Viceroys Beckon

Viceroy Butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow in Kelso Swamp, Fayette Township, PA

I think about butterflies, alot. These more than 25 years of butterfly seeking have produced many epiphanies for me. This riveting image of a Viceroy Butterfly in Traci’s Kelso Swamp in southwestern Pennsylvania evokes one of those durable thoughts.

Just as I’ve been a fan of Elvis, Paul Robeson, Johnny Cash, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Bing Crosby and Kelli Pickler, there are butterflies I cannot see enough of. That especially when the one I’ve ‘found’ is fresh and richly colored/patterned.

Viceroys are in that select group. When I’m in a wetland, I find that I am particularly alert to the likelihood that a Viceroy will fly in. See a Viceroy, and I stop whatever I was doing and follow it, for I want, I really want it to be fresh, richly hued, and with a thick, dramatic black line across the back expanse of the hindwings. It I see such, I will stalk it for as long as necessary. Usually it decides to avoid this new nuisance, and as they are skilled at doing, execute some elusive maneuvers, and are  . . . gone.

This one was a Looker! and all of the above applied. You see what I see, a fine specimen of a Viceroy with so much to admire, perched and resting in Kelso Swamp, smack next door to Traci’s lot!

Jeff

The Monarch Understudy

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

I have always recoiled when I hear that Viceroy butterflies ‘mimic’ Monarch butterflies. It’s true that Monarch caterpillars eat milkweed leaves, and the glycosides that are highly concentrated in the milkweed remain inert (unchanged) in the Monarch caterpillars, and the Monarch butterflies that eclose from Monarch chrysalises are fully stocked with those very same, disgustingly bitter glycosides. We are taught that this adaptation of the Monarchs provides them with excellent protection from predators.

It may or it may not be true that selection has caused the Viceroy butterfly to closely resemble Monarchs. Either way, birds learn early that this look signals, “Leave alone, don’t even try to eat!” Experience has convinced that Viceroys like this one, show zero wing damage from birds (bird-struck), because the birds’ mommies taught them early, avoid that sort of butterfly, or retch uncontrollably should you forget that lesson!

That band of black, across the middle of the hindwing of this Viceroy, enables you to ID as a Viceroy. Time in the field also teaches, Monarchs fly high, with elegant wing strokes, while Viceroys fly more like jet fighters, fast and with much diving and soaring, yet always some 8 feet or so above the ground. Monarchs Love to nectar on flowers, Viceroys rarely are seen upon flowers.

Viceroy butterflies do not treat us with one of our biggest life mysteries, that is, How do Monarch butterflies, that have never been to central Mexico, fly from Maine, New York and Ohio, thousands of miles, to the mountains of central Mexico??

Viceroys have their own charm. They are less commonly seen than Monarchs. They prefer to be close to their hostplants, Willow trees and shrubs, which puts them in the neighborhood of wetlands (marshes, swamps, ponds & lakes, and wet meadows (fens)). That fascinating habitat includes cattails, red-wing blackbirds, Baltimore checkerspot butterflies, aquatic turtles, muskrat and beaver, birders seeking sightings of egrets, herons, rails, storks and ducks. Poetic places that when found, protected from billionaires and developers, tickle our imagination and treat our eyes. It also puts Viceroys, here in the Southern USA, at home with alligators, as we saw in Laura’s Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge (Georgia) and in Neel’s St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge (Florida).

This Viceroy here, seen in the Butterflies & Blooms Briar Patch Habitat in my Eatonton, Georgia, affirms what some Butterfly field guide authors share, that the southeastern Viceroys are especially handsome, decked out in the stronger, more vivid oranges, black and white.

Understudy, the Viceroy? Nope. An authentic American Idol, no doubt about it.

Jeff

The Why Of It

Year 24 beckons. It’s become full of realities, primary among them, and I’m reminded of Pyle’s superb book, Mariposa Way, is the need to scale back $ome. Pyle did it by often sleeping in his little auto, enjoying hospitality when it was available, and on occasion by benefiting from the generosity of sponsors of his Big Year.

I’m now safely rooted in wonderful Georgia, soon to be relieved from the financial garrote that Pittsburgh turned out to be. Trips to the National Butterfly Center and Washington State . . . had to be reconsidered. True that, but my plans to travel to the Big Bend Wildlife Management Area (Florida Panhandle), Okefenokee Swamp, Alabama for a rare Satryr, and perhaps Bruce Peninsula in Ontario or Adams County, Ohio all are in the planning stages. No Bob Pyle like sleeping in my car. Each place will included affordable home stay rentals.

Why continue seeking butterflies Jeff? My B.S. in Biology nourished a childhood of curiosity. Those years of teaching high school Biology in Queens, New York and Pittsburgh Pennsylvania always confirmed how much we are interested in the life forms that surround us. The discovery of a very beautiful butterfly, as this Viceroy butterfly in the Butterflies & Blooms Briar Patch Habitat (Eatonton, Georgia) screams out to me: strive to capture the full beauty of this marvel of G-d’s colorful palette. The Joy of copping a sweet image, and sharing it with you here, validates all that it took for me to make it here, over a rich, often dangerous road!

It’s the excitement when y’all share a pithy ‘Comment’ here. I’ve seen the Niagra Falls in that boat that almost takes you into the madness of the Falls and brings up that smile that I so enjoy experiencing.

Jeff

Is It Polite To Stare?

Viceroy Butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow in Kelso Swamp, Fayette Township, PA

Me? Not really. I’ve never much been too impressed with celebrities or famous people. I don’t know whether I’ve seen more or less than most other people. New York City, with its published 8,000,000 or so residents ( I’ve no doubt it’s always been more like 14,000,000 counting those who are not documented) has lots of famous, but I’ve not much seen them. Who’ve I seen, Diana Ross in that elevator, Kirk Douglas in a Broadway theater, Mike Tyson with a blonde looker on each arm strolling in midtown New York and a couple of others. I don’t look for them, so I suppose that’s why I don’t see them.

I do admit to remembering especially beautiful women I’ve seen, and I think that has some credible connection to my attraction to fresh, beautiful butterflies.

Now I don’t know the gender of this Viceroy butterfly, seen during its time out resting in Traci’s Kelso swamp in southwestern Pennsylvania. Fresh and magnificent, it riveted me. I so hoped that it was a female, for that would be just right. She remained there long enough for me to make a decent approach, and males usually don’t tolerate approach. I shot away, staring all along at that very pronounced black line across each of her hindwings, as well as her fine wing margins, black with those broadcasting white dots.

I was once in midtown Manhattan ( NYNY ), a young man, and a young woman of stunning looks, red hair/green eyes, reached the corner when I did. We waited for the traffic light to turn green for us to cross, and I was so taken with her G-d given looks, that I must have gaped, or certainly stared, and the words would not come out (“Hi, . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .).

This one is of such beauty, and the words did come, with my whisper, “Thank You G-d.”

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