Butterfly Horn of Plenty

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

Nine years old and in Brooklyn, New York, we lived on the very edge of development. Just beyond our street corner, there were undeveloped, hardscrabble lots. There was my dream world. After the games of punchball, stickball, stoopball and roller hockey, I’d slip away and head to my favorite ’empty’ lot on E. 57th Street and Clarendon Road. Two to three hours there, in mid-June afternoon, I’d see maybe, 4 or five butterflies. That was the normal, I thought then.

From 1975 to 1990 we lived in suburban Long Island, New York. Doug Tallamy would tell you that my high ranch-style house was typical, with its many nectar -pumping cultivars, and surrounded by hundreds of houses carefully manicured by professional landscapers, and they planted 85% with alien shrubs. My squadron of butterfly bushes (Buddleia) drew perhaps 5-6 butterflies daily.

My third house in Pittsburgh marked my big epiphany. I took Kathy’s advice and read Tallamy’s ground breaking book, and I planted 90% natives, Clethra, Coneflowers, Milkweeds, Obedient plant, Pagoda dogwoods, American plum, American hornbeam, Senna, Monkeyflower, cardinal flower, and so much more. When attendance was taken, by day’s end, a sunny day would count 10 or more butterflies about.

My move to Georgia’s Piedmont in 2017, and now my largest garden ever, most of it in full sun, hit jackpot! I’ve put in hundreds of plants, almost all native to Georgia. At any given time, 30 or 40 butterflies may be flying, with many more busily nectaring on the tens of thousand of flowers there. Squadrons of Cloudless Sulphur, Dozens of skippers, too many Gulf fritillaries to count, platoons of Buckeyes, Painted ladies and American ladies, Giant swallowtails, as many as 5 or 6 at a time, Zebra swallowtails and Zebra heliconians and  . . . . At times, it’s battlestations, for I’ve seen my first ever Great Purple Hairstreak there, and some unlikely ones, as that Palamedes swallowtail that Kindly paid a visit.

There are several excellent nurseries that specialize in natives, including Night Song Nursery and Nearly Natives Nursery, and they are just a moderate drive from my home. You visit them, and Katy and Debi and Jim are 100% friendly and helpful.

This Giant swallowtail typifies the heady times that I enjoy here in this, my garden in sunny Georgia. Butterfly horn of plenty . . . dream . . . realized.

Up from the streets. My life.

Jeff

Party Crashing Viceroy

Viceroy Butterfly on Sumac (Woody Pond) photographed by Jeff Zablow at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, GA

That very same week, the Georgia Native Plant Society (GNPS) shared a FB post, letting us know that native Sumacs were just about ready to bloom. Back up in Pittsburgh, all one heard of was a “poison sumac.” Ellen of the GNPS sung of two native sumacs, and I was interested, wanted to meet them.

I saw them days later, along county and state roads, they just hinting of the telltale dark rust indicative color.

Sunday I drove to Townsend, Georgia, and arrived at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge the next morning. Coastal Georgia is wondrous, and Oohs and Aahs! reigned. Great blue herons, Wood storks, Glossy Ibis, Lots and lots of alligators, Clapper rails, maybe 3 species of snow-white egrets, Zebra heliconians, Palamedes swallowtails, Anhingas, Salt marsh skippers, the biggest spiders I’ve yet to see and the sense that snakes were at hand, but hidden out of sight. It was a dreamland for folks like us.

I think it was Wednesday, along the Wood Pond Trail that I saw it. One of those natives Sumacs, and its flower buds were beginning to open. A first for me, native sumac, in bloom, at the edge of Woody Pond, and those alligators seen and . . . unseen . . . ?

A shadow flew in. What! A fresh, deeply hued Viceroy butterfly. They are always “Uncommon” (Glassberg’s Swift Guide to the Butterflies of North America), for I see them rarely, and always briefly, they with something more important to do, some other wetland away, that how it seems.

I shot away, lots of film exposed. It was a clever one, remaining within the inner bounds of the sumac. When it flew, I just stopped, and cynically laughed, at how, with all that was around me, this likable Viceroy came in and stirred the pot, the party crashing Viceroy . . . on a McLaren day in Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge.

Jeff

 

Viceroy Butterfly At Woody Pond

Viceroy Butterfly on Sumac (Woody Pond) photographed by Jeff Zablow at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, GA

The trail skirted along the edge of Woody Pond. Laura was right, Harris National Wildlife Refuge was rich, rich in wildlife. It’s on the coast of Georgia, and those 6 days there in August 2018 delivered, big time. It’s a national destination for birders, anxious to see hundreds (yes, hundreds!) of wood storks nesting in vast rookeries there. Egrets, rails, anhingas, warblers, it’s dreamland for birders.

This image was taken in the 3-foot strip of vegetation that separates the trail I was on from the pond. That’s all well and good. What you need to know then, is that Woody Pond, just 3-feet away, is the home of . . . maybe 100 alligators. 10-foot and 12-foot and 14-food gators.

Looking at this gorgeous Viceroy butterfly nectaring on Sumac blooms that opened the day before was an unexpected treat. Ellen Honeycutt, for the Georgia Native Plant Society had just shared on Facebook of the high value of native Sumacs, and here I was watching a shmeksy! Viceroy nectaring on day old Sumac blooms.

Know I was a big cautious (Well very cautious) leaning into the Sumac-Viceroy OMG! moment. Why? Because that planted me less than 3 feet from Very, Very Big alligators, something that the streets (mean) of Brooklyn never prepped me for, Truth Be Told. Proof? You want proof? Well, that was the day after the News Media of the Southeast reported the death by Alligator of a woman in Hilton Head, South Carolina. She was apparently walking her little dog on leash at the edge of an upscale development pond, and the ‘gator charged them, and dragged the woman in, to her death.

Shooting Viceroys at the very edge of Woody Pond . . . on native Sumac.

Jeff

One More Beauty? Say . . . A Viceroy?

Viceroy butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at the Butterflies and Blooms Habitat in Eatonton, GA

Marcie, Laura, Ken, Virginia, Cathy, Deepthi, Lisa, Kenne, Sertac, Bill and so many more have been sharing beautiful butterflies these last weeks. Whatever weather and other stresses surfaces earlier this year, the bounty of fresh, handsome butterflies abounds these last weeks of August and into early September.

Prepping for a very special presentation here in Middle Georgia on October 14th (and joined by Ellen Honeycutt of the Georgia Native Plants Society = anticipate a Wow! program), I reviewed and reviewed my own Media Library, selecting which images I will share (I do hope you join us!)

Permission to add one more beauty? This Viceroy butterfly enabled me, as it took some time to rest on a large Tithonia Mexican Sunflower leaf. We were at Butterflies & Blooms Briar Patch Habitat in Eatonton, Georgia. All those years of reading those butterfly field guides, reading that the Viceroys of the Southeastern USA sport deeper, luxuriant color, were confirmed again here. My Fuji Velvia film did its job well here. No?

Jeff

Those Southern Viceroys

All Decked Out In Rich . . .

Winged Beauty Butterflies

Viceroy butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at the Butterflies and Blooms Habitat in Eatonton, GA

Our Viceroy butterflies here in Pennsylvania (8 hours west of New York City) are beautiful, elusive butterflies. We don’t see too many of them, they are now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t, and they are only found when 2 conditions are found together, wetlands and willow trees/bushes. No, my slide storage cabinet is not jam-packed with slides of Limenitis archippus. I have not seen as many of them as you would think. They are solitary butterflies and that means that you might see one here, see another later, a distance away there, and that second? Worn and wings bird-struck.

My trips to the U.S. southeast took me to the Land of possibilities. I might possibly find butterflies new to me. That I did: Georgia Satyrs, Giant Swallowtails, Little Metalmarks, Eastern Pygmy Blues, Zebra Heliconians (bold because that was a Kick!!), Juniper Hairstreaks, Cassius Blues, Palamedes Swallowtails, and more.

There was a type I wanted…

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