Northern Pearly Eye Thrills

Northern Pearly Eye Butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Allenberg Bog in New York

They are often hard to find. They stay in shade, or within several feet of shaded spots. On your approach, they flee, flying low, but with the skill of an accomplished F-16 pilot. Few of us ever get to savor the spots that adorn their closed wings. What we are lucky to see is just that, their ventral ( the underside ) wings surfaces.

So they are demure, very. They do not come out and display their comely features or bling. Mostly they stay to those margins of the forest, very prim ands proper, and shy, so shy.

That is why this image of such a Northern Pearly Eye Butterfly stands out for me. This one allowed my approach, and I was thrilled, because it was there taking in whatever early morning sun it felt safe to absorb. Thrilled for how many get to see this? See the milk chocolate hue of those wings, and the handsome array of those spots,  each bordered in yellow gold? He is a hunk, no doubt of that.

Jeff

The Perfect Red Admiral?

Red Admiral Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park in Pennsylvania

Many get ‘hooked’ by a Red Admiral butterfly. Their high school Biology teacher (I was one, once) solemnly declares that soon, very soon species will begin to lose ground and lose habitat. She, dogmatically repeating the mantra pushed by some, is resigned to the loss of all kinds of native species, butterflies, until the time that only Cabbage whites, Painted ladies, Eastern tiger swallowtails and the lookalike skippers are all that’s left.

Me? That’s hogwash. I cannot forget when I taught at the John Adams High School Annex in South Ozone Park, New York City. My classroom was on the 5th floor of an elementary school. The classroom ceilings  were some 18 feet high or so, so the 5th floor was as high as most 9-story buildings.

We faced the west in that room. Some 19 or 20- miles away, we might have seen the Empire State Building and the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Huh? We couldn’t see them, for there was a permanent blanket of smog preventing us from seeing Manhattan and those fable skyscrapers.

New York’s electricity provider, Consolidated Edison, announced that they would be installing new “scrubbers” in their chimneys, to combat the smog. The federal government made all car makers install catalytic converters. Scrubbers and converters, token solutions. Yeah, yeah, yeah . . . the same old, same old. We were New Yorkers, those kids and I, and we didn’t buy it, zero. One summer later, and I returned to that room that I loved, awaiting those kids from every corner of the world, those big, strong, street tough kids. I looked out that wall of windows, to the eastern half of Manhattan and Oh My Goodness!! there they were, I was seeing the Empire State Building and the Twin Towers. That moment jarred me. Really. It can be done. Progress can be made. Slow as a snail New York City and bureaucratic Con Edison can work together and clean the air of that enormous city. Mamma Mia!

Lesson? Don’t buy the doomsayers. Keep your mind open to change and . . . For sure, that’s why I never bought the ‘Global warming/Al Gore’ pitch. Nope.

When jaded Nature lovers visit the State Parks or Wildlife Management Areas or such, the chance appearance of a Red Admiral, like this one, can startle. Wwwwhat was that? No Tony, there has not been a mass extinction of butterflies and more. Admire this gorgeous butterfly before it once again takes off to ??? Hey, if this is out there, what other Holy Cows? are there flying in a place like this, Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The several hundred times I was there flushed out a slew of OMG!’s including Goatweed leafwing, Red-barred sulphur, Harvester, White M hairstreak, Meadow fritillary, Pipevine swallowtail, Compton tortoiseshell, Milbert’s tortoiseshell  and a Bronze copper butterfly.

The perfect Red Admiral butterfly cannot be readily forgotten and jumps the curiosity quotient in one’s cognitive whatchamacallit. You’ve just gotta’ get back out there, away from that 97% that cobwebs you up, and find that rare, incredible, drop-dead-unbelieveable butterfly you had no idea was . . .

Jeff

Georgia Wood Nymph

Wood Nymph Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Cloudland Canyon State Park, GA

I ‘grew-up’ on Wood Nymph butterflies. They were among the butterflies I saw most often back in the 1990’s when I took to this pursuit gangbusters. They were abundant in Doak field (meadow) and the forest edges surround Doak.

I counted them among my favorites at Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania. Why? In the mid-1990’s I took a several day outdoors course at Raystown Lake in central Pennsylvania. There, near lake’s edge, I saw a Wood Nymph butterfly with screamin’ baby blue in its forewing eyes, that surrounded by a large field of butter-yellow. I saw it, but minutes later, after following it, I had not a single image. I wanted an image of such a Wood Nymph, and I have come close. Try to approach a Wood Nymph, and you’re more than likely to be treated rudely, very rudely.

This one here, seen in July 2018 at Cloudland Canyon State Park in very northwestern Georgia counts as one of my first southern Wood Nymphs. True to form, I had to bloodhound this one, until finally, one of us cried ‘Uncle’ and we agreed to take a moment’s rest, just so long as we both kept our ‘word.’

The blue pupils in the forewing ‘eyes’ are replaced here with tiny white ones. All the 3 ‘eyes’ seen on the lower wing surfaces have those white pupils. The yellow washes of the northern Wood Nymphs are a bit smaller, and less intensely yellow.

I think that they are still among my favorites, still.

Jeff

The Wait for Butterflyweed

Large Clump of Butterflyweed photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

My grandson and I reveled in one of the world’s finest stands of Butterflyweed this past June. I revisited Doak field in Raccoon Creek State Park with him, and I told him how much I loved those 2 weeks or so each year when the Asclepias (milkweed) was in bloom. More than that, I told him how this was the first time that one of my grandchildren ever, ever joined me in the field, of how Happy!!! I was to be with him there, then.

Eureka! We found the most luxurious clumps of Butterflyweed that I’ve ever seen, anywhere, let along Doak field in southwestern Pennsylvania. We were there early, very early, and now the wait. We waited for that time, usually around 9 A.M. when the butterflies sense these spectacular blooms, sense that those flowers are set to pump nectar, sugary nectar to support their athletic flight.

We we wait, and wait, and now it was 10 A.M. and few butterflies appeared. 10:45 A.M. arrived, and this is usually the time when no butterflies return to these deep orange flowers. The numbers for those hours? Disappointing.

We discussed how such things cannot be predicted, as this was surely a good example of lush bloom with good history, yielding scant swallowtails, monarchs, fritillaries or skippers. I must share that the usual suspects, Silver -spotted skippers, could be counted on one hand.

My take away? What I know is I must wait to next year, 2019, and hope to again see Coral hairstreaks here, on Butterflyweed.

My grandson, all of 7 years old, understood that day, that flora and fauna cannot be comfortably predicted, that a lesson in and of itself.

Jeff

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