Home or Away?

Red-Spotted Purple butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Leroy Percy Park, Hollandale, MS, 9/08/09
This morning I photographed at Raccoon  Creek State Park. I set the odometer on the Tundra. 37 miles, exactly. It’s Memorial Day, sunny, no wind, and the morning was seasonably comfortable, with temperatures hovering in the 60’s at 10:30 AM. The trail was all mine alone, save for one hiker and 5 on horseback. 3 and ½ hours of enjoyment. Enjoyment fueled by swallowtails, duskywings, azures, skippers and of course, one butterfly that was totally a mystery, and, did not stick around long enough for me to ID it.

The Tiger swallowtails made the morning. The came down from the trees between 9 and 10 AM. They were males. Fresh, smallish males, richly colored. Each of them flew down. Down, not around, and set out wings to bask and warm in the morning sun. They allowed my approach and I took maybe too many exposures…thinking, book cover opportunity = go for it. Fuji film, you remember, so they must go to Kansas and return for me to see.

Days ago I was in Rock Hall, Maryland, on the beautiful, lush Delmarva Peninsula. Dave and Bill, volunteers at the Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, helped out, offering suggested nooks and crannies to explore. 3 pleasant nights at the Mariners Motel in Rock Hall, then the 6 hour drive to Pittsburgh.

This stunning Red-spotted purple butterfly closely resembles the one I watched up in that American holly tree. Both were seen very far from home. Comes the question? Home or away?

We have a comfortable and growing number of people who view and follow wingedbeauty.com. I cannot say if they care whether my images are obtained in my home county, or 927 miles away in Hollandale, Mississippi. I greatly appreciate you all, and Love each and every visit you make.

There aren’t many who photograph butterflies and blog their work. One or two others do so all over the map. They post their finds from Texas, Colorado, California, the Florida Keys, the Jersey Pine Barrens, Alaska, and ….

This would be great fun, though it comes with great expen$e, airports, rental cars, motels and long, long rides. All this alone. Robert Michale Pyle and others do so, but the rub (for me) is that they have earned the friendship of so many authoratitive friends it seems almost everywhere, and when they set a destination, they have at least some assurance that time, place and conditions add up to probable success. And there is the human factor, friends to see, experiences to recall over home cooked meals, camaraderie on trails.

So I am presently weighing Home or Away? Do I perservere within a radius of 100 miles of my Pittsburgh home, or fly the now less than friendly skies, to share rare, little known butterflies flying in America’s holdout wildernesses? Add a final ingredient. I eat gluten free, necessitating that I take along a stash of food from our East End Co-op and Whole Foods (Bless them both).

Jeff

Horace’s Duskywings Coupling

Duskywings Indelicata photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek Park, PA, 5/05/08
May 5th on Nichol Road trail in Raccoon Creek State Park. I almost missed seeing this. Male and female, after completing their appraisals of one another, now successfully coupling. Minutes went by. They remained motionless.

Provide butterflies and all other creatures with undisturbed habitat, fostering the host plants their caterpillars feed on, and the nectar or alternative food (scat, fruit, sap) that nourish the adults, and they will replenish their numbers. No need for corporate, or volunteer or government intrusion. Just don’t destroy the land they call their home, don’t indiscriminately release pollutants to the air and water, and … voila! generation after generation of amazing and beautiful butterflies.

No instruction manuals or how to videos, or coaches were to be seen. Vital, necessary behavior, after the ravages of a long, hard winter of zero degree temperatures.

Jeff

18,000,000 Wait . . .

Monarch Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

April 20th, 2014, and 18 million Americans wait. Additional tens of millions of naturalists and esthetes around the world wait, too. They wait to see if this beautiful moment will again be seen in fields and flowery margins from the Rocky Mountains east to the Atlantic coast. Will Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) return from Mexico and decorate flowerheads, like these Wild Bergamots (Monarda fistulosa)?

My estimates may be too low. Almost every American child learns about the incredible migration of Monarch generations from the mountains of central Mexico to Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, New York, Connecticut and Maine. When their schoolteachers assure that these seemingly delicate butterflies actually do make the trips, children internalize a lesson: Determination and sticking to the task lead to reward and success.

Critical trees continue to be illegally and legally cut on those Mexican mountains, genetically modified crops and other agricultural initiatives that reduce the milkweed plants that Monarch caterpillars require, and untimely frosts and storms during the migration north all jeopardize the Monarchs of 2014.

I will also add Common  Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) to my own garden, adding to the millions of gardeners in the USA who are planting them to support Monarchs.

I just have to believe that they will return, and flourish, and return back to Mexico in September…and savor that moment, when at Raccoon Creek State Park I turn my head and Yes! A Monarch!!

Jeff

 

If You Were A Hungry Bird . . .

Gray Hairstreak butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA, 7/11

Let’s go with the “If” thing, something that we normally steer away from doing (i.e., If I had million of dollars) But let’s do it here.

If you were a bird, happily habituated in Schenley Park in the center of Pittsburgh, and it was a sunny July morning with blue skies, and you did your normal Park crawl-flight and flew into the Outdoor Gardens of the Phipps Conservatory but, come to think of it, you’ve eaten few insects this morning, and even fewer seeds…. So the sun is heating up the Gardens, you’re a hungry bird, say a Cardinal, or a Mockingbird, or a Blue Jay. Hungry, thirsty, hot sun . . . and there you see it! A tiny morsel of yummy food, with a pair of long antennae, a pair of deep red eyes, each fitted with a black eyeball, a pair of gray wings . . . Our bird becomes a deadly predator, pause, prepare, Strike!

Biologists and naturalists for more than 100 years have positioned that the posterior end of Hairstreak butterflies, as with this Gray Hairstreak, have come to resemble the anterior end of the butterfly, especially when these Grays methodically move the “tails” in a alternating motion. Why, they offer? Because of what often happens next.

The bird strikes, the Gray begins to flee, and the butterfly survives, but remains ‘bird-struck.’ That is, a bit of the ends of both hindwings have been bitten off. Can it fly still? Yes, seemingly with little loss of flight agility. Will the end of the hindwings regrow? No. But, can it reproduce young? Yes, as long as it can convince prospective mates that it is still shmeksy!

Better to be bird-struck . . .

Jeff

Heinz Ketchup and the Phipps Conservatory

Gray Hairstreak butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA, 8/25/10

Here we are 3 days into Spring, and Pittsburgh thermometers read 38 degrees F, plus or minus. Most of the U.S. shares the same mood, popularized by those Heinz TV commercials, not long ago. A..N..T..I..C..I..P..A..T..I..O..N, there awaiting the tasty ketchup, born in this city and consumed nationally, and here, the retreat of wintry cold weather, and replacing that, beautiful moments like this one, Gray Hairstreak butterflies, nectaring peacefully on tall verbena perennials, Outdoor Gardens of Pittsburgh’s Phipps Conservatory…one of the greatest botanical destinations in the world.

Verbenas are native to the U.S., though I’ll need feedback as to the origin of tall verbena. We’ve pictured this garden favorite several times before, noting how it is so easy to grow, produces flowers from June to October, and PUMPS nectar for just about that whole time span. Oh, and it is pretty, quietly, elegantly  pretty.

Strymon melinus is also a native butterfly, and it’s found across most of the United States. When fresh, like this instant one is, it is a gem, offering any who will lean in to examine it, a richly red patch with built-in black spot, against a fashionable gray fedora colored background, complemented by that tri-colored post median dash line, and those tails, those tails that often are moved this way and that.

The tail thing is fascinating. We see hairstreaks like this Gray, with birdstruck hindwings. Birdstruck? Some time in the last several days, a bird or mantid or lizard has attacked the butterfly. Concluding that the tails and red patches (with black dot = eyeball?), twitching this way and that, are the nutritious head, thorax and abdomen, the bird strikes! What does it often get? Just the posterior ends of the hindwings. The butterfly loses a bit of hindwing, but retains 90% of its ability to fly…so it goes on to live…

Heinz Ketchup, Yummy. The Phipps Conservatory Outdoor Gardens, Yummy. Gray Hairstreaks, Yummy. Spring and all of the above? Right, around, the corner.

Jeff