The Butterfly of the Shadows

Northern Pearly Eye Butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park in Pennsylvania

Along favorites trails we keep our eyes alert for butterflies that fly the forest edge. When the weather forecast fails, and clouds that shouldn’t, do appear, its drats! Butterflies almost universally prefer sunny to dappled sunny locales. Bring dark clouds, and butterflies disappear, as quick as that.

When it’s cloudy, or dark or slightly drizzly, there’s a strong temptation to no longer remain alert for random butterfly flight. Years of working trails has taught that when you are moving through moist wooded habitat, or habitat with active streams or moderate wetland, it’s important to not succumb to dropping your attentive radar, for  with wet conditions flanking your trail, chances are good that you will note these beauties, Northern Pearly-Eye butterflies.

Northern Pearly-Eyes are difficult to make approach to. They flee approach, not with jet-like speed, but just as effectively, as they fly their low, looping flight, and just about vanish from sight.

This magnificent Pearly-Eye was seen on Nichol Road trail in Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania. It was to my right on the trail, and the forest that began at trail edge was poorly lit, and humid.

I kept asking the Ab-ve to allow me to get my Macro- lens close to this one. It looked handsomely fresh. I approached, robotically. It held the leaf. Closer again, it remained. Slowly lowered my left knee onto my Tommy knee pad, it was still there.

I love this image, now one of my favorites. A butterfly that when seen looks bland, now revealed to be very shmeksy! when you close the distance from Pearly-eye to Macro- lens.

When I occasionally revisit this image, Oh, how I  appreciate the many features that it shares, so easily.


Petra Is 7 Today!

Jeff Zablow and his dog, Petra photographed by Jenny Jean Photography

Jeff Zablow and his dog, Petra photographed by Jenny Jean Photography

We’re now 28 hours back home, that long drive up from Eatonton, Georgia. This Petra’s 8th trip to the fabulous Piedmont region of central Georgia. Lush, green beauty filled with wildlife. That and the Joy! of “Hellos!” “Good Mornings!” “Thank You’s” “Excuse Me’s” “How are you doing today’s” and a delicious plate of so many more sincere greetings. Very inviting, those.

We visited the Butterflies & Blooms Briar Patch Habitat many, many times, Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge and Hard Lake Creek Spate Park. On the very last day, my trusty 100mm/2.8 Canon macro-lens refused to focus, and well, that was that. Yummy Zebra Swallowtails, that Virginia captured so well.

Petra loves to travel on long trips, and is a pleasure to take along. Although I struggle to nap, when I can, she enables easy, trouble-free sleep in those North Carolina-Virginia-West Virginia rest areas.

Today is her 7th birthday, my Black Russian. Petra? She thinks she’s three, and still a bust-out pup!

Happy Birthday Petra!!


Found: A Clay Pond ‘Flasher!’

Common Wood Nymph Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in Clay Pond, NY

There are things that fascinate us, and drive us to plumb their meaning. Some many years ago, in the meadow surrounding Raystown Lake in Pennsylvania, I saw Common Wood Nymphs with spectacular baby-blue eyespots on the forewings. After some minutes, this small pod of Wood Nymphs disappeared, and I could no longer shake them out of the meadow grasses.

I will never forget that morning. Those wing ‘eyes’ tore at my imagination. Why were they so different at this lakeside habitat? ‘Eyes’ so large, so comely blue?

Seems on an earlier trip to visit Israel, I brought with me my copy of Robert Michale Pyle’s book, The Thunder Tree – Lessons From An Urban Wildland (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993). Nearly three weeks ago, after finishing a couple of mystery novels that Rachel had on her Mishmarot bookshelf, I spotted The Thunder Tree, left there by . . . me. I picked it up, and began a re-read that continued on my April 25th El Al flight, and well today, bells and whistles started to go off. Pyle describes how, as a high schooler, he noted the variety of Wood Nymph eyespots along his beloved High Line Canal in what is now Aurora, Colorado. He shares:  “One day as I picked my way through the Sand Creek glade, watching out for the poison ivy whose leaves were as shiny as the cottonwoods,’ I spotted a pale female wood nymph and gave chase. She took cover in a clump of willow and disappeared on a trunk of her own color. Large and perfect, she was invisible with her wings tucked down. Then, disturbed by a fly, her forewings spread, revealing the big, cowlick eyespots that gave her subspecies the name bo-opis, or the ox-eyed wood nymph.” What does Pyle attribute this broad variety of eyespots to? “I concluded that all of these Peggies [Wood Nymphs] belonged to one big plastic species with a lot of latitude for expression, a theory later confirmed by better scientists than I . . . . I showed, to my satisfaction, that wood nymphs escape predation by flashing their big blue eyes . . . .”

Two years ago, Barbara Ann introduced me to Clay Pond in very western New York state. In the wet meadow that surrounded the protected pond, I flushed out this stunner of a Wood Nymph. Would you look at those forewing ‘eyes!’ Mind you not quite baby-blue, but huge, prominent and encircled by hot! yellowish rings! The very kinds of in-your-face butterfly beauty that Pyle and I both find, well startling, enchanting, extraordinary and a bunch more.

Once every so many years I meet such Wood Nymphs again, and it electrifies, Truth Be Told.


2nd Dibs At Rare Butterflies?

Levantine marbled white butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow at Mt. Hermon, Israel

Jackpot! is how I felt when the very rare cousin flew to this wildflower. This tiny nectar pump of a bloom must have delivered enough nectar to keep this Parnassian there long enough. Long enough for me to shoot her out, and earn several good exposures of her. There at the peak of Mt. Hermon, with my hired guide, I relished these moments, knowing how much I wanted to see and photograph Parnassius mnemosyne. If I had found one at all, I would have expected it to be a male, for male butterflies are much more active then females, most spending 91.83% of their times flying, searching for hidden female suitors. That she came out when I was nearby, well, that was super terrific.

Doesn’t it take some reckoning to accept that she is closely related to swallowtail butterflies? More akin to a tiger swallowtail butterfly than to a cabbage white? How’d I get to the only place in the Middle East that P. mnemosyne can be found? A long drive up a mountain road that twists and turns, some of them nearly 90 degrees cut out of the mountain, and then a cable car ride up the mountain, challenging my, lets’s call it concern re: heights, and then a long hike across the peak of Mt. Hermon, arriving there on this arid peak, in 93 degree heat and unrelenting sun. And there was that land mine that Eran found, right where we were tracking butterflies.

Just back from Israel 6 days ago, this 2008 memory reminds me that we who search for butterflies, birds, darners, moths, cats, martens, snakes, . . . . probably all weigh a question. That question is: Though I have seen this Very rare butterfly some years ago, and copped some good images, . . . why is it that I keep thinking that I’d like to see her again? Is there any sound reason to search for her, and see her, again?

In this case the peak of Mt. Hermon looks down to the carnage of . . . Syria. A guide would again be needed, and even so, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) closes the mountain top to us, as necessary, and often without warning. Further in this case, there is the ‘icky’ knowledge that if you could return there, say 12 days ago when I was on the mountain, you would have been under near constant surveillance by the IDF, the UN, and Syrian, perhaps Russian, perhaps American and perhaps Iranian, and perhaps ISIL and perhaps Salafist . . . . Risky? All to see Parnassius mnemosyne and 10 or 11 other protected butterflies???