That Danaus Look

Plain Tiger butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Mishmarot, Israel

Plain Tiger butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Mishmarot, Israel

Danaus plexippus won’t disappoint us. We know they won’t. As I’m writing, they are flying north, now hundreds of miles distant from their winter perches in fir trees in central Mexico. Virginia can expect to see them before I do. Barbara Ann, hours north of me, may well  see them before I do. Miriam may see these Monarchs first, but my turn will patiently come.

What do the statisticians report? That 94.81% of Americans love Monarch butterflies, and will stop what they are doing to marvel at one. The results are not yet available for Europeans, Canadians, Asians, Africans, Central and South Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, and the French (because they are in the News today).

This instant Danaus, nectaring on a Middle Eastern thistle flower, almost instantly identifies as a Monarch relative. Like our other U.S. Danaus butterflies, the Queen and the Soldier, this Plain Tiger butterfly (D. chrysippus) is large, bright orange with broad black borders flecked with prominent white dots, and black veins. Head and abdomen are striking, with sizable white dots set on a stark black background. Hostplant? Israeli milkweeds.

Monarchs will tolerate my approach when they are nectaring, but not when they are resting, or sunning on a flat leaf in the pre-9 A.M. hours. Plain Tigers? No approach is tolerated. I see a beaut!, decide that a shot from ground level would produce a Wow! . . . approach, s-l-o-w-l-y get down on my belly, do that basic training crawl to get closer, s-l-o-w-l-y raise my Macro-lens . . . Gone! Sped away, full throttle! Time and time again.

Know then that this, and several other looks at D. chrysippus, give much much satisfaction. Yes.

Jeff

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.

Jeff

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???

Jeff

42 Rolls & Not One Of Them X-Rayed = Yay!!

Meliteae Phoebe butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Mishmarot, Israel 

Hi! Shalom! Buenos Dias! I flew in yesterday morning, to JFK International Airport, from Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel. Four (4) weeks in Israel, including my First Passover there, ever. Rachel and Uri were the perfect hosts, and Hillel and Boaz were Too Much Fun!!

My field work took me to the uppermost Golan, Metulla, Ramat Hanadiv and the meadows that surround Mishmarot (north of Tel Aviv and Netanya). The butterflies and wildflowers amazed. Blessed by a wet winter, the land was a blankets of reds, purples, yellows, blues, whites and combinations of them. That nectar overload was accompanied by great flights of parparim (butterflies). Sun abounded, and the trails were magically emptied, I hope that done to increase my success with my trusty Macro- 100mm/2.8 Canon lens.

I saw several of these Phoebe Fritillary butterflies, though not yet sure if any can match the shmeksy! good looks of this guy.

I went with a large cache of unexposed film, and I Happily report that I succeeded in securing “Hand Checks!!!” for all of my Fuji film, at train stations, twice at Ben Gurion and twice at JFK airport in New York!!! Most of you have no idea how that slows you up at Security stations, and how earnestly ‘they’ try to convince you that their subatomic particle shooters will not “harm” your film. Nope, not even willing to risk an iota of chance that whatever I caught, will please y’all.

Today those Fuji rolls ship to Kansas, then they are returned and the slides spend several  weeks at Rewind Memories for scanning . . . then I cull, cull, cull, and hopefully soon, very soon, let’s see what we’ve got for you to see.

Jeff

Flying to the Middle East . . . Me And Gilbert O’Sullivan

Aricia Agestis butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow on Qedesh trail, Israel

My flight on Tuesday, March 28th fast approaches. I have yet to put a single thing in my suitcase. Usually earning B+’s for packing, collecting my field clothing, leisure clothing and Sabbath clothing, along with lenses (Macro- and Wide-angle), and 48 rolls of Fuji film, and toiletries, and shoes, boots and on and on, remains a significant challenge for me. I do have my Israel field guide handy, and hopefully Rachel has my preferred map book there in Israel, waiting for me and my Hertz rental. No GPS for this guy, so set in his . . . .

My first ever Passover in Israel, spent with Rachel and Uri and my 2 grandsons, and extended family. Imagine a table full of folks, with every man there having been in uniform, and most having experienced action in 1 or more wars?

After a year of gently suggesting to butterfly enthusiasts in Israel, wouldn’t you be pleased to join me on your favorite trails and in your favorites butterfly destinations, I must admit that I am alone again, naturally. Know then that when I safely return, and no war has begun  while I am there (that happened to me twice, once in the ’80’s (‘The Lebanon War’) when I arrived with my wife and 4 children, only to find that war broke out while we were in the air!), every butterfly and wildflower I share will be a small miracle, and just years of honing my butterfly strategies.

Rachel learned to cook from her Mom A”H (“OBM”) and Dina, her mother-in-law (now more like a mother) is an excellent cook, so there’s much to be appreciative of.

This Aricia aegistis sweetheart was found on a trail that Dina’s sister Miriam recommended, the Qedesh trail in the norther Galilee, just some 2.5 miles from the Lebanese border, and murderous Hezbollah, with its menacing store of thousands of rockets (why would anyone point thousands of rockets at their neighbor? I never have, have you?).

I’ve struck out trying to urge my many friends to schedule this trip with me, and see the Christian sites that were revered in Sunday school. For some it’$ money, for others it’s the “danger” though there is none, and I shop for fruit in Druze villages! Others have trips planned to other spots. What I would not give to share a trail in the Golan, with . . . . . . . . . . I dare not name names, for I love y’all too much.

So I fly on March 28, and return on April 25, G-d willing, and we will not post any new blogs, I think, until my return to Pittsburgh. Fly there with me in ’18 and win a free . . . . (Hmmmm.)

Jeff