Spicebush Spooks

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in the Briar Patch Habitat in Eatonton, GA

Me? I have several thoughts when a Spicebush Swallowtail flies in.

1) I reflect on how infrequently I see them in the field. I spend much time in “open woods and edges” (Glassberg, Swift Guide to Butterflies of  North America) and I may see one or two over the course of a full morning.

2) They fly in silently, without fanfare, avoid me totally, nectar on flowers with brevity and great shyness, and like C.I.A spooks, do not want to be seen or approached.

3) Their range extends from Massachusetts to Florida to Texas and Illinois and along the northern border with Canada. Strays are reported much to the west and north. Despite such an enormous range, I have yet to meet a single person who adores them or can be deemed ‘the’ authority on this large, handsome butterfly.

4) Few of us share good images of Spicebush Swallowtails. Like an effective ‘Spook’ most view this butterfly as unremarkable in its appearance, and readily forgettable.

I’ve planted a 10′ Sassafras tree in my garden, and  and 3 little Spicebushes, and I hope that these hostplants for Spicebush butterflies brings ’em in, from far and wide.



My Best Dorsal View of a Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Mourning Cloak Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

One of the Comments received asked where our post of a Mourning Cloak butterfly was? That was a fine question.

I remember several opportunities that I ‘ve had over these many years . . . in each case as I carefully, and I mean carefully set up/made my slow approach/check exposure/held my breath (for this may be my, shall I say favorite butterfly) . . . I would watch this magnificent butterfly fly away, leaving me with zero or surely too few images to hope to score a winning image.

Nymphalis antiopa is one of the most beautiful butterflies that I have ever seen, anywhere. When viewed up close in good morning light on one of those days when the sky is baby blue and the air is fresh, the blue, maroon and yellow of the dorsal, that is upper surface are indescribable.

They are seen in March through June, vanish and then are seen again in late August through early November. Adults overwinter.

Shortly after my wife passed, I was on a trail in Raccoon Creek State Park and noticed a large butterfly flying about 30′ above the trail. I watched it go further down the trail, turn and fly back again . . . then it disappeared. I’ve gotten kind of good at following flight, so I was puzzled at how I had lost track of this one, which I now knew as a Mourning Cloak. Moments went by, I remain in place. I suddenly realized that it was on my hat. I remained transfixed. Frozen in place. Then . . . it flew up and up and up and went down the trail, turned, and came back again, still 30′ up . . . and continued on its way. I cried . . .

I love Mourning Cloaks. This image is my best of a dorsal view. Enough.