I Prefer Females

Tiger swallowtail butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park in Pennsylvania

I managed to get there early, very early. The road to Raccoon Creek State Park, that 36.8 miles drive, took me through downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, through the Ft. Pitt Tunnel, and then through miles of what’s known as “Parkway West 376.” That morning I sailed through the entire route, with hardly any need to slow down or come to a total stop.

Parked my Tundra truck at the Rte. 168 entrance to the state park, and hiked Nichol Road trail, my favorite stretch of park. It was still not 8:30 A.M., and I’d already seen male Eastern Tiger Swallowtails flying at full speed along the trail. It’s been decades since I began photographing butterflies, and time has taught me that most male butterflies are not worthy of the time it takes to approach them, and then chase after them. What’s their rush? They spend 95% of their time flying fast, searching for receptive females. It’s a fool’s errand to chase after them, hoping in vain that they might stop for a moment to rest.

Then there she was! Resting as females do, she on a natives plant, just 3 feet or so above the trail margin. She was spectacular. She was in no rush to leave that perch. I prefer photographing female butterflies. They are often gorgeous and they dislike wasting time and energy, flying desperately here and there, as those males do.

At this point in my work, spotting a fresh, undamaged female butterfly is cause for a smile. They often agree to pose, are less likely to bolt, and their rich beauty means I might score a wonderful image.

A winged beauty, willing to model for you and me.

Jeff

What Am I Shooting For?

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

I smile when I look back on those first what?, 10 years of photographing butterflies. Film was cheaper then, Fuji Velvia slide film. Processing the exposed film was less expensive, and scanning too didn’t break your budget. I went out on a typical morning, and returned home with 10 or more rolls shot. I just about chased and photographed any butterfly that I found.

Nowadays, things have changed. My film is very expensive, processing and scanning the slides has also become more expensive. I have also changed. I no longer follow or stalk butterflies that are worn or bird-struck. When I see a spectacular Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (female) or an OMGoodness! Question Mark, I pause, gather my thoughts, and move on. My sizable collection of slides happily includes excellent images of same. Once in a while, I wonder what will happen to that collection, that includes many rare and declining species?

I’ve also given up on waiting for the Butterfly cognoscenti (how do I explain that to y’all?) to come along and visit. As on the streets of Brooklyn, back with ‘them,’ no names. That puzzle awaits I don’t know what.

What, then am I shooting for?

I’m now near ready to share that. I continue with the same energy and anticipation this 2019 . . . for us. For me and for you. I want to find and capture on film the finest, freshest butterflies. They must be of excellent color and form, male and female, if we can determine such.The color of my work must be exactly as it looks in the field, real-time. Film continues to be used worldwide because the color it delivers accurately reveals true field color. More than 25 years in the field confirms that. I shoot rolls of 36-exposures, and cull those slides out, usually keeping 2 or 3 per roll, at the most.

Once Katie Funaki has scanned them, I want you there, and me here, to pause for a sec, and whisper, “Wow!” Then, me? I hope you think G-d has really created boundless beauty.

This Northern Pearly-eye Butterfly met me at Raccoon Creek State Park, in southwestern Pennsylvania, USA. That about 380 miles west of where Benjamin Franklin printed his newspapers.

Jeff

The Grand Central Station Wildflower

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

Official? Not yet, but Butterflyweed certainly ought to be the official Grand Central Station wildflower. For those 37 or so years that I lived in my native New York City, Grand Central Station, in the heart of New York, New York (Manhattan) was a building, whose cavernous main hall was, well, breathtaking! Huge beyond the meaning of the term, you knew it was heavily ornate, but by the time I moved from Long Island, much of its beauty was either covered over, or covered with decades of grime. People by the thousands hustled and bustled and ran to catch trains. It’s been rejuvenated since I left, cleaned and restored.

Butterflyweed is the wildflower parallel. Gorgeous when it’s in bloom, as it is here in Doak field last year, late June, at Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania. It’s the kind of plant that flourishes one year, and is nearly absent the next.

Here in western Pennsylvania, or in Angela’s Adams County, Ohio, or in Barbara Ann’s far western New York or in Virginia’s Butterflies & Blooms Briar Patch Habitat in Eatonton, Georgia, they light up meadow or a garden. My own experience with them, irregardless of where I’ve seen them, is that they. like Grand Central Station, remain unvisited, until sometime around 9:45 A.M.-ish, butterflies and bees appear, without apparent signal, and the butterflyweed is mobbed by flying animals: butterflies, bees, wasps & flies. Twenty five minutes later, all visitors have left, and the flowerheads are quiet again.

This is the very best place to find Coral Hairstreak butterflies, those tiny winged beauties that like young starlets or young models or aspiring Amherst grads, arrive at Grand Central Station shortly before 9:00 A.M., and. within minutes are all gone, off to wherever.

Butterflyweed is an Asclepias (Milkweed) and Monarch caterpillar thrive on it!

Consider it for that sunny, slightly moist spot in your natives beds.

Jeff

It’s A . . . Banded

Banded Hairstreak Butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow in Raccoon Creek State Park

There are many things that you just don’t see too many times in your life. For me that includes Presidents of the United States, National Football League players, and red heads with green eyes.

I have seen very rare butterflies on the peak of Mt. Hermon, Diana Ross in that elevator, and my children graduate from universities. Black Widow spiders, Kirk Douglas, wild boar, Eastern timber rattlesnake, and many grandchildren.

I’ve seen this butterfly, the Banded Hairstreak two times these 25 years, this one in Raccoon Creek State Park, 45 minutes west of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and another two in a city park in Toronto, Ontario. They fly where there are oak trees and hickory trees, and they are solitary butterflies and for sure, uncommon.

Their blue and orange spots sing, and their tune is one I wouldn’t mind, some more times.

Jeff

Those Amazing White M’s

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

Buckeyes? 4,206. Monarchs? 728. Pearl Crescents? 2,009. Gray Hairstreaks? 265. Erato Heliconians? 1. Cloudless Sulphurs? 433. Northern Pearly-Eyes? 48. Meadow Hairstreaks? 15. I’ll skip down to the  butterfly at hand, the White M Hairstreak butterfly (Parrhasius m-album). In these 24 years of seriously searching for butterflies, I’ve seen 3.

All of the White M’s I’ve seen have been found in Doak field in Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania. That’s about 8 hours west of New York City.

I’ve been on the lookout for them the entire time, especially when I am working meadows bordered by oak forests. The last one I saw had to have been about 9 or 10 years ago. Glassberg’s A Swift Guide to the Butterflies of North America has them “LR” in their northern range, and that makes some sense, for the range map in that field guide shows Doak field at the very northern limit of their flight. Now that I’m living in Georgia’s Piedmont, he cites them in the U.S. south as “U-C,” Uncommon to Common.

So know that I am going out this 2019, a lot, and when I see strong stands of oak, I time and time again, am going to have White M Hairstreaks way up at the top of my look-to-find mental List, along with Goatweed Leafwings, King’s Hairstreaks, Hessel’s Hairstreaks and Diana Fritillaries, along with side orders of Milbert’s Tortoiseshells and Compton Tortoiseshells.

Hiding Go Seek with Amazing M’s!

Jeff