I Prefer Females

Tiger swallowtail butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park in Pennsylvania

I managed to get there early, very early. The road to Raccoon Creek State Park, that 36.8 miles drive, took me through downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, through the Ft. Pitt Tunnel, and then through miles of what’s known as “Parkway West 376.” That morning I sailed through the entire route, with hardly any need to slow down or come to a total stop.

Parked my Tundra truck at the Rte. 168 entrance to the state park, and hiked Nichol Road trail, my favorite stretch of park. It was still not 8:30 A.M., and I’d already seen male Eastern Tiger Swallowtails flying at full speed along the trail. It’s been decades since I began photographing butterflies, and time has taught me that most male butterflies are not worthy of the time it takes to approach them, and then chase after them. What’s their rush? They spend 95% of their time flying fast, searching for receptive females. It’s a fool’s errand to chase after them, hoping in vain that they might stop for a moment to rest.

Then there she was! Resting as females do, she on a natives plant, just 3 feet or so above the trail margin. She was spectacular. She was in no rush to leave that perch. I prefer photographing female butterflies. They are often gorgeous and they dislike wasting time and energy, flying desperately here and there, as those males do.

At this point in my work, spotting a fresh, undamaged female butterfly is cause for a smile. They often agree to pose, are less likely to bolt, and their rich beauty means I might score a wonderful image.

A winged beauty, willing to model for you and me.

Jeff

“Zebra Swallowtail!”

Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly and Edwards Hairstreak on Butterflyweed photographed by Jeff Zablow at Lynx Prairie Reserve, Ohio

You’re out seeking butterflies, and one of you shouts, “Zebra Swallowtail!” All stop what they were doing and respond, “Where?” Comes the question, Why? Why do seasoned butterfly seekers and those new to the search, become so excited when a Zebra is spotted?

They are scarce, rarely seen butterflies. They fly in with grace and beauty and they are surely coming to flowers that are pumping nectar. During this 2019 a typical day might score 2 Monarchs, 3 Pearl Crescents, 1 Pipevine Swallowtail, several Duskywings, an Eastern Comma, 4 Tiger Swallowtails and 1 Red-Spotted Purple. Zebra Swallowtail on that ‘typical day?’ No, not a one.

Rewarded with a look at such a beaut as this one, resplendent in its whites, black, red and blue, you feel special, fortunate to see what few see, a magnificent American butterfly, one of our most eye-pleasing.

This one was shot in Lynx Prairie Reserve, Adams County, Ohio. It’s on Butterflyweed, a milkweed, native to the USA. Also enjoying the milkweed nectar there is an Edwards Hairstreak butterfly, it too is a reason to feel good. Seeing both of these uncommon butterflies, reason enough to travel to Lynx Prairie in late June.

Jeff

That Uplifting Giant

Giant swallowtail butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at "Butterflies and Blooms in the Briar Patch," Eatonton, GA

She flew in yesterday. I spotted her as she spent alot of time first inspecting one of our Hercules Club plants. Satisfied, it seemed, with the vitality of our 2nd year in the ground Hercules Club, she spent several minutes deposits eggs on it, one at a time. It looked like our friendly Giant, Giant Swallowtail butterfly set 3 eggs on this plant.

Planted safely away from her, about 10 feet away, I smiled big time, for it was April 12, and here in middle Georgia, Eatonton, a healthy Giant was in our own yard, entrusting us with her precious eggs!

Did she leave right then? Nope. She spent more than an hour in our yard, searching and finding our other Hercules Club and Hop tree young plants. I think that she left her eggs on all of them. Friday sunset was approaching, so I couldn’t check them all for eggs.

Last year we set several Giant caterpillars in our newly purchased ‘cube,’ and managed to feed them all. I think all eclosed, and were released, to our significant joy and satisfaction.

This whole business of fostering the success of swallowtails leaves you with a very pleased sense. Seeing Mrs. Giant get the process going in the 2nd week of April, here in the Deep South . . . icing on the cake!

Our young Sassafras trees are off to a good start, our Rue is looking strong, Tulip Poplar trees are leafing well, Native Black Cherry look fine, Pipevine are strong, Willows are amazing, Spicebush are making up for a slow start their first year, milkweeds look happy, Plums are reaching for the sky, Passionflower are just now beginning to grow, Pussyfeet putting out good flower, Hackberry trees appear to be healthy . . .  Pawpaw adding inches. Might be that we’ll need to order that 2nd ‘cube.’ Wouldn’t that be fun?

Jeff

April in Beg Bend

Palamedes Swallowtail on Thistle Flowerhead photographed by Jeff Zablow in Big Bend Wildlife Management Area, Florida's Panhandle

I returned last night, driving those 248 miles home from St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida’s Panhandle. One week in a sweet VRBO rental home on the scrumptious Aucilla River. Gifted with mostly sunny weather, this 2nd visit to Big Bend Wildlife Management Area was a joy. Even before you leave Mandalay Road to drive to Big Bend, those early morning walks dish up deer, boar, osprey, and snake. You are in a high state of expectation, for you might see others that abound in St. Marks NWRefuge: bobcat, alligator, bear, manatee, gar, bald eagle, coyote . . .

The devastation from that last hurricane, months ago, was moderate. These same thistle were in rich bloom. The Palamedes Swallowtail butterflies, like this beaut, were everywhere. That 2016 visit was during the last week of August. This early April 2019 trip so convinced me that a Big Bend redo was a very, very good idea.

Why did I go back? Sitting here, working that question in my mind, I again and again remind that I fell in love with the Georgia Satyrs that I saw at Old Grade tram back in ’16, and regretted that my few images of them were Eh! We shared then that late August that time was Hot! Humid! and a plague of biting insects made each and every exposure an eye irritating (salt running down over my Dick’s headband onto my eyes) experience, me on my belly, saying aloud that what I was doing was an incredibly uncomfortable time, and yet I sooo wanted a stunning Georgia Satyr image.

Last week I saw some 15 Georgias.

My skirmishes with No-See-Ums were mostly horrible, the one day they waited for me to exit my vehicle, then, as I began to set out my folding stool to change to my Merrells, they kamakazied me. I quickly sprayed on my Off! 40%, way too late, for I am now a mass of small welts, 97.61% of them itchy!

My exposed slide film now is overnighted to Kansas, with Appalachian Brown, Spicebush Swallowtail, Little Wood Satyr, huge Tiger Swallowtail, Palamedes Swallowtail and Viceroy capture.

Jeff

That Librarian Moment

Palamedes Swallowtail on Thistle Flowerhead photographed by Jeff Zablow in Big Bend Wildlife Management Area, Florida's Panhandle

My first morning in the Spring Unit at Big Bend Wildlife Management Area, near Perry, Florida. I will not forget driving up to the entrance of the Spring Unit, and ogling a stand of these large thistles, each sporting oversize flowerheads. It wasn’t so much the size and rich color of the thistle. What super-charged me was the platoon of huge Palamedes Swallowtail butterflies that were feeding on them!

I etched that sight into my life-memory bank. A moment when I was touched by the absolute beauty before me, negating all the blah/blah of those who lack firm conviction of the origin of it all.

The Palamedes tolerated my relatively close approach, and this look pleases me.

TBTold, it was a ‘Librarian Moment.’ Self enforced silence, for I was in a very special place, enjoying a very special sight, and I knew that silence was appropriate and earned there.

I plan to return there, perhaps to the Hickory Creek Unit, soon, in April 2019. Yippee!

Jeff