Br’er Rabbit, Brooklyn and the Briar Patch

Briar Rabbit statue photographed by Jeff Zablow at Butterflies and Blooms Briar Patch Habitat, Eatonton, GA

Butterflies & Blooms in the Briar Patch II will soon be entering its 2nd year at the Eatonton, Georgia site. Virginia Linch and her band of volunteers, by necessity, had to move this Butterfly wonderland from the other side of town to this new, much larger location. Many, I included, were reluctant to make that move. I’d driven down from Pittsburgh in 2015, 2016 and 2017 just to shoot butterflies there.

Y’all showed sign of tiring of solely northeastern USA butterflies, even with a sprinkling of Israeli, Mississippi and Arizona Leps thrown in. The challenge was how to travel to 7 different Southern U.S. states, and without anyone to guide me, find dozens of southeastern U.S. butterflies. When I came across Virginias’s Facebook page, and learned of the 2-acre Wonder, I visited the Briar Patch Habitat. OMG! Two acres with several hundred butterflies aloft at any given time. Imagine that.

Virginia took this once thriving aluminum factory site, now a brownfield, and converted it into the best butterfly destination this side of the Mississippi River. I’ll not go into how she did it without any significant grants or financial Big Daddy, how they acquired hundreds of hostplants and who/how they got planted.

Br’er Rabbit here, greets you as you enter Briar Patch II. He was hand carved from carefully chosen Florida swamp trees. Joel Chandler Harris’ series of childrens’ books tell the tales of the denizens of the old-time Briar Patch, right here in Eatonton. Written before the Civil War, he writes of the wit and cunning of this Br’er Rabbit, of the challenges presented by Br’er Fox, the lovable lumbering Br’er Bear and the lesson offered by Br’er Tortoise.

How do I know this? Back in Brooklyn, New York, I sat on my Mother’s lap, as she read me the Br’er Rabbit tales penned by that same Joel Chandler Harris. I’m told that I made her read them to me over and over and then again and again. Now when I pull into the Habitat’s Eatonton parking lot, there he is larger than life, Br’er Rabbit, and that evokes the good memories, back up there, some 840 miles north!

This Butterflies & Blooms Habitat will be exceptional in 2019, once those 7.7 million seeds sprout, and they put in an additional 359 hostplants and wildflowers.  Give me a call before you head out, won’t you?

Jeff

Pipevine Color Pop!

Pipeline Swallowtail Butterfly sipping nector on a thistle photographed by Jeff Zablow in Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, PA

Marcie McGehee Daniels posted electrifying images of the 1st Pipevine Swallowtail she has ever seen in her yard in South Carolina. Soon there was alot of activity at her Facebook post. I came along shortly after she put her images up, and remembered to come back later last night, and again this morning. Lots of Comments. Lots of ‘Likes.’ Pipevines peak interest. Butterfly enthusiasts really like seeing them, and spread the word. Traffic picks up, and shares follow. You tell me your Pipevine experience, and I’ll tell you mine.

Why does the sudden appearance of Battus philenor bring so much excitement?

Cech and Tudor’s Butterflies of the East Coast (Princeton University Press, 2005) writes “dazzling,” “open flaunting of bright colors,” “cautionary displays [of hot colors].” This image here pleased me, because the orange is bright, the blues are so sweet, the black is total, and the whites on wing and body are sharp. Catch this ventral (lower) view in good sunlight, real-time, and the result is “Wow!” Capture that on an image, and you’ve done well.

Lucky you are to leave with a fine image of the dorsal (upper) view. A fresh male displays a field of flowing blue on its hindwings that forces another “Wow!” whether you consciously meant to or not.

They fly in directly, while you are busy scanning around the wildflower beds, leaving you little time to anticipate. There you are, suddenly realizing that that is not a Spicebush, not a Eastern Black, not a Black-form Eastern tiger swallowtail female!! It’s, it’s  . . . a Pipevine!!! Your brain calculates that hey Jeff Z, you don’t see many of them, and hey Jeff Z, this one is a beaut!!!! Fresh, strong, very shmeksy!!!!! It’s a rush for sure. Will you leave with 20-30 exposures, and therefore the chance of a Winner or two?

How do you insure that you’re chance of seeing them improves? Virginia’s answer to that: Plant their hostplants, native Pipevines. These medium-sized vines increase the odds of seeing them by alot. Curt gave me a pipevine last year. It came through our frigid Pittsburgh winter just fine. So, you can do that too. Obtain several and train them up a trestle, and Presto! you have more good news to look forward to.

When will a Pipevine swallowtail fly into your personal space? Will we be able to hear your suppressed shout of Joy!? Lots of “Oohing” and “Ahing” making this one of the most Pop! butterflies that I know.

Jeff

Southern Dreamers: Miss P and Me

 

Georgia Butterflies & Blooms in the Briar Patch habitat friend, Jeff Zablow and his happy sidekick, Petra taking a moment to enjoy the day. (photo by Virginia C. Linch)

Georgia Butterflies & Blooms in the Briar Patch habitat friend, Jeff Zablow and his happy sidekick, Petra taking a moment to enjoy the day. (photo by Virginia C. Linch)

Petra and Jeff, happily enjoying the wonder that is the Butterflies and Blooms in the Briar Patch Habitat, right in the center of Eatonton, Georgia. April 2016, watching the volunteer crew from the nearby Ritz Carlton installing new features to this amazing butterfly destination, smack in the middle of this welcoming Georgia town. Just 1.25 hours east of Atlanta, Eatonton is the home of the writer of the Br’er Rabbit childrens’ books, that my mother read to me when I was a tyke, sitting on her lap in faraway Brooklyn, New York.

We are all smiles because this is our 2nd year, visiting the Briar Patch Habitat. We know that Eatonton and nearby Lake Oconee are for real, welcoming, friendly, genuine, law-abiding and aiming to please. Sounds a bit stuffed with feathers? Sorry, this boy and his dog have been around the block so to speak, and the Putnam County locale is all of the above.

Virginia and her volunteers created this butterfly destination from an abandoned, hardscrabble brownfield. It is now extensive beds of native wildflowers, chosen because they do it! They are 1) butterfly hostplants, nourishing fast-developing caterpillars 2) flowering plants that serve as nectar pumps for hungry butterflies, juicing them up with the requisite sugars & proteins that they need to thrive, fly and look shmeksy! to meet and greet new partners and 3) small and tall trees that offer blooms, shade, escape from predators and night roosts. On a sunny morning, hundreds, yes hundreds! of butterflies arrive . . . and that continues off and on through the day.

Petra (Miss P sometimes) my black Russian, loves this place, and did well (very well) on the 692 mile drive down and back. Truth be told, she loves Georgia.

Want to learn more about this unique destination? Virginia will be very happy to hear from you at Butterflies & Blooms in the Briar Patch on Facebook.

Jeff

The Challenge of Photographing Zebra Swallowtails

Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow in Eastern Neck National Wildlife refuge, MD

Where were the Zebra swallowtails? We arrived at the Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge nice and early. 8:30, 9:00, 9:30 A.M., lots of different butterflies, but no Eurytides marcellus. Weren’t we going to be treated to the thrill of seeing these strikingly beautiful butterflies here on the unique Delmarva peninsula?
10:15 and then, here they come! One, two and finally a third Zebra swallowtail appear, as if they arrived together. I think that they did come in, the 3 of them at the same time together.

It’s special, when Zebras are there. Then comes the challenge. Photographing them. They just don’t cooperate. Either they’re keeping a distance, or they’re nectaring, with wings moving furiously, befuddling you. How to get a good image of these gems, when they won’t stay still?

They were at the northern extreme of their usual range, and easily reachable from Silver Springs and home in Pittsburgh.

Neither Zebra swallowtails or their host plants, Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) are believed to be native to the United States. Good, because when they show up, it’s a game changer!

Jeff