Parnassian Butterfly East of the Mississippi?

Allancastria Cerisyis butterfly (Protected), photographed by Jeff Zablow in Hanita, Israel

Irony that. I flew 7,000 miles, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Israel to see my first Parnassian butterflies. The continental USA has 2 species of these wondrous beauties, the Phoebus Parnassian and the Clodius Parnassian, as few as some 2,000 or so miles from Pittsburgh. Finding the HolyLand Parnassians turned out to be a tad easier, for Israel is a tiny little country, the western USA is enormous, and I would not have a clue as to where to search.

That said, you may be a bit surprised that America does not have Parnassians butterflies, closely related to our swallowtail butterflies, east of the Mississippi River. That may well have something to do with the parnassian’s preference for higher elevations.

This Allancastria cerisyi was a learning experience for me. I wanted to find them, and find them I did. They are rare, protected butterflies. The learning curve for me was, determine which rare butterfly you want to shoot, pinpoint the limited range ( in this case, a narrow strip of Mediterranean shoreline at Israel’s northwestern corner ), learn what you can about your objective, and go there. I rented a room in a nearby SPNI ( Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel ) field house, and started out that morning early, very, very early. Several fruitless stops later, I noticed a nature park on the outskirts of the little Moshav ( village ) of Hanita. I parked, suited up for my field work, and within minutes . . . I found them, some nectaring and some still stationary, warming themselves in the morning sun. Bingo!

This play of yellow, black, red and yes, blue tickles my fancy. Better yet they are rare, but not rare once you time it right, and you located them in their certain habitat.

I cannot expect to ever forget that morning. Mission accomplished, mission electrifying.

Jeff

 

Getting Back to Those Very Rare HolyLand Ones

Parnassius mnemosyne butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow at Mt. Hermon, Israel

Jeff overcame his concern of heights that day, when he and Eran rode the tram up those 7,000 feet to the peak of Mt. Hermon in the HolyLand. We trudged those miles across Hermon’s peak, to find some of the rarest butterflies in the world. We had no GPS, no guidance, no one who told us where to search. It was 95 degrees F that day, full sun on Hermon. Eran is a bull of a guide, and he carried some many liters of water for us.

We were alone up there, except for a group of kids who came up later, briefly, and a German with his own guide, traversing this world birding site. That was good, for when good butterflies appeared, Jeff easily went off trail to follow them. Those trails were made by cattle, Arab cattle (Syrian or Israeli Arabs ?) that have cut those trails amidst the rock, for what, thousands of years? Off trail Jeff became on-trail Jeff when later in the day, Eran call me over to show me a land mine that had been missed by the sappers who clear those tools of war.

Did we? Yes. We saw many rare butterflies, including Parnassius mnemosyne syra, shown here. She incredibly closely related to the swallowtail butterflies! I love this image, and I remember this moment.

It’s been years, and I want to go back. Problem is that war is raging just down the north slope of Mt. Hermon, and some of the most notorious mass murderers on this planet are down there, seeking to kill.

If I could return to that mountain peak, with its extraordinary butterflies and habitat . . . would you go too?

Jeff

 

That HolyLand Parnassian (Protected)

False Apollo butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Nahal Dishon National Park, Upper Galilee, Israel

The tourists and vacationing Israelis were all headed to the northwest, following the Nahal Dishon (Dishon Stream) toward its source. Me? Nope, I’m headed in the opposite direction, away from the maddening crowd, to the wild, little hiked other end of Nahal Dishon Park. We’re in the HolyLand, and I’m looking for butterflies, beautiful and Protected (rare).

I made sure to get there early, before the drowsy butterflies abandon their nigh perches and fly to a prized flat leaf, to warm in the morning sun.

In the northernmost expanse of the Upper Galilee, where the Biblical giants walked, I met this spectacular Parnassian male, the False Apollo (Archon apollinus ).

I stopped short, studied him, made sure I had the sun to my back, and began robotic approach. Armed with my Macro- lens, I had to get, ideally, 18″ or closer to him. Would he bolt?

He stayed put, I used my patented ‘Technique’ Final Approach, and gulped! He stayed put!! How shmeksy! is this young warrior, wearing well the heavy responsibility of ensuring that this protected butterfly lives to see another and yet another generation.

He was there when I scored perhaps my 32nd exposure. I was there too, daydreaming of how He too would have stopped, stopped here too, fascinated by this masterpiece of Creation.

Jeff

Rare Middle Eastern Parnassian

False Apollo butterfly in Nahal Dishon National Park, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Upper Galilee, Israel

I drove my rental car up, up into the hilly Upper Galilee of Israel. Lacking any guidance, I came upon Nahal Dishon Park. Drove in, and parked. Nahal in Hebrew mean stream. The Nahal Dishon stream moves its water from the higher elevations in the Golan, south westerly. People were coming and going from this park, mostly following the Dishon stream toward its origin. Me? I went in the opposite direction, and was soon alone, naturally.

March is a super time to traipse the Galilee and the Golan, for the snow capped Mt. Hermon range generously waters all below it, and the wildflowers were all around me, lush. The landscape blanketed by vegetation, verdant green everywhere.

I was seeing butterflies, a lot. I’ve been coming to Israel to shoot, since 2008. Most butterflies were now familiar to me. Truth be told, I came to see rare Middle Eastern butterflies. I was in high excitation, for the Upper Galilee is home to many of them.

Bingo! Here’s the most exciting meet-up that morning, a female False Apollo, the Parnassian Archon apollinus. She’s fresh and festooned with reds, blues, black, yellow.

You know that my approach, armed with my Macro- lens, was robotic. She held to that rock, and reluctant to risk all, I stopped a prudent distance from her, and shot, shot, shot, shot, shot.

Female butterflies are generally more relaxed than males and don’t fly like maniacs, as males mostly do. She held her rock perch. I smiled, and Thanked G-d for this opportunity.

A rare, hard to find cousin of our Swallowtails.

Have I seen a parnassgan butterfly in the U.S.? Nope, not yet. They only fly west of our Mississippi River, and mostly in high mountain. If you were along with me, I might do high mountain. Otherwise heights bedevil me.

Jeff

Middle Eastern Parnassian (Israel)

Allancastria Cerisyi butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow in Hanita, Israel

How many species of Parnassian butterflies are there in Israel? There are four of them. This is Allancastria cerisyi speciosa. It flies for a brief time in June, along the northwestern coast of Israel, with the Mediterranean Sea just miles away. It is a rare Protected species, and I played a hunch that I might find them in Hanita, a moshav in that seaside strip. My timing was perfect and here’s one of these beauties. He had just left his night-time perch, and we met as he bathed in the strong rays of the Israel morning sun.

So Israel sports four Parnassians. How many Parnassians are native to the U.S.A.? Remember the U.S.A. is what? 500 times bigger than Israel? Answer? Three Parnassians fly in the U.S.A. and of the three, only one flies only in Alaska. Then, two Parnassians fly in continental U.S.A..

I have never seen an American Parnassian butterfly. What say you?

Jeff