlier Mourning cloak posts do hint at my little secret.

Canada is the wildlife wonder that I long understood you to be. Mourning Cloaks photographed while eating nectar. Can you imagine?

August will soon be upon us. Can our Canadian followers suggest a suitable park, with a rich butterfly population, that is within driving distance of Pittsburgh, Pa?  Toronto was a 6.5 hours drive.


Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Mourning Cloak Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

One of the Comments received asked where our post of a Mourning Cloak butterfly was? That was a fine question.

I remember several opportunities that I ‘ve had over these many years . . . in each case as I carefully, and I mean carefully set up/made my slow approach/check exposure/held my breath (for this may be my, shall I say favorite butterfly) . . . I would watch this magnificent butterfly fly away, leaving me with zero or surely too few images to hope to score a winning image.

Nymphalis antiopa is one of the most beautiful butterflies that I have ever seen, anywhere. When viewed up close in good morning light on one of those days when the sky is baby blue and the air is fresh, the blue, maroon and yellow of the dorsal, that is upper surface are indescribable.

They are seen in March through June, vanish and then are seen again in late August through early November. Adults overwinter.

Shortly after my wife passed, I was on a trail in Raccoon Creek State Park and noticed a large butterfly flying about 30′ above the trail. I watched it go further down the trail, turn and fly back again . . . then it disappeared. I’ve gotten kind of good at following flight, so I was puzzled at how I had lost track of this one, which I now knew as a Mourning Cloak. Moments went by, I remain in place. I suddenly realized that it was on my hat. I remained transfixed. Frozen in place. Then . . . it flew up and up and up and went down the trail, turned, and came back again, still 30′ up . . . and continued on its way. I cried . . .

I love Mourning Cloaks. This image is my best of a dorsal view. Enough.