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

Baltimore Magic

Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Jamestown Audubon Center in New York

Jeff told Barbara Ann that they were flying, and we hustled over to that wetland section in the Audubon center in Jamestown, New York. I scored one of my most favorite images there, some 2 years before. A very fresh Baltimore, with full display of its magnificent dorsal wing surface, plus the red-top on the head, the Sunkist-orange antennae clubs and the strong black and white spotting on the abdomen.

When we reached the wetland area, I was tickled pink, for there they were, a fresh flight of Baltimore Checkerspot butterflies. The Audubon center planted the Baltimore’s hostplant, Turtlehead, and the appearance of the Baltimores was a joyful success.

It’s always the same, you search for and find Baltimores, and before you shoot away, you stare at them, hard and long. Their coloration and color pattern are near magical, design and color selected to amaze.

The only response to an afternoon or evening query, “How was your day?” on a Baltimore meet-up day must be, “Excellent! We saw Baltimores!!”

Jeff

Monarchs & Neuron Transmission

Right side view of Monarch butterfly on Tithonia, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Butterflies and Blooms in the Briar Patch Habitat I, Eatonton, GA

There were three of them on my Tithonia (Mexican Sunflower) that day in December 2018. I spotted them when I approached bed #2 in my now one year old Georgia Piedmont natives garden. A cranial barrage of thoughts exploded in my head when I saw them. A near overload of positive, inspirational, sensual brain transmissions, all instantaneous and all lit by the sight of those three Monarchs.

I may have logged more hours in the field than almost all of you. True that when it comes to seeking butterflies. Countless times I’m intent on copping an image of a swallowtail, or a fritillary, or a brushfoot, or a skipper, when from the corner of my eye I spot a Monarch gently flying in. What do you and I do next? We know what we’ve done, time and time again. We politely abandon the butterfly we were working to shoot, and we head over to the Monarch. Monarchs sing a siren’s song, they do.

Why do Monarchs trigger so much nerve cell activity? How’s about I begin to list the why’s for me, and you take the ‘baton’ from there and share your ‘why’s.’

Monarchs provoke because:

  1. So much that is good and positive is associated with Monarchs
  2. Monarchs are widely considered to be the most beautiful of Northamerican butterflies
  3. We admire Monarchs for their epic migrations from Toronto to the mountains of central Mexico, and for their round-trip journey the following Spring
  4. Monarchs, of all butterflies, evoke poetic thoughts
  5. We fear for Monarchs, their numbers now depleted, and our concern has been validated by academics and naturalists
  6. Monarchs remain fresh and rarely birdstruck, and whatsoever the reason for that, we admire their puck and self-confidence
  7. The Monarch metamorphosis remains incredible, and from that 2nd grade classroom, we continue to try to intellualize the unfathomable biology of it
  8. They stand out as butterflies that are large, yet often tolerate Jeff’s close approach
  9. Monarchs love milkweed plants, and bright as we might be, how in the world do their caterpillars consume milkweed, the same milkweed the would gravely sicken us, or the birds that give them a free pass?
  10. You cannot ever get a perfect Monarch image. Period. There will always be a better one in your future. Who among us, for example, has shot the best look of a Monarch ‘eye’ ever?

I will be beyond Happy to see what you may add to this list, my List. Caron? Leslie? Marcie? Virginia? Melanie? Laura? Barbara Ann? Angela? Sylbie? Beth? Phyllis? Deepthi? Yaron? Phil? Mike? Rose? Cathy? Nancy? Peggy? Hollie? Lisa? Bill? Curt? Debi? Melania? Nancy? Mary? Traci? Terry? Joanne? Jim?

Jeff

Palamedes Pretty

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

I must have dozens of vivid memories of butterflies and where I first met them. Maybe it’s more than a handful of dozens of strong memories of first meet-ups. That Gulf Fritillary in the Outdoor Gardens of the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh. A Gulf in Pittsburgh!! Those 2 Harvester Butterflies in Raccoon Creek State Park, Pennsylvania. The Goatweed Leafwing in that same Raccoon Creek State Park. I was so startled to see it on that tree trunk, that I forget to put my camera to work!! The Southern and Creole Pearly-eyes in Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge. The Zebra Swallowtail butterfly in Mason Neck State Park in Virginia. The Malachite and the Erato Heliconian butterflies in the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas. A standout first saw was that morning when I came upon the most gorgeous Tawny Emperor ever, again in Raccoon Creek State Park.

This Palamedes was one of the first I’d ever seen, this time in 2016 in Big Bend Wildlife Management Area in the Florida Panhandle (northern Florida). They were huge and they adored the thistle seen here. There were many of them. When they’re fresh the black of their wings in brilliant jet black and bedazzles.

I’m booked to return to Big Bend and St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in just a few months. I can hardly wait to reunite with Palamedes Swallowtails, Georgia Satyrs, Goatweeds, Great Purple Hairstreaks and all of those Skippers that are so difficult to ID.

Yet another destination this year might be Okefenokee Swamp. Oh, who might I see there? Pretty Palamedes?

Jeff

That Bothersome Name: Painted Lady

Painted Lady butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Ramat Hanadiv, Israel

I must have seen them all most young life, in not yet all-built Brooklyn, New York, then in Queens, New York and later in Long Island New York. Unlike some, I didn’t own field guides, nor did I work to learn butterfly names, but, I’m sure in saw Painted Lady butterflies those first 2+ decades.

I was in my 50’s when I earnestly went out and sought butterflies. It grabbed me, with the intensity you feel when you begin reading a book that you immediately love, and almost cannot put down. Butterflies provided so much fascination for me, there were so many of them and there’d be no “I did it!.” That could never happen because I knew I’d never have the time or money or inclination to climb rocky peaks to see all of the butterflies of the USA.

Painted Ladies were among my early favorites. They were numerous around the state parks near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and they would always come out to sunny spots on trails to ‘greet’ me. They were my sometimes trail buddies.

Like many brushfoot butterflies, you couldn’t distinguish males from females? Not in the field you couldn’t. That brought up the bothersome thought of the name chosen for these brave butterflies: Painted Lady. How I grew up was you had to be able to “handle yourself” on the streets (give it and take it), cry? never. Someone bothers your brother or sisters, you take care of that. Someone “calls you out” in school, you meet them after school, never within sight of the school building or the schoolyard, and you do what you do. No ‘millennial’ Jeff, you had to be tough, or kind of stay in your house . . .

I’ve thought often of who it was that named the male Painted Ladies such? These Leps are tough little wild animals, and I’ve always thought they never deserved the name that they got. You must forgive me if you have another opinion here. Mine is etched in my brain, vital it was for survival. Mine was not the Father Knows Best childhood.

You  can stop wondering about this handsome Painted Lady. Jeffrey Glassberg cites them as the “planet’s most cosmopolitan butterfly.” Found on every continent, they are all nearly identical. This one was met in Ramat Hanadiv, near the Mediterranean Sea in the HolyLand, Israel.

Jeff