Who’s Seen A Regal Fritillary?

Regal Fritillary Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, PA

There surely were 30,000,000 or more Regal Fritillary Butterflies when George Washington was President of the United States. That’d be 30 million Regals flying east of the Mississippi River. I have no doubt that they flew in my old neighborhood, East Flatbush in Brooklyn, New York in 1770.

Today, they fly only on 2 military reservations from the Mississippi to the Atlantic Ocean. The first is in central Pennsylvania and the other, is in the State of Virginia. In those places, expansive pristine meadows grow, protected and nurtured by the U.S. military.

I can’t even guess how many Americans have ever seen this handsome butterfly, once found in the tens of millions, and now rare, with perhaps 2,000. eclosed each year.

I’d been determined to see Regals, and when I finally saw them at Ft. Indiantown Gap, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, they were even more beautiful than I expected. Really.

Why now? This Butterflyweed, a milkweed, is now in bloom just about everywhere, and this is the week that Regals Fritillaries make their appearance.


The Excitement Of A Fresh Flight

Edwards Hairstreak Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Lynx Prairie, OH

I’m struggling to count the number of times it has happened to me. How many times have I come up a finite area of habitat . . . with a fresh flight of butterflies aloft? That’s, how many times have I arrived at a destination, to find alot of butterflies, all of the same species, and all very recently eclosed (exited from their chrysalises)?

Magical Adams County, Ohio treated me with a double-header in June 2016. I waded into Lynx Prairie to gape at this Edward’s Hairstreak, spectacular in its reds, blues, gray, white and black as well as dozens of others, perhaps 40 Edward’s about. They were some resting as this one, while others were mobbing Butterflyweed and other wildflowers. I wanted a capture like this one, of the beauty of their Edward’s’ ventral hindwings. I am satisfied that this one accomplishes that.

I somehow managed to get separated from my friends that day. That is not the first time that has happened to me. I’ve quit joining tours in the field, for tour leaders well, hate me, for when I see something that fascinates me, in habitat or in a museum, I get lost in my enthusiasm, and kind of put the tour off schedule, as in “Where’s that guy, Jeff?”

So, very separated from the others in the sizable Lynx Prairie Reserve, I came upon yet another prairie, and OMG!! I found a lifer for me (!!!) a Northern Metalmark butterfly. Then a 2nd one, a 3rd one and soon had seen more than 40 Edward’s Hairstreaks, all fresh and yummy to the eyes.

Lynx Prairie, just miles from the Ohio/Kentucky border drove me nuts! that day, late in June. Two new butterflies for me, and large flights of so so fresh ones at that.

It was a very rewarding Thank You G-d day for me. A very nourishing day for my eyes and a fine adrenaline wash for Jeff. Such days remain long remembered.


The Wait for Butterflyweed

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

My grandson and I reveled in one of the world’s finest stands of Butterflyweed this past June. I revisited Doak field in Raccoon Creek State Park with him, and I told him how much I loved those 2 weeks or so each year when the Asclepias (milkweed) was in bloom. More than that, I told him how this was the first time that one of my grandchildren ever, ever joined me in the field, of how Happy!!! I was to be with him there, then.

Eureka! We found the most luxurious clumps of Butterflyweed that I’ve ever seen, anywhere, let along Doak field in southwestern Pennsylvania. We were there early, very early, and now the wait. We waited for that time, usually around 9 A.M. when the butterflies sense these spectacular blooms, sense that those flowers are set to pump nectar, sugary nectar to support their athletic flight.

We we wait, and wait, and now it was 10 A.M. and few butterflies appeared. 10:45 A.M. arrived, and this is usually the time when no butterflies return to these deep orange flowers. The numbers for those hours? Disappointing.

We discussed how such things cannot be predicted, as this was surely a good example of lush bloom with good history, yielding scant swallowtails, monarchs, fritillaries or skippers. I must share that the usual suspects, Silver -spotted skippers, could be counted on one hand.

My take away? What I know is I must wait to next year, 2019, and hope to again see Coral hairstreaks here, on Butterflyweed.

My grandson, all of 7 years old, understood that day, that flora and fauna cannot be comfortably predicted, that a lesson in and of itself.


American Coral

Coral Hairstreak Butterfly on Oxe-eye Daisy photographed by Jeff Zablow at Lynx Prairie, OH

Discover a bracelet or broach up in your attic, call Aunt Betty and ask her if she remembers Grandma ever buying and wearing it . . . and, if it turns out Yes . . . and it is the color of the coral spots on this Coral Hairstreak, give me a shout. When you describe the jewelry heirloom over the telephone, I’ll ask if it seems to have numerous coral stones on it? Yes? Are they the color of this butterfly’s spots? Yes? My advice will be to call Christie’s auction gallery in New York, New York. During that call, they’ll ask you to provide them with a picture of the broach  (bracelet). If it is as it is, they’ll ask you the provenance, or how can you be sure that Grandma purchased it in Dallas, when, and more. Should you or your cousins or Aunt Betty have a photo of Grandma Pearl wearing the bracelet (broach) in 1937, well that’s good, Very Good.

Christie’s will ask that you ship the broach (bracelet) to them, with much caution. Perhaps 2 weeks later, they will call you, and someone with a very Connecticut sounding voice will tell you that Christie’s would like to include your “item’ in their upcoming March sale of Magnificent Jewelry. Now you are really getting into this, and trying not to sound too anxious, you may ask, “What do you think it’d sell for [at auction in New York or London]?” Have someone there with you when you call, and well, be sitting down, when Ms Connecticut answers, ” We think it will fetch 100 to 200, especially if the room is filled with Chinese buyers.” Now, when you are deflated at this, and respond, ” One hundred to two hundred dollars?” That’s when you should also have prepared an oxygen tank at your side, for the young woman from Westport will pause, and politely say, “No, one hundred thousand to two hundred thousand dollars, and perhaps more than that.”

That by way of sharing that this rich east Asian coral reddish-orange is dazzling, and when we met in Lynx Prairie Reserve in Adams County, very southern Ohio, that was the sweet tale that shot through my mind.

Yes, in the ’80’s I attended such auctions with my wife, and sometimes the sellers are in the large auction room, and it’s too much fun to watch them as the bidders from China, Belgium, Taiwan, Moscow, Dallas, Antwerp, London, New York, Sao Palo and Atlanta begin getting enthusiastic at owning Grandma Pearl’s broach. Some will be in the room, others will be on the telephone, working with gallery associates.

Coral hairstreak, a tiny gem of a butterfly, that LoVeS butterflyweed, and often skips a year or two or more, making it a rather hard to find rarity.


A Very Exciting Meeting with Rare Butterflies

Regal Fritillary Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, PA

The 19 states that rim the U.S. eastern coastline have a total population of perhaps 150,000,000 people. The sole population of Regal Fritillary butterflies in those 19 US states this year probably included 1,200 butterflies, all living in one isolated location at Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, just a short drive from Pennsylvania’s capitol of Harrisburg. Yes, it’s whispered that there may be 1 or 2 remnant populations in Virginia, but that is a well kept secret, if it is true at all.

Busting with expectation, I arrived there on June 10, 2015, ripping to get going, with my 129 fellow visitors. Roughly 20 naturalists awaiting us, and guided us to the prairie grassland in the military reserve. Orientation came first. Jeff: impatient. Then the mass of us drove in caravan to the prairie grassland. Jeff: Can’t wait. We left our vehicles and all headed to the wide-open meadow-like grassland. Jeff: Come on, come on. Soon the group began to separate into smaller groups. Jeff: How in the world will I be able to score images of . . .  with all of these folks around? Finally, it was just me and her, a naturalist. Jeff: Thank Y-o.

Regals were there in good numbers. Most were males, and some were young and fresh. They were sipping nectar hard: on Butterfly weed, an Asclepias milkweed. They were not please with my approach, though some remained in place, anxious to sip their sugary cocktail. The photographer? Transfixed might be a good choice of characterization for my hours there. My 12 years of wanting to do this, absent support from butterfly aficionados, was beginning to pay off.

This male, on lush Butterflyweed, shares his ventral wing surfaces, sooo much shiny white, awash in a bath of oranges and black blacks.

A very rare butterfly, that once flew on my childhood street in Brooklyn, New York, finally rendezvousing with Kid Zablow, in a verdant meadow in central Pennsylvania! So cool!

Jeff . . . Happy Holidays!