24 Years of Adoring This Wildflower

Butterflyweed at Doak Field photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

I’d visit the same spots in Doak Field, often just at the right time! What was I checking for every year? I was hoping to find Butterflyweed in peak of bloom, in this more than 100 acre meadow in Raccoon Creek State Park, 45 minutes west off Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

We went there in the last week of June 2018. I vividly remember leaving the Nichol Road Trail and entering Doak Field. A 5 minutes hike through the cut paths in the meadow, and I arrived at the main ‘spot.’ Look here what I saw! The Butterflyweed plants were numerous and lush. In those last 24 years, there, I cannot remember a finer, more beautiful population of this milkweed.

I adore these flowers, for they often attract squads of butterflies: Tiger Swallowtails, Great Spangled Fritillaries, Monarchs, Silver Spotted Skippers, the hardly ever seen Aphrodite Fritillary, various Skippers and my favorite, the Coral Hairstreak.

I’ve come to understand this amazing Asclepias (milkweed). It took those decades for me to fathom its puzzling behavior. I only visit it in the morning, a total of some 24 years of observing Butterflyweed.

I’ve learned that it only ‘pumps’ nectar for a very brief time in the morning, perhaps for 45 minutes or less, and that applies to the 10 or 20 or more found in those 100+ acres. Butterflies visit much when it is producing nectar, and then, usually around 10-ish in the morning, they stop coming.

I’ve come to expect to not see my beloved Coral Hairstreaks, for they often completely skip a year, even a year with a rich crop of Butterflyweed. I love those Corals, for they remind me of those good times, when Frieda A”H was with us, and how she loved Coral, and scoured here and there to find jewelry with richly tinted coral, she explaining that wealthy Chinese love fine Coral, and will pay a premium to the market to acquire it (reminds me of those many visits to Sotheby’s and Christie’s, especially Christie’s).

What happened this day, here? Did the Corals fly in, the others? No. Nary a single butterfly was seen on any of the Butterflyweeds. I went here again the next day, with the same disappointing result.

So Butterflyweed’s Big Mystery remains. Full, lush, gorgeous flowerheads, peak. Peak, yet it is clear that they are not the sirens on the rocks those days, drawing few if any butterflies to their full flowerheads.

I had my grandson with me this morning, and on the drive to Doak Field, I told him how I hoped to see just such Butterflyweed, told him how when they pump they resemble Grand Central Station in NYNY, and I forewarned him that we might see Corals, and that would be Wowwww! It was kind of sad that we didn’t see our Corals, or most other butterflies, but we did see prize-winning Butterflyweed, albeit very lonely Butterflyweed.

Jeff

My Harvester Butterfly

Harvester butterfly photographed at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Someone yesterday posted their image of a Harvester Butterfly, on FBook. It is so rare that I see an image of this certified Pookie butterfly, that I stopped and examined the good image, and that led to a lot of daydreaming and reminiscing.

It’s been so many years since I enjoyed my 2 (Yes, only 2) meetings with Harvesters. Both times I was just where Swift Guide to Butterflies of North America (Glassberg) wrote you’d have to be, “in or near wet wood, with alders.” I was on that favorite trail of mine, Nichol Road Trail, in Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania. There was a small creeklet running slowly some 12′ away, it had rained the day before, and the Harvester, the solitary Harvester was calmy taking moisture at the edge of a little puddle.

They are excellent models, holding their poses nicely and not fleeing. The thing is that they are tiny, and my Macro- lens necessitated that I get down on stomach. No complaint there, so willing a model a Harvester is.

The problem with finding a Harvester is they are so LR-LU (Glassberg’s Locally Rare to Locally Uncommon). Seeing 2 in 24 years or so attests to that.

I’ve got to add though, that when you scan a puddle that’s on a trail and near a streamlet, and you see a Very unfamiliar butterfly shape there . . . OMG!!! what’s that! Maine to the Florida Panhandle to eastern Texas and north to North Dakota. This is one of the ‘Needle in the Haystack’ butterflies, no doubt.

Jeff

A Rare American Skipper

Leonard's Skipper Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

Sometimes I review my images and I’m pleased that I have some that are just plain unusual, “rare.” Jeffrey Glassberg in A Swift Guide to the Butterflies of North America notes that this Leonard’s Skipper butterfly is “LR-U,” locally rare to uncommon. Good, for I remember when and how I scored this sweet image.

It was well into September at Raccoon Creek State Park in Southwestern Pennsylvania. I wanted to go there that morning, but had an internal debate, ‘Why go when it was so late in the season and everything that could be seen by me, was?’ I went.

She flew onto a mowed trail in Doak’s 100+ acres meadow. ??????? What was she? I’d never seen such a sweety before. And she was a stunner!!

She my first Leonard’s. A rare skipper that first appears in very late summer!

A rare American skipper butterfly, and  . . . Never say never! Thanks Fuji, for your Velvia slide film caught her lush color just fine.

Jeff

Are Monarchs Safe?

Monarch Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park. Jeff blogs about the art and science of butterflies at http://www.wingedbeauty.com

We’ve fretted for years, concerned that the numbers of Monarch butterflies was plummeting to crisis numbers. Up and down they went, and all of us kept our eyes and hearts peeled, awaiting credible reports back from the mysterious mountains in central Mexico. Just the realization, so recent for so many of us, that Monarchs had to travel to the east most USA from that far! made us cringe!

So here we are in September 2018. Many of us are sharing rich, beautiful images of Monarchs seen in our gardens, parks and roadsides, just these last weeks. Seeing them as if their numbers are good, strong.

Here in central Georgia, I’ve seen multiple Monarchs flying in my garden at the same time. That’s a whole lot better than I saw in this area in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Females have been laying eggs on my Asclepias (milkweeds) by the dozens. Several dozen have enclosed (safely left chrysalis and flown) these last weeks. Yippee!

This male on Joe Pye in Raccoon Creek State Park in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Can we rest assured that for the meantime, Monarchs are safe? Virginia? Monarchmama? Curt? Phil? Marcie? Jeff (Jamestown, NY)?

Jeff