“This is a Picture of a Monarch when they Used to . . . “

Monarch Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park. Jeff blogs about the art and science of butterflies at http://www.wingedbeauty.com
Not this morning. I just came back into the house, after checking the front and sideyard Common Milkweed plants. Most of the 40 or so flower heads have gone to seed now, and with just 7 or 8 still in bloom, that nagging thought returns.

Back in the house, to my Neumade slide cabinet, I took out all of my Monarch slides, and checked their dates. The oldest of them lacked pencil-written dates, though one from June 2002 gave me pause. June 2002, a female nectaring contentedly on Teasel. Who among us in the last 3 years has been fortunate enough to see that?

My July ‘keepers’ were taken where this image of a female was taken, in Raccoon Creek State Park, just 45 minutes west of Pittsburgh (8 hours west of New York  City). July 12th and 27th, respectively.

My August best were taken in August ’09, ’10, and ’12, and ’14. The Septembers are dated ’07, ’10, and ’14.

I just don’t want to ever have to say to a young, interested child, “This is a picture of a Monarch butterfly, when they used to . . . . ”

Resigned to bad news, no. But I want this winged beauty in my future.


Traffic Picked Up in the Perennial Garden Today

Hackberry Emperor Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA. Jeff blogs about the art and science of butterflies at http://www.wingedbeauty.com

The sun came out today in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Traffic picked up in my perennial garden, so much so that there was double and triple parking going on on popular flower hot spots.

Who showed? Red Admirals came and went, sometimes in pairs. They make you feel so acutely sharp, their beaming red bands enabling split second identification. They stopped and sip nectar on  the anise hyssop blooms, our giant zinnias and on the purple and white coneflowers.

Great Spangled Fritillaries also found parking spaces, especially on the common milkweed, called Liatris (white), coneflowers (purple) and briefly on the magnificent ‘ice’ hydrangeas (Thanks to Joe Ambrogio Sr. for suggesting them).

Cabbage white butterflies flew in throughout the day, seemingly males, barely stopping for a sip of any nectar here or there.

Trimming spent giant zinnia blooms rousted a Striped Hairstreak, either from its perch, or from a nectar interlude.

Silver Spotted Skippers showed off their jet propulsion potential, jetting to the milkweed, coneflowers, hydrangea and surely more. Tinier Skippers, no doubt.

Did not spend the day sitting and observing, so I know that additional others have come by, and hopefully, among them Monarchs. When they come, they’ll not find blazingstar blossoms (a huge favorite of theirs in late summer) because . . . well, groundhogs love blazing star leaves and stems, I now know.

Soon to open and bloom? Mexican sunflower (TY VcL), native cardinal flower (Sylvania Natives, Pittsburgh), false dragonhead (Sylvania Natives), monkeyflower (SNatives), chocolate mint, swamp milkweed (TY BAC) and I hope, I hope, this year clethra.

Am preparing to put in 5 sennas, purchased 2 days ago at sylvania natives, to attract yellow/orange butterflies.

The show has begun here, Folks.


Wow! A Revelation.

Hibiscus Flowers photographed by Jeff Zablow at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA, 7/29/10
This flawless, magnificent Hibiscus bloom was growing at the entrance to the Phipps Conservatory’s Outdoor Gardens in my hometown, Pittsburgh. The earlier post we made, with this same flower, shared that despite alot of time spent posted right there, there were no insect visitors. None, and I was there in the middle morning, when flies, bees, butterflies, beetles and others are at their busiest. Nothing flew or walked or crawled to get the nectar of this stunning giant of a flower.

Recently, a visit to Kathy at Sylvania Natives, a Pittsburgh nursery that devotes itself to selling native plants, led to her recommendation that I read Douglas W. Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home (Timber Press, 2007). It was slow getting into it, then . . . . Wow! The Revelation? It was something that has puzzled me for much of my life. I remember the gardens, carefully coiffured, of the thousands of homes that surrounded ours in Long Island, New York. Green gardens, expansive lawns, few, few flowers, and leaves untouched. 100% of the leaves of those garden cultivars were in perfect form. Nothing missing, not a leaf tip missing. Then too, my own flower garden attracted few butterflies, bees, wasps, etc..

Tallamy explains that those gardens, and much of American suburbia, are planted with alien species that are  foreign to the U.S. His own research concluded that after many, many decades, insects and other herbivores here will not eat most of these leaves and stems. They will not nectar at most of these flowers and will not place their eggs on most of these plants. Sum total of these findings? Gardens without native plants do not attract and nurture our butterflies or our moths or our bees. His plea (it really is a plea) is to begin to intersperse native trees, bushes and annuals amongst our existing ornamentals. When an azalea bush fades, replace it with a native plant known to host our own insects.

Yes, then, this Hibiscus takes your breathe away, but it is alien to our region, if not to the United States. Pennsylvania bees, butterflies and moths do not recognize it as a food source. To my knowledge, no insects lay eggs on it, because it does not register as a food sources for their larvae. There is no re-education for most species of insects. They don’t know it, their genes don’t connect it to anything known to them. Nada. Nothing.

Since that visit to Kathy weeks ago, we’ve planted American Hornbeam (tree), American Plum (tree), Green-headed Coneflower (perennial), Monkeyflower (perennial), Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), and Chokecherry trees in our new garden. Yes, we do find that some leaves are getting munched-on (eaten for our international friends) here and there, but that is natural, the way it was and always will be. A pleasant revelation, even now.


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!!



Great Spangled Fritillary

Great spangled fritillary butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

June 23 at Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania. Hmm. Sitting here in mid-November, would I so like to hop into my Tundra tomorrow morning and drive to see this female Speyeria cybele as she purposefully moves from one Common milkweed or Asclepias syriaca flower to the next. There are many bloggers and Facebook contributors urging us to plant Asclepias in our gardens and lots. This is an excellent initiative. Milkweeds support so, so many butterfly populations. After much time in the field, you are always watchful when you approach a stand of Common milkweed. Why? Because they are a beacon that draws all types of butterflies . . . you never know when a tortoiseshell or a hairstreak or who knows what will fly into those sweetly aromatic blossoms.

Great spangleds are such inspirational  butterflies. You encounter them on trails at the forest edge, in the morning fleeing from the trail edge when you approach. That adrenaline rush, yours!, is a good wake me up! when you reach your photo opp destination. Weeks later you see some of them again, worn, tattered with significant wing damage, but . . . still flying, with their mission apparently still unsettled . . .

Now on the subject of seeking objectives yet unaccomplished, today I completed my second read of Robert Michael Pyle’s Mariposa Road. I enjoyed it as much as I did the first read. No kidding. Pyle’s Big year effort reignited my thinking and I may well shoot for the stars in 2014. Travel. Travel to photograph butterflies that are eye tantalizing and found in very reduced habitat. Of course I don’t merit the large following that Pyle does, but I do have a Big wind to my back . . . the almost overwhelming joy I experience when I find and photograph new butterflies. Then, when I score good to excellent images . . . Kappow!

Tomorrow I open a 1955 book noted several times by Pyle, Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher’s Wild America (Houghton Mifflin, 1955). OMG! What must it have been like, going to undeveloped, unscrewed-up wilderness in the U.S. in the 1950’s. I occasionally find myself trying to imagine Pennsylvania in the early, mid- and late 1800’s. Cougar in the county in which I live. No way!

A little more than 7 months until Great spangled frits fly again in my county, Allegheny. Regals? Diana’s? Yum yum yum yum! as they say . . .