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.

Jeff

Friday for Coral Hairstreaks?

Coral Hairstreak Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, PA

This morning at Raccoon Creek State Park set the table for me, so to speak. The huge Doak Meadow (100 acres +/-) was green and lush, with frenetic male Great Spangled Fritillaries flying non-stop in their desperate search for females. I did see two females, but they stayed low to the ground, flying under the upper stratum of meadow grasses, perennials and shrubs.

There was a near total absence of Bergamot (had a big display in 2014), common milkweed plants were in the minority, even dogbane was not as numerous as years gone by. Joe Pye Weed was present here and there along the forest that edged the meadow, but here another puzzling minimal showing. Goldenrod was coming along, but it too appeared to be reduced in concentration.

The big find of the morning were a handful of Northern Pearly Eyes, looking fine, and probably pleased with the rains that we had a few days ago. One Northern, with what seemed like a smile, offered a swell pose, if, if I set my foot into a small puddle. I did, and my boot sank 4″ into mud! Absent were Wood Nymphs, and the Little Wood Satyrs were all (?) worn and very pale in color. One Little Wood Satyr gave me a full, unhurried photo opp of its dorsal surface, but it was quite worn, with heavy scale loss.

Before I called it a morning, I found this clump of Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa). It’s the same group of plants that this image shows. They were a day or two away from opening. The Coral Hairstreak butterfly you see here is usually difficult to find, and these blooms are their very favorite. You know I’m thinking, wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could cop an image of Coral and Butterfly Weed that surpasses this one?

That means returning those 37.2 miles in 2 days, on Friday, June 24th. No guarantees, and if I can return to this spot, it might also mean bringing my tiny folding seat, and waiting patiently for the Corals to show up, if 2016 is a year when they do. There are no guarantees, only perseverance, tenacity,  enthusiasm and . . . a dab of Luck.

Jeff

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

The magic of Butterflyweed flowers! When their flowers open in July the morning sun brings a steady procession of butterflies. Swallowtails, Fritillaries, Orange sulphurs, Coral hairstreaks and Monarchs.

Here our heroine is hungrily nectaring and displaying her stunning blue splashes!

After some 2 hours or so of morning sunlight, butterflies do not fly to the Butterflyweed. The last visitors to these flowers are usually very worn and sport heavily damaged wings.

When was the last time that you saw Butterflyweed? Is is a native or an alien wildflower?

What may explain the complete drop-off of butterfly activity at Butterflyweed flowers at mid-morning?

Jeffrey