Black-Faced Skimmer

Darner butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Rector, PA, 6/15/05

A fine, beautiful July day in Rector, Pennsylvania. These Laurel Highlands are a destination for Fallingwater, Seven Springs, Bear Run, Ohoipyle, and the legions of the wealthy, who have long ago built their understated manses on generous acreage. Frank Lloyd Wright would have loved this refuge that we view here, rich with wildlife, more than 3,000 acres of it. Its margins gently give way to farmland and gentlemen’s farms, wonderfully ensuring a long, unchallenged future. The patrons of this area do not want change. Good for that.

Of course I was here that entire summer to photograph butterflies . . . But, a spectacular darner, one who actually tolerates my approach, always serves as a siren for me. This Libellula cyanea typified Black-faced skimmers, as it rested just several feet from a healthy pond. This species perches much of the time. Not much to fret about . . . food plentiful, weather excellent, enemies? few, mates? sufficient, community? wealthy, protected and private. Well born, so to speak.

I love darners. Speed, aerial brilliance, agility, reserve, tolerant, and so much more. As I work the edges of their ponds, they zoooom by, honoring my own privacy, and my personal space, never ever stopping to distract me from my work

Unsure of his or her gender, it nevertheless sports those snappy white wing spots, eye-catching abdominal streaks, reminding me of how good I feel when I sport my own favorite suit, laundered white shirt, fine silk tie, freshly polished favorite brown leather shoes (never got over that shining shoes thing in Army basic training . . . )



Closed (Bottle) Gentian Wildflower

Closed Gentian Wildflower photographed by Jeff Zablow at Rector, PA

It’s August in Rector, Pennsylvania and I am just several miles away from Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, Falling Water.  I am about 10 feet from a small pond, and found here this extraordinary wetland wildflower.

Gentiana Andrewsii peeked my curiosity when I feet saw it. Why are these flowers so tightly closed, with a small opening only at the tip of the flower? How does this dark bluish purple flower attract pollinators? Which flying insects have entered into eternal contract with this closed gentian, translated as “You feed me and I’ll pollinate you!”

Truth be told I have not spent hours observing the comings and goings here, but I have seen a number of American bumblebees (Bombus Pennsylvanicus). 

Is this the optimum time to make a personal observation? Over these last 2 years, I have sought to coax out serious responses from those of you out there who are extensively well-backgrounded in this general area. Such responses would benefit all, and advance our goal, to encourage broader interest and attention to the success of butterfly populations here and abroad. For instance, here is this post of closed Gentian. Wouldn’t it be great if we drew input from naturalists and biologists and other -ists who are long familiar with it? We have had much less success with that then my readers would think, even with organizations that I belong to. If I had found dozens of blogs like I wouldn’t have launched it. To my knowledge this is one of a small circle.


Downy Soft Yellow Violet Wildflowers

Downy Yellow Violet photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Violets. We pay little or no attention to them as we hike across meadows and along trails. At best, we are cautious not to step on them, of course. We take our responsibility to support our environment, most seriously.

These violets though, the Viola Pubescens featured here, are found throughout the United States, with at least 7 species of Viola commonly found east of the Mississippi river.

Pretty little things, many with edible leaves, are classified as herbs, but these Spring blooming flowers are just part of the landscape. And what a landscape! Ohiopyle State Park in Pennsylvania’s sylvan Laurel Highlands.

Or is there more to it than that? The majority of Fritillary butterflies depend on violets. They deposit their eggs on plants growing near violets. The eggs hatch their caterpillars and the Fritillary caterpillars travel to the nearby violets and move into a leaf litter. Do they feed? No. That in itself is a whole other story. When Spring comes, the caterpillars who have survived then feed on violet leaves, like these Downy Yellows.

We remember that the Monarch caterpillar and other butterflies benefit from the protection gained from eating the glycoside molecules in Asclepia leaves. Fritillary butterflies also  enjoy this protection, due to the glycosides and other molecules present in the leaves of violets! I have to admit that I have seen some very beaten up fritillary butterflies, so it may well be that fritillaries don’t enjoy the same level of toxicity as Monarchs do. Something to ponder.

Those  of our followers who have large properties, especially those with treed lots, often have grassy perimeters around the trees that are populated by violet plants. May we suggest that you do not rake up the leaf litter in those areas, until well into late Spring? Removal of the leaf litter before late Spring may well destroy dozens or hundreds of Fritillary caterpillars, who have survived 20 degree Farenheit days and nights, awaiting the last weeks in April. If your rake catches them in November, you will miss out on the butterflies.