Heinz Ketchup and the Phipps Conservatory

Gray Hairstreak butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA, 8/25/10

Here we are 3 days into Spring, and Pittsburgh thermometers read 38 degrees F, plus or minus. Most of the U.S. shares the same mood, popularized by those Heinz TV commercials, not long ago. A..N..T..I..C..I..P..A..T..I..O..N, there awaiting the tasty ketchup, born in this city and consumed nationally, and here, the retreat of wintry cold weather, and replacing that, beautiful moments like this one, Gray Hairstreak butterflies, nectaring peacefully on tall verbena perennials, Outdoor Gardens of Pittsburgh’s Phipps Conservatory…one of the greatest botanical destinations in the world.

Verbenas are native to the U.S., though I’ll need feedback as to the origin of tall verbena. We’ve pictured this garden favorite several times before, noting how it is so easy to grow, produces flowers from June to October, and PUMPS nectar for just about that whole time span. Oh, and it is pretty, quietly, elegantly  pretty.

Strymon melinus is also a native butterfly, and it’s found across most of the United States. When fresh, like this instant one is, it is a gem, offering any who will lean in to examine it, a richly red patch with built-in black spot, against a fashionable gray fedora colored background, complemented by that tri-colored post median dash line, and those tails, those tails that often are moved this way and that.

The tail thing is fascinating. We see hairstreaks like this Gray, with birdstruck hindwings. Birdstruck? Some time in the last several days, a bird or mantid or lizard has attacked the butterfly. Concluding that the tails and red patches (with black dot = eyeball?), twitching this way and that, are the nutritious head, thorax and abdomen, the bird strikes! What does it often get? Just the posterior ends of the hindwings. The butterfly loses a bit of hindwing, but retains 90% of its ability to fly…so it goes on to live…

Heinz Ketchup, Yummy. The Phipps Conservatory Outdoor Gardens, Yummy. Gray Hairstreaks, Yummy. Spring and all of the above? Right, around, the corner.

Jeff

Fabriciana Niobe Philistra (Protected) (Mt. Hermon) … 1 in 5,000,000,000,000 ?

Melitaea Persea Montium butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow on Mt. Hermon, Israel, 6/16/08

Wonderful! A working image of this rare, protected butterfly on… Mt. Hermon, at Israel’s northernmost border. He was not approachable … until he spotted these groundcover blooms on the mountaintop. So irresistible their aroma must have been, for he sped to these blossoms, and spent precious moments on each, taking in the sugary nectar.

This is another image that I am sharing, taken in June 2008. I had experienced a life-changing personal loss months before, and my daughter had relocated from Washington, D.C. to Tel Aviv. As I planned to visit her, I pushed myself to go for it, do something radical with my camera. Eran Banker was contacted, and off we went from Tel Aviv to … the peak of Mt. Hermon! Quite a few of my photos from Mt. Hermon can be seen here on wingedbeauty. Never, never will I forget that trip. Eagles flying by us as we took the lift to the mountaintop, butterflies like this one, found nowhere else, a landmine (where there were not supposed to be any), OMG! views of Syria and Lebanon, the cattle, grazing 7,000 feet plus on the mountaintop, and the knowledge that we were being watched, surveillance was watching us.

A rare Fritillary this one, flying May through July, on a mountain that you and I cannot visit because of a certain civil WAR, in  Syria.

Jeff

Watching for Monarchs!

Monarch butterfly photographed at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Monarch butterflies are on the mind of millions of Americans these days. Especially those of us east of the Rocky Mountain divide. Were the experts correct, had the monarchs wintering in Mexico nose dived to not 500,000,000, but way down to 33,000,000. Was the winter in those Mexican mountains, in the states of Michoacan and Mexico, free of lethal snow and ice storms? Were the monarchs able to bulk up on nectar in the wildflower fields abutting their roosts? And the follow-up Big question, Are they now in Texas and Louisiana

I have nearly completed Four Wings And A Prayer by Sue Halpern (Vintage Books, 2001) and it was a really good read. I know so much more about Danaus plexippus than I did before. I did not know much about Monarch Watch or Journey North, both serious websites, working to monitor, track and understand the Monarch phenomenon.

If Texas and Louisiana serve up good weather, lots of Asclepias nectar and much luck, Monarchs descended from this female you see here will mate, produce viable eggs, caterpillars and chrysalis and that new generation will head north to . . . US! Yippee!

Who amongst us, here on wingedbeauty, is not anxious to see that first monarch, flying in as beautifully as they do, to our town, garden, city, park, acreage? With our lives so complicated nowadays, who won’t bust-out with Joy! when that happy moment arrives in May, June or July? I mean the list is endless: Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Arkansas, Illinois, Florida, Georgia, West Virginia, Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Kansas, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island,  Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, New Jersey, all most of Canada. Have I missed any?

Jeff

Will 2014 Deliver Monarchs?

Monarch Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

It’s February 3rd, and your blogger has shoveled his home for the 2nd time today. Snow. It is beautiful and evokes such beautiful memories when we see a fresh coat cover all that we can see, everywhere. It also dings our memories in another way. February snow reminds us that changes will soon come. The 8 new pussy willows planted outside our window are now sporting yummy, fat leaf buds. We hope that they will open, and that their lush green leaves will bring Mourning cloak butterflies. Trudge back into the house, take off your boots, and daydream of the time when the snow is Gone, and mourning cloak eggs are (Please!) laid on the undersides of those sweet green leaves.

That leads me to my related daydream. Will 2014 deliver? Will it be one of those years that defies all of the nervous tension that has spread among naturalists of the U.S. and the rest of the world. Will 2014 return goodly number of Monarch butterflies to the northeastern U.S.? Will the fantastic migration of Danaus plexippus butterflies launch millions from Mexico, up through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, up to Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, New Jersey, Virginia, Rhode Island?

Will we enjoy that great puzzle, that never gets completely answered, How do the Monarchs do it. No other North American butterfly does it so well.

I see a great initiative amongst home gardeners to plant Ascelpias, the genus that hosts Monarchs. Let us hope that that alone is telepethied by the Monarchs in those Mexican redwoods, and that they fulfill the dreams of millions of their human admirers.

Jeff

A Man Can Dream….

Arizona arroyo habitat photographed by Jeff Zablow at White Tank Mountains Regional Park, AZ

Forgive me, but at this very moment it is +/- 14F here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with flurries occurring here and there. The cars moving outside my windows are doing so tentatively, and many of those drivers are driving through the snowy boulevard with much apprehension.

Skipping through our images poised for posting here, I HAD to stop and soak in the warmth, or actually the heat shooting out from this enticing scene, in an arroyo in the White Mountains Regional Park, 25  minutes or so southwest of Sun City West, Arizona. Umm, umm, umm! We are observing this spot at 9:30 in the morning during the first week of March, in 2008. The winter that had just ended was an unusually wet one, and in the 90 degree morning, the wildflowers blanketed the Park.

It was a good morning for observing butterflies, a good morning for drinking in the diversity and beauty of this wonderfully arid region, and it was personally a very good morning for me…very recently widowed.

Very soon, we and much of the rest of the United States will see this frigid blast end, and we will dream of arroyos, and bogs, and trails through sylvan woods, and just as we see here, wildflowers…everywhere.

Jeff