Friday for Coral Hairstreaks?

Coral Hairstreak Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, PA

This morning at Raccoon Creek State Park set the table for me, so to speak. The huge Doak Meadow (100 acres +/-) was green and lush, with frenetic male Great Spangled Fritillaries flying non-stop in their desperate search for females. I did see two females, but they stayed low to the ground, flying under the upper stratum of meadow grasses, perennials and shrubs.

There was a near total absence of Bergamot (had a big display in 2014), common milkweed plants were in the minority, even dogbane was not as numerous as years gone by. Joe Pye Weed was present here and there along the forest that edged the meadow, but here another puzzling minimal showing. Goldenrod was coming along, but it too appeared to be reduced in concentration.

The big find of the morning were a handful of Northern Pearly Eyes, looking fine, and probably pleased with the rains that we had a few days ago. One Northern, with what seemed like a smile, offered a swell pose, if, if I set my foot into a small puddle. I did, and my boot sank 4″ into mud! Absent were Wood Nymphs, and the Little Wood Satyrs were all (?) worn and very pale in color. One Little Wood Satyr gave me a full, unhurried photo opp of its dorsal surface, but it was quite worn, with heavy scale loss.

Before I called it a morning, I found this clump of Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa). It’s the same group of plants that this image shows. They were a day or two away from opening. The Coral Hairstreak butterfly you see here is usually difficult to find, and these blooms are their very favorite. You know I’m thinking, wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could cop an image of Coral and Butterfly Weed that surpasses this one?

That means returning those 37.2 miles in 2 days, on Friday, June 24th. No guarantees, and if I can return to this spot, it might also mean bringing my tiny folding seat, and waiting patiently for the Corals to show up, if 2016 is a year when they do. There are no guarantees, only perseverance, tenacity,  enthusiasm and . . . a dab of Luck.


Orange Delight! AKA Winter Antidote IX

Wasp on Butterfly Weed, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park in Pennsylvania

High today in Pittsburgh, predicted to be 16F. Shoveled that 1″ of snow that fell overnight. Truth be told, I need a Winter Antidote, pronto! Opened my 2014 images, and this one is spot on.

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias Tuberosa) was in bloom that 3rd week in July at Doak field (Raccoon Creek State Park, Southwestern Pennsylvania). There were a limited number of these milkweeds, and they were the rich, deep orange that I love. In the morning, they are nectar pumps, and butterflies, bees, wasps, diurnal moths all pay visits to sip sweet nectar, their version of jet fuel.

On July 14th I stationed myself alternately at 2 or 3 of the plants, and waited. The time spent was good. I was not alone much.

Then, “Huh?” This wasp alighted on the blooms. A newbie for me, even after 18 years in the field. Then I saw it. That ½ orange/ ½ black abdomen. Orange delight! The perfect complement to the orange blooms. Beauty in the raw.

Without a field guide at Raccoon Creek, I arrived home to find that this was a Great Golden Digger Wasp. “I beg your pardon?” This type of wasp is found throughout much of the United States and Canada, but solitary and surely uncommon. The adults nectar on flowers. They capture food for their larvae by paralyzing crickets and katydids and then dropping them into their burrows in the ground.

July’s eye candy was painted in a natural orange tone that I love. I long to get back out there.


One? Two? As many as 3?

Monarch butterfly chrysalis photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Robert Michael Pyle’s Chasing Monarchs (this morning’s breakfast read has me on page 91) tells his overland route, as he followed Monarchs on the west coast (US). That journey began in British Columbia, and he’s on his way south, following the Yakima, Columbia and other rivers, following the Monarchs as they leave their summer homes and work their way south to . . . Even then, in the late 1990’s, the numbers of Monarchs in Washington and Oregon was way down.

We have been sharing our dread, that the Monarch population on the east coast (we get quite a few visitors from 83 other countries) may or may not recover. That Monarchs in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and north will not be seen every 10 minutes in May through September. We worry that we may not see a single monarch on a windless, blue-skied day in July. We will look at our roadside milkweed, at the orange butterfly weed in our fields, even at the cultivated milkweeds that we are being urged to plant in our perennial beds and grow increasingly suspect of them. Have they succumbed somehow to pollution, pollution internally, pollution that came from the chemical tinkering that the giant chemical combines have been creating, creating to increase the crop yields on those humongous corporate farms out there.

Me? I’m still skeptical. I want to believe that those monarchs in those giant cedars in Mexico will surprise us again, that all this is cyclical, and that 2014 will be a good year for Danaus plexippus. But, I too am concerned. iPhones, iPads, XBoxes, Clouds. With the constant tsunami of technology that we are in awe of, the flights of winged beauties from Mexico to Maine, from Toronto back to Mexico is sooo comforting. Part of me so wants things to take a breather, slowwww down some. The incredible flight of a monarch female, from Stockbridge, Massachusetts to Mexico gives me comfort, that much is and will remain familiar, even if mysterious.

So, when you work those trails this summer, and search out monarch chrysalises, like this gem-like one, will you find just one? Will you spot as many as 2? Because of your visual acuity, will you be the blessed one and find 3?


Doak Field in Raccoon Creek State Park is a Treasure Trove for Monarch Butterflies

Monarch butterfly photographed at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Our subject is intaking nectar from Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). Mid-morning on July 27th, she is all business and so pre-occupied that we can approach within 12 inches.

Her deep orange is so rich that we are in a swoon. Fighting the milkweed family inner clock, she’s getting the last nectar before these flowers end their daily nectar production.

This 90 acre field in Raccoon Creek State Park is a treasure trove offering protected habitat that elsewhere is increasingly being lost.

So, if it’s July 27th, will she make the trip down south in early September, or will her progeny fly south?

Will they fly to Georgia, Alabama or Mississippi? Where will they begin their flight over the Gulf of Mexico?

I’m still awed by these questions . . . as I was as a grade schooler in Brooklyn, New York. How do they?

Danaus plexippus continues to ground us a bit, reminding us that we do not know everything!

Would butterfly heavyweights please weigh in here.