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 coping 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!

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 . . . . brings up that smile that I so enjoy experiencing.

Jeff

Hairstreak Euphoria

Red-Banded Hairstreak butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at "Butterflies and Blooms in the Briar Patch," Eatonton, GA

It never goes away. I expect that I speak for all of us who love and search for butterflies. Whether you arrive at your refuge, meadow, fen, garden or roadside berm, that euphoria that electrifies you when you spot a tiny, tiny Hairstreak butterfly, never lessens.

We stop, verify that it is a Hairstreak, a fresh Hairstreak (the price of film now matters) and as quickly as those years in the field allow, which of the hairstreaks you have found. Me, I best know the hairstreaks of the eastern half of the United States . . . but. I’ve seen hundreds and thousands of these abundant hairstreaks, but others, that count drops to one or two. Or, zero.

This winged beauty is a Red-banded Hairstreak. Fresh, zero bird-struck with gorgeous, rich color including that handsome blue patch and generous red bands.

So many Red-bandeds bear wing damage or extensive wing scale loss. This one, seen at the Butterflies and Blooms Briar Patch Habitat in Eatonton Georgia is a crowd pleaser for sure. When I’ve shot away, those 20 or more exposures, am I able to slowly back away from this shmeksy! gift from G-d, and share my war-up “YES! May well be you heard it, be you in Brooklyn, Dallas, Mission, Seattle, Atlanta, Mishmarot, or Valdosta.

How I love what I do!

Jeff

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

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

Spicebush & Vegas

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in the Briar Patch Habitat in Eatonton, GA

What’ve I seen? Well, I’ve seen perhaps some 50 or so Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies, these 24 years of earnestly hunting for butterflies. That makes them a Will of the Wisp butterfly for me, one that you see on say, day 3 of a 4 or 5 day field trip. They fly in silently, elegantly, and by the time you register ‘Spicebush!!,’ he or she has already begun to fly away.

When I saw those 2 of them, here in my New! Georgia Piedmont natives garden, months apart, I mentally bookmarked, ‘Get their hostplants: Spicebush and Sassafras. Glassberg in his field guide Swift Guide to the Butterflies of North America shares that they are “U-A.” That is, that finding them can be uncommon or abundant depending on where you are. So mark me down in the “U” end of the spectrum, for I almost never see them.

My sizable natives garden, here in Eatonton, now sports both hostplants, Sassafras and Spicebush, though we are now entering only year 2 for each of them. I did find a lone Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar in October 2018, brought it in to my new ‘cube,’ and it now rests as a chrysalis in the cube on the back porch.

This buster accommodated me at the Butterflies & Blooms Briar Patch Habitat right here in Eatonton. What say you of him?

If I queried Las Vegas on the odds of my attracting Spicebush adult butterflies this 2019, I haven’t a hunch as to what they’d come back with.

I so want these winged beauties to visit, and stay a while. Vegas?

Jeff