Eye Candy on Mule Wallow Road?

Long-Tailed Skipper Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow on Mule Wallow Road trail in Big Bend Wildlife Management Area, Florida's Panhandle

All that was missing was Johnny Mathis, sweetly serenading as I worked the edges of the trail known as Mule Wallow Road. It took  awhile, but there I was last August 2015, the proverbial kid in a candy shop, pirouetting from one new butterfly to another, new wildflowers, new flies, new insect, new botany. All those years enjoying the shares of others, in Florida, requited, for there I was, for 4 days, in Big Bend Wildlife Management Area, in the northern Florida Panhandle.

This Long-tailed skipper butterfly was fresh and clean, and the Tall Ironweed blossoms must have been sweeter than sweet. How am I sure. This usually skittish butterfly almost totally disregarded my approach, and allowed me the honor of shooting away. The background here, green. A soothing, rich green. Johnny is still singing, I can just hear him.

Short of a nasty late summer tropical storm, the plan is to return to Georgia on the 8th of September, when the Liatris are in full show. They say that when that happens, butterflies flock to them. Sometime after the 8th, my goal is to get down there for about 4 days, staying in Perry, Florida. Alone again, naturally.

You know, you know how expectant I can be. Diagnosis? Just about incurably expectant. Guilty as charged. Doing what for me, comes . . . . . . . . y!

Jeff

Bet You’ve Never Met a Leonard’s

Leonard's Skipper Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

Leonard’s Skipper Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

Please form a single line, and get your betting cash ready, for me thinks that almost None of you have ever seen a Leonard’s Skipper. Hesperia leonardus and I have met only once. It was the most unlikely, improbable meeting!

The odds of seeing her on this trail were about as good as the odds of being there, and . . . along comes Cindy Crawford!

I’d visited this same southwestern Pennsylvania park, Raccoon Creek State Park, dozens of mornings that summer. It was a summer with lots of butterflies, quite the contrast to this summer of 2016. I scored many, many excellent images. I was pleased with that. There was no reason to return to Raccoon Creek, now that September had arrived.

The day before this day, the forecast was for a sunny, beautiful day. Tempting, very. But it was mid-September, y’all were back at work, kids back to school, and . . . I didn’t need more images!

That night I decided, OK, expect nothing much, butterflies in decline or gone, spring ephemerals a faint recollection, just expect a sea of goldenrod, and not much more. Even the Monarchs should be expected to have left.

I went, LaDeDah, it was so nice there, not a sole about, and so comfortable . . . and Then, then, something  flew out from the cut meadow edge, onto the trail in front of me, and my eyes, my eyes sent what they saw to my brain, and my brain, it responded, Huh? What is this???

I had never seen this before. It was a butterfly. It was super fresh. It was a skipper. It was a Big skipper. It remained on the just cut grassy trail, with its dorsal surface in perfect form.

I made my robotic approach, I sllllooooowwwwwllllllllyyyyyyyyy got down on my belly, and I shot away (Fuji film, Velvia 50). I moved some, changed film rolls, and took almost 50 exposures.

I learned something very important that day. There are butterflies that are “our only butterfly with a single brood in late summer (Butterflies of the East Coast by Cech & Tudor, Princeton University Press)” I also learned that I have nothing to complain of, for Cech and Tudor continue, “A strong, rapid-flying skipper, Leonard’s is notoriously difficult to approach.” This babe stayed and posed for me for what seemed like a lifetime, or almost 4 minutes. Leonard’s are said to be steadily disappearing from their known eastern range, making this even more incredible!

I learned: Don’t discount the possibilities when you go out there, never underestimate what you may or may not see.

Oh, I hope you read along here to this end, for I Love retelling this,Truth be Told.

Jeff

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