Reminiscing With The Milkweed Butterflies

Plain Tiger butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Mishmarot, Israel

Plain Tiger butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Mishmarot, Israel

The Danaids, or Milkweed butterflies are best known to Americans as the Monarch, the Queen and the Soldier. Right now, Monarchs are especially on the forefront of butterfly fret, knowing that recent reports have their numbers seriously down. That ‘fret?’ Will they return to us in Pennsylvania, Georgia, New Jersey, New York, Vermont and Ontario, in good number?

Examine these danaids. Have you seen them in your own South Carolina, Michigan, Maine or West Virginia? Well, no. This is the Plain Tiger butterfly, and it flies in Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Syria (if that carnage has left any survivors). Cech and Tudor, in my favorite field guide, Butterflies of the East Coast (Princeton University Press) tantalizes with this: “The Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus) was “described” as early as 3500 B.C., in a painting on an Egyptian tomb wall.”

I’m liking my photo here much, as I slowly begin my preparation for my flight in late March to Israel, for a reunion with Plain Tigers, a menu of Middle Eastern butterflies, and my daughter, grandsons and extended family. Once again, I pledge to travel throughout the north, and will not leave my bootprint on the hot borders that demarcate where Lebanon (Hezbollah) and Syria (Russia, ISIL, Al Queda, the Rebels, Hezbollah, Iran, and other despicables) begin.

Reminiscing wth the Danaids, whose flight is “elegant and gliding” (Cech and Tudor), whether at the Butterflies & Blooms Habitat in Eatonton, Georgia or within a short hike of Mishmarot, Israel.

Jeff

Plain Tigers – Real Time

Plain Tiger butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Mishmarot, Israel

What would you do? Several hundred approaches executed during those two weeks working the fields abutting orange groves, and no more than 6 to 8% of those stalks produced Danaus Chrysippus Chrysippus macro- images.

Answers that I’m not seeking: Revert to long lens or . . . or what?

But I was hooked. The Plain Tiger butterfly in Israel is eye-poppingly beautiful. I wanted images.

That is why we are seeing this image of a male sipping nectar on Centaurea Hyalolepis on Israel’s coastal plain. Usually they fly 9 months of the year and are inactive from February through April.

So we share this image, showing him in his habitat, just 25 feet up from that agricultural ditch, the Miracle that is Israel, water piped throughout the Land, nurturing agriculture in the middle of desert.

Jeff

Color Me Happy . . . .

Plain Tiger butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Mishmarot, Israel

Plain Tiger butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Mishmarot, Israel

So many terrific reads. I’m now reading Scott Weidensaul’s Return to Wild America (North Point Press, 2005), and before that Robert Michael Pyle’s Mariposa Road, for the 4th time (yes, the fourth time). Enjoyed Birdwatcher, a mesmerizing biography of Roger Tory Peterson, and Kenn Kaufman’s Kingbird Highway. Somewhere in these last months I read Wild America  by Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher. Loved them all.

So I sit and look again at this image. On my belly, leaning on a gentle slope, determined to capture good images of Israel’s Plain Tiger Butterfly. It’s Israel, so I forgot to remember that setting down on the ground meant that I am ‘resting’ on thorny plants. Uhhh. I am doing what Peterson, Pyle, Fisher, Kaufman, Weidensaul, Linch, Crosby and Nabokov have done. Color me Happy.

Why? Why do I keep going to these places, spending hours alone, without another person, almost ever, sweating, batting away insects who see ME as their end-goal-prey? Why haven’t I switched to digital? Duh? Doesn’t my arrival at airport security, especially here in the Middle East, drive those security personnel Nuts? “Hand check!” They just hate that, though they always lose that after we chat about how beautiful their nation’s butterflies are. Ticks, chiggers, the always remembered possibility of venomous snakes, and the even realer occasional appearance of feral dogs with attitude and ? what else.

Because the image we see here was very difficult to get, and I spent 11 days working this edge of agricultural ditch in the arid HolyLand, to get it and the other 50+ ‘keepers’ that we’ve been sharing these last weeks. Because I Thank G-d that I am able to pursue this passion of mine, that I have always admired beauty, in its many forms. Because back in Manhattan, we went to quite a few Exhibitions of Magnificent Jewelry, open to the public before Christie’s and Sotheby’s auction galleries held their auctions of the world’s finest bejeweled work. Because after seeing the finest of all jewels, up close, really close, macro- work reveals that these butterflies are more beautiful than the work of the finest craftsmen and women, ever. Just as breathtaking as my visits to the National Gallery of Art (D.C.) or the Brooklyn Museum or Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art, or the Uffizi in Florence.

Color my Happy because I am there, and I know how lucky I am, and I am Happy to see them flying, with all the healthy fauna and flora around them, and because G-d enables me to see and appreciate it all.

So I continue to share with you.

Jeff

Stalking Plain Tigers

Plain Tiger butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Mishmarot, Israel

Plain Tiger butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Mishmarot, Israel

Knee down, careful to not make any unnecessary moves. I have been seeking images of these Plain Tiger butterflies for much of 2 weeks now, in Mishmarot. 30 minutes drive from Netanya, Caesaria and other wonderful places in Israel, this female Danaus chrysippus chrysippus was a stunner, and her fellow Plain Tigers were giving me fits (almost unapproachable).

Good that she was nectaring, because that raises my hopes for an even closer approach. Nectaring, or when exhausted and resting, and early, early in the morning are the only times that they can reward my macro- lens.

Why have we noted 3 names above? This is the subspecies found in northern Africa, the Middle East, and proximal regions in Europe and Asia. Two other similar subspecies are found in Asia, Europe, etc., and they have their own subspecies names.

Think about it. As we approach 2015, there are many animals and plants whose numbers are at risk. At the same time, happily, most species, as with the Plain Tiger butterfly, are not at risk at all, and doing fine across several continents.

Good again. Your interest and support of the Environment is reaping dividends, at home and across the Globe. Encouraging? No?

Jeff

Danaus in the HolyLand

Plain Tiger butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Mishmarot, Israel

July 2014 and the closest that I have ever gotten to Plain Tiger butterflies. This pod made their home in  and around an agricultural ditch, July dry in the Israeli sun, but those healthy cattails (Typha) crowded along the length of that ditch surely signaled continued moist mud persisting just below the surface.

I’ve already shared that these cousins to our North American Monarchs are barely approachable. These Plain Tiger photos took days of stalking to capture. U.S. monarchs can be approached, carefully, and are less wary when they are nectaring. These Tigers would have nothing of me, whenever. This shot, and the others shared, were the result of especially robotic approach, sun baring down and sweat almost overrunning the red sweat band over my forehead.

So many Danaus similarities. Just a matter of cleaning His brushes and rearranging the splashes, washes, dots, patches and so on.

Solidly in the category of butterflies I love working with. Wild, fast, independent and beautiful. Mishmarot, a 4-5 minute walk from my daughters home. At extended orange groves.

Jeff