Gulfs?

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly on Thistle photographed by Jeff Zablow at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, GA

How many Palamedes Swallowtails did we see those 5 days in Florida’s Big Bend Wildlife Management Area? I’d say 65 to 75 Palamedes. Spicebush Swallowtails? More than 5 Spicebush. Tiger Swallowtails? A good 10 or so. Georgia Satyrs? Some 15 or more. What I think were Zabulon Skippers? Probably 20 Zabulons. Viceroy Butterflies? About 20 Viceroys.

When I saw my first Gulf Fritillary, on our 4th day in the field, I was triggered. April 11, 2019, in the Florida Panhandle, and all we’ve seen was one (!) Gulf. When we climbed back into our truck the next day, April 12th, our Gulf Frit counted stood at that one Gulf Fritillary. Sunny, days, highs by 1:30 PM reaching 81F, and just that one Gulf.

I tossed that around in my head, and I’m still weighing the criteria. Passionflowers, the hostplant for Gulf Fritillaries were not seen anywhere that week, not in any of the diverse habitat that Big Bend boasts. Glassberg in his A Swift Guide to the Butterflies of North America cites them as “most common in late summer/fall.”

The Plan always impresses me. There is complex timing for all you’d see in such a destination as Big Bend WMArea. Regretably, the No-See-Ums (Sandflies ?) seem to resist such restraints.

This sweet Gulf here was seen in 2018 at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge along the Georgia coast in August, where there were then, legions like him, on the wing.

Jeff

Cliffs, Falling Rock, Arroyos & ‘Gators

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly on Pickerelweed blooms photographed by Jeff Zablow at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, GA

This sure tantalizes, bringing vivid memory of that spectacular spot, with its pickerelweed growing in 4 inches of pond at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, on the Georgia coast. Stationed just away from the pond water, I was impressed with the diversity of butterflies that were visiting. Pickerelweed that must be pumping nectar, no doubt of that. This male Gulf Fritillary butterfly was fresh, complete (not bird struck) and hungry.

What’s the big deal? Harris Neck NW Refuge is loaded with alligators. At the time, the heavy traffic of beautiful butterflies to lush pickerelweed just could not be resisted. Even now, having survived the streets and all the rest, having taken guns from high schoolers back in Ozone Park, roaming the East Village before the East Village became what it’s now today, I sometimes (?) dissuade myself, internally arguing that risks are not as risky as they might be.

Might a 10 foot American alligator be near, just 15 feet from this spot? Isn’t it true that a ‘gator can accelerate, to cross 15 feet of pond’s edge in ‘x’ seconds?

Cliffs that give me the ‘Willies,’ Falling rock field where certain Satyr butterflies frequent, those Arroyos in Arizona and Israel where rain upstream can send a wall of water at you at what, 50 mph? Gators that are probably 5 times stronger than you think they could be?

Men who shoot butterflies are few and far between, and some of them devolve into 14-year-old -boy behavior when they see those certain butterflies, magnificent, exotic and challenging, no?

Jeff

Eye Candy Swallowtail

Palamedes Swallowtail Butterfly on Thistle photographed by Jeff Zablow at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, GA

We were at ‘What’s this, What’s that?’ mode, now examining this heretofore never seen thistle. Its stems looked way too frail, and its flowers had delicate petals, they a difficult to describe pinkish white.

What also caught our eye was the steady arrival of butterflies and bees. I reasoned that with the obvious magnetic pull of these blossoms, I might just stop at this particularly robust looking thistle, and await what might fly in.

That worked out well, for soon this especially gorgeous Palamedes Swallowtail butterfly arrived. He had to be very fresh, for his wings were almost black, and their shocks of color were as dramatic as you’d see in the butterflies of Costa Rica, Peru, Bolivia or Indonesia.

A super-duper Palamedes swallowtail at the edge of Laura’s Woody Pond in Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, on the Georgia coast.

Eye candy in this showcase of a Refuge.

Jeff

Small Town Mystery?

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly on Pickerelweed blooms photographed by Jeff Zablow at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, GA

This satisfying image brought me to thinking. Sure, I know that this Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge has been home to tens of thousands of butterflies, for as long as we can reckon. Yes, that puts these Pickerelweed blooms close, very close to butterflies like this Gulf Fritillary.

I have no doubt that these little blooms emit aromatic nano packets of sensory activating hydrocarbons. The Gulfs follow the ‘trail’ of those aroma bursts, some 100 feet or 400 feet, and reach this sizable flowerstalk, optimistic and hungry. All that reckons with my high school and college Chemistry understandings.

Tougher to grasp is this, my new garden. In February 2018 I started creating beds, where before there was mowed ground. From that mild later winter, to last month, those beds were planted with native Georgian plants, from Pussytoes to Hercules Club to Clethra to a slew of trees: BlackCherry, Hickory, Sassafras, Plums, Atlantic White Cedar, Hoptree and more. Sure, there were some setbacks, the most challenging the acknowledgment that there were most wet areas that retained below ground water for weeks. Ok, that forced some switharoos, but y’all had been there, had to do that.

The result? We were mobbed by butterflies. Gulf Fritillaries on the Passionflower. Cloudywings on the small Zinnias (non-native) and Starflower (?). Giant Swallowtails, Black Swallowtails, Buckeyes, Ladies, Zebra and Zebra Heliconians, many, many species of Skippers . . . Just mobbed. I loved it, I did. A lifelong dream that, butterflies from February to November.

Comes the mystery. There is not, to my knowledge, a garden like this in town (the County Courthouse is 2 blocks away, we are squarely in town) for at least 3/4 mile in any direction. I know why this Gulf here found this luxurious wetland Pickerelweed. I do not know how the hundreds (thousands) of butterflies found my garden, from such great distances?? Do you?

I’ve planted 2 Atlantic White Cedars. Will a very special Juniper Hairstreak ever know that their hostplant is here? I’m in the midst of a frustrating search for Sweet Leaf AKA Horse Sugar trees. Will the rare King’s Hairstreak, a big long shot, find those? How’d the Great Purple Hairstreak, my first ever seen, find my garden last summer???

Small town mystery?

Jeff

Unknown Flier

Unidentified Fly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, GA

Those 700 miles bring much that’s new. Scouring the Woody Pond perimeter at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge produced this new fly.

I’m not sure what it is. I was sure that it was film worthy, and I had no doubt that you’d help us ID it. I’ve never seen this one before, and I’m guessing that its found in the southeastern United States.

ID?

Jeff