Found: A Clay Pond ‘Flasher!’

Common Wood Nymph Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in Clay Pond, NY

There are things that fascinate us, and drive us to plumb their meaning. Some many years ago, in the meadow surrounding Raystown Lake in Pennsylvania, I saw Common Wood Nymphs with spectacular baby-blue eyespots on the forewings. After some minutes, this small pod of Wood Nymphs disappeared, and I could no longer shake them out of the meadow grasses.

I will never forget that morning. Those wing ‘eyes’ tore at my imagination. Why were they so different at this lakeside habitat? ‘Eyes’ so large, so comely blue?

Seems on an earlier trip to visit Israel, I brought with me my copy of Robert Michale Pyle’s book, The Thunder Tree – Lessons From An Urban Wildland (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993). Nearly three weeks ago, after finishing a couple of mystery novels that Rachel had on her Mishmarot bookshelf, I spotted The Thunder Tree, left there by . . . me. I picked it up, and began a re-read that continued on my April 25th El Al flight, and well today, bells and whistles started to go off. Pyle describes how, as a high schooler, he noted the variety of Wood Nymph eyespots along his beloved High Line Canal in what is now Aurora, Colorado. He shares:  “One day as I picked my way through the Sand Creek glade, watching out for the poison ivy whose leaves were as shiny as the cottonwoods,’ I spotted a pale female wood nymph and gave chase. She took cover in a clump of willow and disappeared on a trunk of her own color. Large and perfect, she was invisible with her wings tucked down. Then, disturbed by a fly, her forewings spread, revealing the big, cowlick eyespots that gave her subspecies the name bo-opis, or the ox-eyed wood nymph.” What does Pyle attribute this broad variety of eyespots to? “I concluded that all of these Peggies [Wood Nymphs] belonged to one big plastic species with a lot of latitude for expression, a theory later confirmed by better scientists than I . . . . I showed, to my satisfaction, that wood nymphs escape predation by flashing their big blue eyes . . . .”

Two years ago, Barbara Ann introduced me to Clay Pond in very western New York state. In the wet meadow that surrounded the protected pond, I flushed out this stunner of a Wood Nymph. Would you look at those forewing ‘eyes!’ Mind you not quite baby-blue, but huge, prominent and encircled by hot! yellowish rings! The very kinds of in-your-face butterfly beauty that Pyle and I both find, well startling, enchanting, extraordinary and a bunch more.

Once every so many years I meet such Wood Nymphs again, and it electrifies, Truth Be Told.

Jeff

Nifty Eyed Brown

Northern Pearly Eye Butterfly Perched on Leaf, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Allenberg Bog in New York

I’m a big fan of the Satyr butterflies. These last 2 years had me meeting new ones, wonderful ones (Southern Pearly-Eye (Georgia); Creole Pearly-Eye (Georgia); Georgia Satyr (Georgia/Florida); Gemmed Satyr (Georgia)). Those southern brown beauties are among my favorites. I have loved rich browns since those days back in NYNY, when I could stroll Madison Avenue and stop in for a pair of richly brown Johnson & Murphy shoes or into that beloved Stetson Hat stop, and choose among neat Stetsons. Brown/soil/earth connect for me.

Did not see an Eyed Brown butterfly for many years. That was fixed when in the Jamestown Audubon Center’s superb reserve, I spotted this one. Made a very calculated approach. Good. It was very early, the night had been cool, and this Eyed brown wanted the warmth of the early morning sun. This was a close as I could get my macro-lens. Eyes, antennae, eyespots, wing fringes, diagnostic wing lines, all looked just fine.

Satyrodes eurydice adults are not seen on blooms, they prefer alternative sources of nutrition: scat, mud, decaying matter. Like other satyrs, their hostplants are monocots, sedges for example. Eyed browns prefer shade at the edge of trees, and always near wetlands.

Y’all south of Pennsylvania are not ever likely to see Eyed browns. They are a northern butterfly. Solitary, silent, they are there and then they are gone, sort of like what you’d expect of a forward observer or scout, see, take note, report, slip back.

Jeff

Georgia: What Each of Us See

Georgia Satyr Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in Big Bend Wildlife Management Area, Florida's Panhandle

August 2015. My first trip to photograph butterflies in . . . Florida. My destination? Big Bend Wildlife Management Area, in Florida’s Panhandle. My hotel accommodations in nearby Perry, Florda were OK. 20 minutes from there to Big Bend’s Spring Creek Unit was good, just right.

I had objectives. Butterflies I had never thought I’d get to meet. When I got there that first morning, a greeting party of Palamedes swallowtails (see yesterday’s post) met me at the parking lot (4 vehicles big). Fresh, Big! and hysterically nectaring on lush thistle, they launched my enthusiasm meter instantaneously!

Georgia was the Big Golden Ring (as in Coney Island, Brooklyn’s celebrated carousel). With no one to guide me, and a vast Big Bend WMA, would I find this elusive, rare beauty? Love browns, love satyrs, and love the challenge of finding rare, brown, satyrs.

Those 4 mornings I spotted 4 Georgias. Four! The Georgia satyr ( Neonympha areolata ) and I met on hot, sunny, mornings. The air? Super saturated. This image here will not earn your Oohs! & Ahhs! Why should it? What you see belies the Elixir that this experience was for me. The Brooklyn boy, from concrete/asphalt gets down on his belly, in the Florida Panhandle, sans guide, and with the sweat running down over his Dicks headband, shoots away at Georgia. All the challenges, all the triumphs, those setbacks, the paucity of support . . . face to face with Georgia.

Know that in a few weeks I will return to Georgia. Heading my ‘Bucket list?’ Capture images of Georgia that please . . . me, that do justice to this beauty.

Always on my mind= What do you see when I post? What do I see when I post, and  . . . how will you know the backstory??

Jeff

Jeff’s BackStory

Gemmed Satyr Butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Hard Labor Creek State Park, Georgia

Summer 2015, in Georgia. This was an exhilarated Jeff. When I seriously began photographing butterflies, Gemmed Satyrs jumped out at me. They sprung out from field guides. It took me years to connect the memories and thoughts that ignited these nano-ignitors. This instant Gemmed was pointed out to me by Phil, a very savvy Georgia State Park naturalist. We had seen others, but they were in deep shade, on forest floor, their usual habitat. This one was too, but flew here to a spot with dappled sun penetrating, and . . . posed there. Posed, for me. Georgia hospitality, as I was getting so used to.

Rose and Jerry, both extraordinary naturalists, guided me to Gemmeds at Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia too. We found several, and truth be told, my ASA 100 Fuji slide film was just not fast enough for that really dark forest floor.

Gemmeds move me. Why? Well when I lived in New York, in the 80’s I would visit the world’s top auction galleries, enjoying seeing  Pre-Sale exhibitions of American paintings and European paintings. Held for generations in homes of the wealthy, their descendants often decided they no longer enjoyed them or, needed the dollar$. You’d see those finest of artworks in the pre-sale, and then they would go up for auction, and end up in homes in Tokyo, London, Santiago or Beijing or Moscow, not to be seen again for coming generations.

At the time, I urged my wife Frieda A”H to come to Manhattan, have lunch with me, and then off to a Pre-Sale exhibition of . . . Magnificent Jewelry. When her slave mother and slave father were liberated from Nazi concentration camps in Germany, they reunited, and married in the camp named Bergen-Belsen, she wearing a wedding gown . . . tailored from a . . . parachute. Imagine that ladies? Among the rations these human skeletons were given, were cigarettes. Hey, they didn’t smoke, their families had never smoked, and now they had cigarettes, American smokes.

Well the Germans who lived in that part of Germany experienced severe deprivation too, the result of the unending military assault on Germany that convinced Hitler to end it. They were desperate for something they could not locate, smokes, American cigarettes. The ragged Holocaust survivors, who were storekeepers before the war, bartered their cigarettes for whatever the Germans had to trade, and that was often, their jewelry. Imagine, Hitler so debased his people that he left them exchanging jewelry for cigarettes. I never smoked, so I don’t know how this can be, be so it was.

So Frieda’s mother, Eda, came to this country with her husband Paul, and 3-year old Frieda, and those stones enabled Paul to once again practice the trade he apprenticed in in Poland, candy making. Eda, now 95 years old, remained fond of jewelry and shared that love of fine jewelry with my wife, Frieda.

Frieda was quite comfortable visiting Sotheby’s and Christies, and she did not hesitate to ask the attendants at those Pre-Sale exhibitions to try on this broach, or that solitaire diamond ring or the other bracelet. (I grew up mostly very poor, and I can say now that this left me very uncomfortable, for I guess understandable reasons).

This brings us to this revelation: I have seen the world’s finest jewelry on my wife’s Spring jacket, or on her ring finger or on her wrist. I have seen multi-million dollar gems up close. I have this personal history with gems. We didn’t buy them, but we examined them, held them and she wore them.

Why do I photograph butterflies? In part because I know, first hand, that the proudest work of the world’s finest artisans does not come close to the exquisite beauty of G-d’s butterflies. Not trying to be preachy here, but this is the wind to my sails.

Gemmed Satyrs then, so rare, so hidden, and so beautiful, evoke and have always evoked much joy, memory, love and yes, sadness for me.

This has been an especially long post for wingedbeauty.com, but one that was, I see, inevitable. Thanks.

Jeff