Pipevine Colors?

Close Up of Pipevine Swallowtail  Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow as it perched on Bergamot flower at Raccoon Creek State Park in Pennsylvania, 7/31/14

We’re seeing many friends and soon to be friends posting images of Pipevine Swallowtail Butterflies. I enjoy those pictures, and confession? I usually am examining, do they, have they captured the mesmerizing color that Pipevine may deliver?

Here’s my entry in the Pipevine Color Board. When this Pipevine flew in and did what I so wanted it to do, head straight to the Bergamot in abundant bloom in Doak Field (Raccoon Creek State Park, Hookstown, Pennsylvania) I was ready. Pipevine Swallowtail Butterflies hover over the flowers they take nectar from, with their wings beating furiously. It’s difficult, very, to score an image with super terrific wing color. Flew that I’ve seen ever capture striking blues, corals, whites, black.

The road to success in getting exceptional Pipevine color? First you need luck, for your butterfly must be fresh and spectacularly tinted. Then, Ma’am, with sunlight at your back, and morning sunlight (not much later than 10:00 AM, shoot away, not 5 exposures, but . . . say, 50.

Did this image achieve Pipevine Color Amazingness? You tell me!


Northern Pearly-Eye (Enodia Anththedon)


Northern Pearly Eye Butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park in Pennsylvania

Here’s what you get when the lighting is right, your camera light meter provides accurate readings, your timing is good: early morning and all, the wind is at its minimum, no fliers fly by to upset your butterfly, there are no hikers passing by and you are in the wet, rocky, forests that Northern Pearly-eye butterflies prefer.

The best look I’ve had at a Northern Pearly-Eye over those 12 years of shooting that trail. Do I still remember that time? Yes, Ma’am.

Raccoon Creek State Park, Hookstown, Pennsylvania, some 35 minutes west of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Nichol Road trail, alongside a tiny creeklet. One of my favorite of all spots. Missed much, from my new home in Georgia.


That ‘Locally Rare’ Hairstreak (“Gimme An M!”)

White M Hairstreak butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow in Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

These years of seeing thousands of Facebook butterfly posts, kind of jades you to images of the butterflies that y’all post the most. There are butterflies that few post, year in and year out. Those are the butterflies that you and I most search for.

Here’s one that I have only seen 2 or 3 times. This hairstreak is seen alone, never with similar White-M Hairstreaks nearby. It is a bit larger than some other hairstreaks. My own experience is that it favors Goldenrod blooms, just as you see it nectaring on a Goldenrod (Solidago) flowerhead.

If, if it does the rare thing, and moves its wings slightly, your mind goes BOOM! for that lets you see the iridescent deep blue dorsal (top) surface of the wings. Even for that 3/4 of a second, you soon move on, ecstatic, for you realize you have an image of that incredible moment, for what? the rest of your life?

We’re here at Raccoon Creek State Park, in Doak Meadow, in late August. Do I recommend that western Pennsylvania state park? 100% for butterflies, for I’d seen more (way more) than 50 species there, including Goatweed Leafwing, Compton Tortoiseshell, Orange-barred Sulphur, Meadown Fritillary, Coral Hairstreak . . . .


This Magic Moment

Milbert's Tortoiseshell Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

What was it like? Jay and the Americans helped with that:  And then it happened, It took me by surprise, I knew that you felt it too, By the look in your eyes.

I was at the Nichol Road trail, hiking into Raccoon Creek State Park (Hookstown, Pennsylvania). I waded into a stand of Teasel wildflower, and waited by those 6.5 foot flowerheads, waited for butterflies to fly in. With the sky a baby blue, I knew that if I could get lucky, and butterflies flew in, captures of them with the blue sky in the background would be good, very good.

Instead, look, LOOK what flew in. My very first ever Milbert’s Tortoiseshell butterfly. An uncommon, very uncommon butterfly. Look at that glimpse of the upper surface of its forewing! Words cannot adequately describe how beautiful that dorsal  (upper) surface is.

What was missing that morning? You, there with me, to feel it too, and enable me to confirm how magical those minutes were, by the look in your eyes.

Those surreal moments have almost always been solitary ones, and that is how it is. No?


Why Do Spring Azures Do This?

Spring Azure Butterflys at Raccoon Creek State Park

Some of us have come upon butterflies, like these, and watched them do this. Once it became clear that these Spring Azure butterflies were drinking up bird ‘poop,’ our respect for such butterflies usually plummeted. If this sight made you want to know why? Why are they doing this, who is there to ask? Your friends know nothing of this, and zero of them have 1/100 of a second’s interest in it. Your friends with advanced degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Study and even your friend with a degree in Moth behavior either cannot be reached that day, or are unable to help you.

These decades of mine, pursuing butterflies, have taught me of the dearth of information out there for these good questions. In the past I’ve sought feedback from the handful of butterfly experts whose name are known, and always, yes always came up empty, none of them ever responding, not the same day nor a month later. Having been raised on the streets of a very huge eastern US city, this lack of respect, under the guise of we are too busy doing worthwhile more important works, did/does truly not sit well with me.

These Spring Azure butterflies are probably all males. They are sucking up the liquid, white nitric acid released by a bird, released along with its darker colored solid feces. Why are they doing that?

Male butterflies often fly for hours, almost without stop, seeking females. They are driven by the strong internal message: mate. This extensive, very exhausting flying wears out muscle protein. They must insure that their production of muscle protein continues, without stop, for they must constantly replenish muscle protein . . . to continue to fly and fly and fly.

Why the white, liquidy nitric acid? It is rich in the mineral Nitrogen, and nitrogen is needed to synthesize (build) new amino acid molecules, so that those same amino acid molecules can be joined together to form new butterfly muscle molecules.

I used to LOVE teaching high school Biology. I loved it.

Raccoon Creek State Park, Hookstown, Pennsylvania, west of Pittsburgh (40 minutes west of the Steel City)