That Urban Disadvantage

Common Wood Nymph Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in Clay Pond, NY

It came to mind today, as it occasionally does. That growing up in Brooklyn, New York, in the city of New York. Our street, East 58th Street, was at the very edge of development in the 1940’s. North and west of my street, was fully, 100% built, nearly all with small brick row houses, one after another, like forever, until miles away, you gaped across the East River, at the Manhattan skyline.

At the edge of development meant that just around the corner from me, just past Lenny Oliker’s house, was an unbuilt lot, maybe 20% sylvan, the rest of the botany in that lot was alien botany. Across the street from there, Clarendon Road, was more undeveloped land, where (Believe it Not!) we once chased cottontail rabbits and found Black Widow Spiders.

Accelerate to now, 2019, and I reckoned today at the Great disadvantage all that meant for me, that Urban Disadvantage.

I now live in the town of Eatonton, 2 blocks from the county courthouse. Yesterday, Eatonton celebrated their 60th annual Dairy Festival yesterday. There are working dairy farms less than 2.5 miles from our house. Most here grew up on the parents’ farm or their grandparents’ farm. Many worked on farms while they were in high school. On their own lots, they grew up amongst butterflies, deer, raccoons, water moccasins and copperhead snakes, opossums, black vultures, wild hogs and boars, armadillos and . . . butterflies. Grandma often had a garden that was unforgettable to my friends today, and it was regularly visited by . . . butterflies.

My childhood? I have much difficulty remembering butterflies in those ’empty lots’ back in my childhood. Very few came, for 80% of the botany was aliens, and Doug Tallaway famously teaches that our butterflies and moths and bees just don’t know alien species, no matter how many decades those plants coexist with our butterflies, flies, moths, bees and wasps.

Those of you who grew up rural learned of and saw butterflies their entire life. They’ve developed foundational experience with their names, habits, preferences and life cycles.

Me? True I taught high school Biology in New York City’s Queens borough and in the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,but . . . all that I know off butterflies had to be learned more recently, and still lacks the rich experiential familiarity of the so many of you who grew up in such as the Briar Patch. That Urban Disadvantage, unknown and a negative, here.

A very attractive Wood Nymph butterfly in the high wet meadow at Clay Pond in Frewsburg, New York, home of the famous naturalist, Barbara Ann Case.

Jeff

Butterfly’s “Eyes”

Common Wood Nymph butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in Clay Pond,  NY

I’m a guy who searches for eyes. Mine are blue, but that has nothing to do with this now. I travel much, to find butterflies with extraordinary eyes. When I find a butterfly with outstanding ‘eyes’ I will follow it until I can score alot of images. It’s all about getting exposures with comely, sharply focused eyes.

Eyes on the head of the butterfly? No. We’re after the ‘eyes’ found on the wings of many species of butterflies. They’re in italics because those are not the eyes that see. They are instead decorations on the wings. Their reason for being there has been much discussed, but there is no sure determination of why butterflies have retained their wing’s eyes for those thousands of years?

A trip of several days may be declared a major success if I’ve gained several good exposures of butterfly wings sporting great ‘eyes.’

This Wood Nymph butterfly rang my Alert! bells when I saw it. That large forewing ‘eye’ was crisp, prominent and film worthy. The smaller ‘eyes’ strung along next to it along sung to me.

I remember several people I have run across in my life, people with strikingly remarkable eyes, as that Afghan girl on the cover of National Geographic some years ago. Another, that girl who walked into my Biology HS classroom back at that Pittsburgh high school. From September to June, I was transfixed by them.

Winged beauties often stop such as us in our tracks, The Eyes! The Eyes!

Clay Pond, very western New York State.

Jeff

Georgia Wood Nymph

Wood Nymph Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Cloudland Canyon State Park, GA

I ‘grew-up’ on Wood Nymph butterflies. They were among the butterflies I saw most often back in the 1990’s when I took to this pursuit gangbusters. They were abundant in Doak field (meadow) and the forest edges surround Doak.

I counted them among my favorites at Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania. Why? In the mid-1990’s I took a several day outdoors course at Raystown Lake in central Pennsylvania. There, near lake’s edge, I saw a Wood Nymph butterfly with screamin’ baby blue in its forewing eyes, that surrounded by a large field of butter-yellow. I saw it, but minutes later, after following it, I had not a single image. I wanted an image of such a Wood Nymph, and I have come close. Try to approach a Wood Nymph, and you’re more than likely to be treated rudely, very rudely.

This one here, seen in July 2018 at Cloudland Canyon State Park in very northwestern Georgia counts as one of my first southern Wood Nymphs. True to form, I had to bloodhound this one, until finally, one of us cried ‘Uncle’ and we agreed to take a moment’s rest, just so long as we both kept our ‘word.’

The blue pupils in the forewing ‘eyes’ are replaced here with tiny white ones. All the 3 ‘eyes’ seen on the lower wing surfaces have those white pupils. The yellow washes of the northern Wood Nymphs are a bit smaller, and less intensely yellow.

I think that they are still among my favorites, still.

Jeff

Wood Nymph Butterfly (Clay Pond)

Common Wood Nymph Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in Clay Pond, NY

Clay Pond in very western New York state features acres of grass wetland. That day in 2016 there was a sizable flight of butterflies. I was seeing Wood nymphs, wetland Skippers, Satyrs, a Viceroy here and there, a Monarch or two and more.

My eyes were mostly searching for Wood Nymphs. Why? Ever since that day some years ago at Raystown Lake, Pennsylvania, I have been on the lookout for Wood Nymphs with attractive forewing ‘eyes.’

This one here was hiding in 4 foot grass. Once I made a successful approach, I liked what I saw, a lot. This Wood Nymph has scrumptious! ‘eyes,’ they encircled by rich orangeish borders, and those eyes have the bluish centers, something that I have always enjoyed finding.

One of my most sought after butterfly patterns, ‘eyes’ on a Wood Nymph that bring a smile to a Butterfly guy.

Jeff

Found: A Clay Pond ‘Flasher!’

Common Wood Nymph Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in Clay Pond, NY

There are things that fascinate us, and drive us to plumb their meaning. Some many years ago, in the meadow surrounding Raystown Lake in Pennsylvania, I saw Common Wood Nymphs with spectacular baby-blue eyespots on the forewings. After some minutes, this small pod of Wood Nymphs disappeared, and I could no longer shake them out of the meadow grasses.

I will never forget that morning. Those wing ‘eyes’ tore at my imagination. Why were they so different at this lakeside habitat? ‘Eyes’ so large, so comely blue?

Seems on an earlier trip to visit Israel, I brought with me my copy of Robert Michale Pyle’s book, The Thunder Tree – Lessons From An Urban Wildland (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993). Nearly three weeks ago, after finishing a couple of mystery novels that Rachel had on her Mishmarot bookshelf, I spotted The Thunder Tree, left there by . . . me. I picked it up, and began a re-read that continued on my April 25th El Al flight, and well today, bells and whistles started to go off. Pyle describes how, as a high schooler, he noted the variety of Wood Nymph eyespots along his beloved High Line Canal in what is now Aurora, Colorado. He shares:  “One day as I picked my way through the Sand Creek glade, watching out for the poison ivy whose leaves were as shiny as the cottonwoods,’ I spotted a pale female wood nymph and gave chase. She took cover in a clump of willow and disappeared on a trunk of her own color. Large and perfect, she was invisible with her wings tucked down. Then, disturbed by a fly, her forewings spread, revealing the big, cowlick eyespots that gave her subspecies the name bo-opis, or the ox-eyed wood nymph.” What does Pyle attribute this broad variety of eyespots to? “I concluded that all of these Peggies [Wood Nymphs] belonged to one big plastic species with a lot of latitude for expression, a theory later confirmed by better scientists than I . . . . I showed, to my satisfaction, that wood nymphs escape predation by flashing their big blue eyes . . . .”

Two years ago, Barbara Ann introduced me to Clay Pond in very western New York state. In the wet meadow that surrounded the protected pond, I flushed out this stunner of a Wood Nymph. Would you look at those forewing ‘eyes!’ Mind you not quite baby-blue, but huge, prominent and encircled by hot! yellowish rings! The very kinds of in-your-face butterfly beauty that Pyle and I both find, well startling, enchanting, extraordinary and a bunch more.

Once every so many years I meet such Wood Nymphs again, and it electrifies, Truth Be Told.

Jeff