Yes to Both Questions . . .

Tawny Hackberry butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA
We see fewer and fewer Tawny Emperor butterflies at Raccoon Creek State Park. A recent email from someone who monitors the insects of Pennsylvlania included the Tawny amongst the rare and uncommon butterflies. I hope this is not the future for this brown masterpiece. Most encouraging is the abundance of its hostplant, Hackberries, tree and bushes.

I’ve shared this image with many groups of adults and children. Question #1 usually is, “Is this a moth?” No, it is a butterfly. Prominent head, relatively slender body and antennae (the plural) consisting of a pair of long stems with a club at its end.

Question #2 often expresses curiosity about those antennae. We have 2 eyes, 2 ears, 2 nostrils. Our Tawny has those 2 antennae. What do they do? Robert Michael Pyle’s National Audubon Society Field Guide to Butterflies ( Alfred A. Knopf, 2012) writes that “Antennae are probably used for smelling as well as for touching and orientation.” The antennae seen here are quite long, each with a whitish club. Looking at these antennae, see how their length enables them be aware of what is going on around them.

So ‘Yes’ to both questions. If you have an additional question, “A female or a male?” The answer to that one is . . . it is difficult to tell the sex of a Tawny, unless of course you are another Tawny.

Jeff

Entry Forbidden

Cattle on Mt. Hermon, Israel photographed by Jeff Zablow, 6/16/08

Winter is all but forgotten. Good. My struggle with Winter 2014 was supported by some excellent, heavily recommended books, written by butterfly notables and other naturalists who long ago had earned their position amongst those of us who savor and seek wildlife conservation. I read Wild America, Mariposa Road and Nabokov’s Butterflies, Chasing Monarchs, Four Wings And A Prayer . . . UPS just delivered Blue Highways yesterday, as I was completing Mariposa Road for the 3rd read.

What adventures they had. How rich and beautiful was much of what they found. All this was so daunting for me, reading how they received the support of legions of friends and admirers wherever they went. They were pointed to potentially rich habitat destinations, increasing their chances of scoring rare, threatened, nearly extirpated butterflies. They were often fed, housed and entertained by those who wanted to share tales, and time and memories with them, in their comfortable homes and in local, sometimes unheralded eateries. So they laughed, and imbibed local beers, and set out on many early morning field assaults with experienced, savvy friends. This can make the rain, the cold, and the missed opportunities a little less annoying.

Well, most of us have not earned such a status, and did not begin those kind of careers early in life. Oh, what must it have been like to do what we do now, when we were in our muscular 20’s?

What  I did not come across in those valued reads was this. A place, the peak of Israel’s Mt. Hermon, that was almost teaming with rare, little known and protected butterflies! See, I held back, but just now could wait no longer, and used the frowned upon exclamation point – because that’s how strongly I feel about what I enjoyed on the mountain.

So yes, I always travel alone, never shoulder to shoulder with someone who shares my gusto for all this, or brings deep gravitas to this field work.

Then, too, those  extraordinary writers did not write about this species of situation: Entry Forbidden. Bloody carnage going on in Syria, the background in this photograph taken in 2008. The Israeli Defense Forces turn away naturalists who want to travel the mountain. Stray rockets, mortars and other ordinance have made this very spot way too dangerous, and with many of the world’s terrorists nearby, any trip to find additional rare species on the wing . . . may, only may be possible in the decades to come.

I will  travel to this Golan region very soon, but can only view Mt. Hermon from its base. Pity.

Jeff

Upsetting . . . Very Upsetting . . .

Leonard's Skipper Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

March 27th and the USPS letter carrier delivers our latest issue of NABA’s American Butterflies (Vol. 21: Numbers ¾). Titled The Conservation Issue . . . I looked forward to reading about the successes that butterflies were enjoying across the United States That did not happen. Most of the articles left me upset and saddened.

Ann B. Swengel writes of the challenges that grass skippers were encountering in their tall grass prairie habitats . . . but soon she was examining the status of Regal Fritillaries in those same grasslands. I’ve wanted to photograph regal Frits for years now, knowing how limited they are in my home state of Pennsylvania. For various reasons, that has not been accomplished, yet. Jeffrey Glassberg reports in that same issue of American Butterflies, “Regal Fritillaries [were last recorded in Westchester County, NY] in 1975.”

Then Jeffrey Glassberg discussed the disappearance of Leonard’s Skippers from Westchester County. “The last individuals were seen in 1988.”  The last 2 colonies known were decimated by 1)a musical festival that apparently pounded them into the ground and 2) the construction of townhouses that destroyed their habitat.

I will never forget my encounter with Leonard’s Skipper (Hesperia leonardus) in 2006. We’ve posted that experience earlier, so you are welcome to have a look. It was September 4th, sooo late in the season to meet something 100% new . . . and she was stunning! She flew onto the trail cut through the 100 acre meadow at Raccoon Creek State Park, in southwestern Pennsylvania. She posed with her lush wings fully spread. After lots of exposures, she fled.

These reports are very upsetting. Have the small populations at Raccoon Creek State Park . . . undergone . . . I don’t want to think about it.

The American Butterflies articles go on to discuss the absence of Silver-bordered Fritillaries, Meadow Fritillaries, Coral Hairstreaks . . . can we not anchor the butterflies that we have, and guard their habitat?

Jeff

Yesterday’s Story . . . Demise of . . .

Darner butterfly in spider web photographed by Jeff Zablow at Rector, PA, 8/22/05

The morning at Powdermill Nature Reserve was happily beautiful. This birding research station, part of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, spans several thousand acres in the lush Laurel highlands of Pennsylvania.

The summer night had been humid, and dew covered almost everything. I had come to photograph butterflies, but I knew that spiders were now present in good numbers, and the expansive webs of argiopes were numerous.

This was a sad sight, though. An Elisa Skimmer (Celithemis elisa) had flown into an argiope web the day before, and this morning remained very much dead, covered with dew, and as with so many things, gave me pause, and made me sad. Why the demise of this magnificent creature saddened me? Beauty and grace on the wing…no more. Just it’s name, Elisa. Such an aptly named darner (dragonfly, if you wish). Once you’ve experienced death within your personal circle, death becomes ….

My copy of National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders notes that Elisa skimmers are “widely distributed…but seldom becomes abundant.” Here we are reminded that wild populations have many outside forces that insure that they rarely become too numerous. Those childhood concerns that this spider or that silverfish or those flies will take over the world overlook the complexity of this amazing planet.

Jeff