The Monarch Army Triumphant

Monarch Butterfly on Goldenrod Blooms photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park in Pennsylvania, 9/5/14

Full sun, minimal breeze, and a morning with temps that reached no more than 81 degrees Fahrenheit. Doak field at Raccoon Creek State Park reminded me of a map of the world, with oceans and seas of goldenrod no matter where you looked. This 100-acre gem of a meadow, in southwestern Pennsylvania was a tour de force of yellow, bright, rich yellow.

It was a thrill to see female and male monarchs everywhere. Everywhere! We all spent winter ’15 and spring ’15 fraught with concern. Was Danaus Plexxipus destined to disappear? Would the monarch migration that grade schoolers learn about, become the tale of what used to happen in our cities, towns and counties?

Americans mobilized, and ripped and tore out tired, passion-less gardens, replacing them with new, vibrant beds of milkweeds, zinnias, blazing stars, ironweeds and more. Armies of compassionate gardeners descended on their Audubon Centers, county parks, and native wildflower nurseries, seeking to learn what to plant and how to take in and nurture monarch caterpillars. Facebook swelled with folks sharing suggestions. NABA (North American Butterfly Association) Chat boards lit up with discussions and queries. An Army of lovers of Monarch butterflies materialized.

Well, today in Doak field, I stopped counting Monarchs . . . at 80. Eighty!! Fresh males and females. Skittish to my approach, determined to bulk-up before the anticipated flight to . . . Mexico.

The Monarch Army of Regular and Irregular Volunteers, Triumphant. Virginia, Traci, Barbara Ann, Terry, Kim, Phil, you did it!


Monarchs Archived?

Monarch butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

July 8, 2015 and I have not seen a single Monarch butterfly on the Asclepias Syriaca (common milkweed) in our front yard or our side yard. Not a single leaf of the hundreds show any chewing. Not a caterpillar can I find. The plants were purchased from Monarch Watch. They are affiliated with the University of Kansas and the plants are lush. One of them has grown to a lofty 7′ tall, with a fine looking flowerhead higher than 6′.

This year reminds of 2014, when I didn’t see them until very late August. Those 2014 Monarchs I saw sipping nectar on my Blazing Stars and on Asclepias Syriaca in Doak field at Raccoon Creek State Park.

It’s July and I have not enjoyed a view like this one in 2015. This photo was taken some years ago at Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania. We know how this situation gnaws away at us.

Admission? I find myself thinking how fortunate I am to have more than 20 quality images of Monarchs stored in my Neumade slide cabinets. Then I regret even thinking this unthinkable. What if they . . . ?

Ay, if we could round up Peterson, Edwards, Nabokov, and Audubon and get them over to the mucky mucks in Washington, D.C. to do some heavy lobbying. A dreamer am I.


Monarchs, Come Home!

Monarch caterpillar photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park
What made me stop here? Well, awaiting my 67 new images, shot in Israel in March of this year, I just reviewed my Media library of images. Had to stop at this one. Why?

Like tens of thousands of you, I have, right this very moment, a spectacular stand of common milkweed (Asclepius Syriaca) in my front garden. It has a very good pedigree, having been nurtured by Monarch Watch.  The plants are 5-footers, and the flower heads are just a day or two away from opening. Lush is the operative word.

Every morning, afternoon and evening I take Petra for her exercise time. We stop, I lean over the fence and examine, looking here and there, just as they taught us to at Fort Dix, New Jersey: Scan, scan, scan.

Not a monarch have I seen here. I saw one much farther north, at the Jamestown Audubon Center in New York some weeks ago, and I saw a couple at the Briar Patch Habitat in beautiful Eatonton, Georgia, last week. But none yet in my native US plants garden or in the adjoining Frick  Park (900 acres+).

Yes I am anxious to see them and watch them nectaring on my milkweed. Would seeing their caterpillars excite me? Yuuup!

Monarchs, come home. We need you. Need you to reaffirm that all is good, or almost good.


Queen Butterfly

Queen Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at White Tank Mountains, AZ. Jeff blogs about the art and science of butterflies at

This was a wonderful trip to Southcentral Arizona, just outside and west of Phoenix. My wife (OBM) was Cancer-free and we flew to Sun City West to revel in the good news with her mother. I zipped out of there a couple of mornings and worked the trails of White Tank Mountain Regional Park in search of butterflies.

September 9th is not the ideal time to enjoy Arizona’s butterflies, but this trip was very productive. Our Queen butterfly (Danaus gilippus) sped to these wildflowers and nectared for many minutes. His behavior was more relaxed than the nectaring Monarchs we’ve studied. I had waited nearby for some time, because this wildflower species was among the only blossoms in that dry creek. The butterfly’s slowmo movements as it worked the flowers made my patience pay off.

The sky was a generous blue, the plant grew at attractive angles, and our Queen butterfly was very, very elegant. Queens, like the Monarchs that we see back east, prefer Asclepias (milkweed). I am unable to identify the wildflowers in this post. Can you? Is it an Asclepias?

The trip was such a triumph, after years of battle, but Cancer-free was not to be.


Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly

Spangle Fritillary butterfly photographed at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Isn’t she beautiful? She is busily taking nectar from these milkweed flowers. My experience has been that milkweed and teasel flowers are their most prized food providers.

Great spangled fritillary females are larger than males. They spend less time flying than the males do. Males fly for long, long periods of time, looking, looking for a mate.

The sugars and other foods in the nectar must provide the energy for 20 to 30 minutes of flying. Very impressive.

Those of you lucky enough to have large lots can easily attract lots of butterflies if  you support a small stand of milkweed and teasel.

Those of you who don’t have large lots, make some time and go on a butterfly spotting hike in your local city, county, state or national refuge/park. You’ll see fantastic stuff guaranteed. April, May and June are the best = no nasty biters are about.