Recipe For A Butterfly Oasis

Long-Tailed Skipper Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in the Briar Patch Habitat in Eatonton, GA

Have you ever visited a Butterfly Oasis? No, no not an enclosed space. Try instead a real, dynamic, thriving habitat, with wild butterflies flying in all the time? In 2015, I read Facebook posts, sharing snippets of news, about the creation of a butterfly habitat in Eatonton, Georgia. Seeing Southern butterflies was high on my list. I contacted the Founder (she is, no matter how she disclaims that) of this Butterflies and Blooms in the Briar Patch. I received a hearty, Come on Down, and see for yourself!

In April 2015 I drove down to Eatonton, about 1.3 hours east of Atlanta. Putnam county was beautiful, lush green. Lake Oconee had already attracted national developers, and many hundreds of fine homes have been added not to far away from the briar patch habitat. The whole area is eye-pleasing. Folks there are friendly and pleasant. I visited 3 more times in 2015, and every visit was the same, positive, upbeat.

Virginia C. Linch is that Founder, unflappable, hard-working and a magnet for the project, attracting people in the community to weed, plow, bulldoze, construct, plant and donate botany.

The Recipe for the Creation of a Butterfly Oasis in a municipality like Eatonton (the county seat of Putnam county) became clear:

  • Have a Vision – Virginia’s was that of a site full with native wildflowers and hostplants, good to the eye and very attractive to butterflies
  • Tirelessly campaign to achieve broad community approval and awareness – Insure success by involving local people who enjoy doing and helping and sustaining
  • Set the Example – Virginia leaves her job each day and heads straight to the habitat. She weeds, often for hours. She cajoles, straightens and tweeks the thousands of plants, and that induces others to do the same
  • Share the Wish Lists that will end-up improving the habitat
  • Nudge the site, add a water source, as Virginia’s cadre did, to get moisture to the habitat during bone-dry stretches in July and other months. Truck in top-soil, mulch and more.
  • Involve children – Virginia beams with delight when children visit, and get involved. They will  bring their adults, and they will put the habitat on the map, so to speak
  • Urge all to bring what they see and learn to their own home gardens, i.e., plant hostplants for caterpillars and flowering plants for adult butterflies.
  • Let’s finish this bullet-list with Virginia’s perhaps most important attribute: She does not give up! She confronts challenges, and finds ways to overcome them, by one way or another.

This Long-tailed Skipper butterfly is blissfully sipping nectar from a very fresh Tithonia (Mexican sunflower) bloom. I could not have seen it in my own Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It is a southern U.S. butterfly. There was that one morning in August where I saw 29 different species of butterflies in the habitat. Ok, ready? WowButterflies that came from miles away, just to enjoy the sweet nectars offered there. Many, many deposit their eggs while there, and the magnificent cycle continues.

I am not sure how many other U.S. cities and towns have such a habitat. My guess? Not enough. I have shared my observations with you, for, truth be told, I remain very . . . impressed. This is for sure an American model that should be emulated.

Jeff

That Skipper Mystique

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

Skipper Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in Big Bend Wildlife Management Area, Florida.

He flew to this blossom, and took his time, nectaring happily in the Florida Panhandle morning sunshine. August 2015, and that long dreamed of trip to Florida, destination? Big Bend Wildlife Management Area.

He was sipping nectar. I had to make a split second decision. Do I pursue good images of him, and then . . . encounter the usual difficulty in identifying which species of skipper he belongs to? Do I do that, knowing that skipper butterflies down there are difficult to approach, as I must with my macro- lens? Then, too, do I once again pour through my field guides, with the expected Huh? result??

Sure, I did. It’s Florida, you came because you are an esthete, or a naturalist, or curious, and/or all of the aforementioned positives. Anyway, perhaps Jeff or Phil or Rose or Robert himself will take the time to make a plausible ID.

I was in Florida for the 2nd time. It was gorgeous out, I was Blessed to be doing this, and this tiny butterfly was just a Shout Out! Life is Good, my winged beauty butterfly readers.

Jeff

Byssus Skippers get an A+ for Posing

Skipper on Liatris Blooms photographed by Jeff Zablow in Big Bend Wildlife Management Area, Florida's Panhandle

I captured another good image of our Byssus Skipper nectaring on Blazing Star, 850 miles south of my Pittsburgh home. If this Byssus appears to be happy, content and focused, you should have been there on ‘Old Grade Trail’ to witness another happy, content and focused being: Me.

That article in NABA’s Magazine, under the Destination title, was a rip for me. As soon as I opened it, earlier this 2015, my mind was riveted = Go Jeff go! I went, during my extended trip to the Butterflies & Blooms in the Briar Patch in Eatonton, Georgia. I tell you, I was one happy guy down there, AKA the kid in the candy shop.

I grew blazing star in my home garden in Pittsburgh in 2013-2014. In 2014 a female Monarch spent more than one September week installed there, feasting on that Blazing star (10 plants, 8 of which exceeded 6′ in height). After she migrated away, the deer and/or woodchucks decimated the Blazing star plants, and that ended that. Didn’t replant them, and no deer or woodchucks were harmed.

If and when I return to Big Bend Wildlife Management Area, in the Florida Panhandle (seen in this image) next September, must I navigate those trails alone again?

Jeff . . . reminiscing with Irishman Gilbert O’Sullivan

 

Expect To Be Plenty Busy At Blazing Stars

Skipper on Liatris Blooms photographed by Jeff Zablow in Big Bend Wildlife Management Area, Florida's Panhandle

That was what stuck in my head, as I drove down US 75 to the Florida Panhandle. The busiest times for seeing butterflies at Big Bend Wildlife Management Area, just south of Perry Florida, are when Liatris, or Blazing Star is in bloom. At the Spring Unit area in Big Bend, they bloom in early September. Arrgh! I could not be there then and could only go there in late August.

I’ve learned enough through the years to know that wildflowers often open a bit earlier or a bit later than prescribed. That’s what convinced me that I should head down there, even though it was a bit early for Gay Feather blossoming.

I went, and . . . Liatris had just started to open. Yay! And, my guides were right. Just stand a bit away from these eye-popping flowers, and watch the comings and goings of a whole menu of butterflies.

Now it was not that easy. The humidity was very real, and each day my sweatband would eventually get overrun by perspiration, sending moisture coursing down over my glasses. This didn’t stop my pleasure as I watched a waiting line (or so it seemed) of butterflies fly into and then away from these Blazing Stars.

This Byssus skipper butterfly didn’t care whether you knew the flowers as Liatris, or Gay Feather or Blazing Star. Either way, that nectary sweet secretion must rival the Cherry Cokes back at Sol’s Candy Store in Brooklyn, back when!

Jeff