That Uplifting Giant

Giant swallowtail butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at "Butterflies and Blooms in the Briar Patch," Eatonton, GA

She flew in yesterday. I spotted her as she spent alot of time first inspecting one of our Hercules Club plants. Satisfied, it seemed, with the vitality of our 2nd year in the ground Hercules Club, she spent several minutes deposits eggs on it, one at a time. It looked like our friendly Giant, Giant Swallowtail butterfly set 3 eggs on this plant.

Planted safely away from her, about 10 feet away, I smiled big time, for it was April 12, and here in middle Georgia, Eatonton, a healthy Giant was in our own yard, entrusting us with her precious eggs!

Did she leave right then? Nope. She spent more than an hour in our yard, searching and finding our other Hercules Club and Hop tree young plants. I think that she left her eggs on all of them. Friday sunset was approaching, so I couldn’t check them all for eggs.

Last year we set several Giant caterpillars in our newly purchased ‘cube,’ and managed to feed them all. I think all eclosed, and were released, to our significant joy and satisfaction.

This whole business of fostering the success of swallowtails leaves you with a very pleased sense. Seeing Mrs. Giant get the process going in the 2nd week of April, here in the Deep South . . . icing on the cake!

Our young Sassafras trees are off to a good start, our Rue is looking strong, Tulip Poplar trees are leafing well, Native Black Cherry look fine, Pipevine are strong, Willows are amazing, Spicebush are making up for a slow start their first year, milkweeds look happy, Plums are reaching for the sky, Passionflower are just now beginning to grow, Pussyfeet putting out good flower, Hackberry trees appear to be healthy . . .  Pawpaw adding inches. Might be that we’ll need to order that 2nd ‘cube.’ Wouldn’t that be fun?

Jeff

Thoughts On Going Back

Georgia Satyr Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in Big Bend Wildlife Management Area, Florida's Panhandle

I learned long ago don’t go back. When your life paths go different ways, don’t go back. Move on to other objectives, for this world provides what. hundreds of millions of them, be they people, pursuits or objectives.

It’s gotten very cool here in central Georgia, and butterflies flew here in the backyard just 2 days ago, Checkered skippers, Cloudywings, Carolina satyrs and others. Looking out this window, I admit that I miss the Monarchs that were here 3 days ago, the Palamedes swallowtail seen in October, the squads of Gulfs all over my natives garden and the exciting singletons including: Pipevinve swallowtails, Spicebush swallowtails, Giant swallowtails, Great purple hairstreak, Variegated fritillary, Long-tailed skippers and dozens of others. This garden that I dreamed of, for what? 25 years or more, has been realized. Dozens of host plants enable to to hope that next year, their 2nd year in, will be Gangbusters!

Why ‘gangbusters?’ When (and if?) my treasured Hackberries, Cedars, Hercules Clubs, Hop trees, Native Black Cherries, Asters, Hibiscuses, Coneflowers, Black willows, Spicebush, Pipevines, Hollies, Milkweeds, Clethra, Pussytoes, Mountain Mints, Sassafras, Tulip Poplars, Crotons, Magnolias . . . Yep, there all in, and if they go through this winter OK, OMG!

Where’s this headed Jeff? Well I scoured our Media Library here on wingedbeauty.com, and I saw images I am proud of, images that I knew are fine, for I knew how difficult it was to capture them, and yes, images like this one of a Georgia Satyr butterfly at Big Bend Wildlife Management Area in the Florida Panhandle. It was late August, and when I got there, sunny, hot and no wind, it was everything that the article in the Spring/Summer 2015 issue of American Butterflies had suggested, loaded with southeastern butterflies.

I was there to expand my bank of good images, and to see new butterflies. Georgia satyrs, “LC” (Locally common) as per Jeff Glassberg in A Swift Guide to the Butterflies of North America, were at the top of my list. They were there, and that side tram, 2 or 3 to be found. They were very docile, and allowed approach (Macro-).

I had on a fine coat of Off! so mosquitoes did not bother me. But, the humidity was brutal, and the sweat was overrunning my headband, onto my eyes and my glasses. I remember thinking that this was Nuts! I had travelled those 4 and 1/2 hours down from Eatonton, for just these moments, and now . . .  I could barely see clearly. If only Gunga Din was there with me, handing me fresh, dry glasses every 3 minutes.

That, and the built-in light meter in my Canon film camera was not working properly. I think I remember laughing there, what can happen next, a Burma python or 11′ ‘gator appearing from the swamp, just 10 feet away? I was on my belly, and disregarding my father’s teaching: Keep your guard up, protect your face, hold your ground.

So I share this image of the Georgia with you, knowing that only the really in-to-it haver stayed, this far into this blog post. Are there schools of thought for ‘Going back?’

I am stoked for 2019, my own garden lighting me up, and the strong inner push to get back there in April 2019, when that NABA article written by David Harder, Virginia Craig, Dean Jue and Sally Jue noted that Georgia’s fly once again. Florida Fish and Game took my call and they looked forward to Big Bend being workable soon, after that terrible Hurricane several weeks ago.

If you’ve read this far, I owe you a large lollipop, for sure!

Jeff

Enjoying Caterpillars

Gulf Fritillary Caterpillars photographed by Jeff Zablow at 303 Garden, GA

Doug Tallamy probably would have relieved my curiosity. He would have explained that I rarely saw caterpillars because I wasn’t searching in the right places. Pennsylvania and New York butterfly caterpillars live on their hostplants. Want to see them? Then you must search for them in the right time, on their hostplants. When Cathy at Sylvan Natives Nursery in Pittsburgh put me on to Tallamy’s book, my horizons busted open: Caterpillars live on and feed on their hostplants, e.g., Monarch caterpillars’ hostplants are the milkweed plants, and Red Admirals’ are nettles.

I just never saw many caterpillars up until July 2017. Butterfly numbers north of the Mason-Dixon Line never exceed a few here and a few there.

When I relocated to Georgia, I planted hostplants in my new garden. Milkweeds for Monarchs; Sassafrass for Swallowtails; Passionflower vines for Gulf fritillaries; Hercules club for Giant swallowtails; Hop trees for those same Giants; Hackberry for the Hackberry butterflies; Spicebush for Spicebush swallowtails; Parsley and Rue for Black swallowtails . . . and several I Hope! – I Hope! – I Hope! plantings of Alabama Crotons for Goatweed Leafwings; Atlantic White Cedar for specials Juniper hairstreaks; Pearly everlastings for Painted Ladies; Pawpaws for Zebra swallowtails and Black Willows for Viceroy butterflies.

What I am able to report now, is that caterpillar numbers can be high, dramatically high here in the Southern USA. I’ve had satisfying numbers of Gulf fritillary caterpillar cats ( shown here on passionflower ) as well as good numbers of Giant swallowtail and Monarch caterpillars. Others that showed include Spicebush swallowtails; Black swallowtails and a single Variegated fritillary caterpillar.

These Gulf fritillary caterpillars were seen by the dozens, and they strip the passionflowers vine until there’s not a single leaf left.

Caterpillars in the southeastern states thrive, and they just thrill this young butterfly fan, daily.

Jeff

Year After Year, For Thousands . . . .

Monarch butterfly (female, tagged) ovipositing, photographed by Jeff Zablow at "Butterflies and Blooms in the Briar Patch," Eatonton, GA

She was fully focused on depositing her eggs on Asclepias plants, milkweeds. The Butterflies & Blooms Briar Patch Habitat in Eatonton has hundreds of these plants, leaving her with lots of good leaf surface to choose from. Only the best for your Monarch butterfly eggs, this September 2016.

Those caterpillars that successfully survive will then develop in chrysalises, and then emerge, as adults, female and male. They will feed furiously for a few weeks, and then, having survived all the rigors and dangers of the wild, take wing and ride to warm air currents, to their winter home. The mountains of central Mexico. My drive to Eatonton, Georgia is 693 miles, and Petra and I arrive some 14 hours later.

The flight of this female’s progeny to Mexico just amazes me. Thousand of miles, usually alone or in small group. No GPS, no maps. That tag on her left hindwing promises to provide future understanding, but we’ll have to wait

Year after year, Mexico to Eatonton . . . Eatonton to Mexico. My major? Biology. What do I think as I watch her eclose? I think, Amazing! Who doesn’t?

Jeff

Hope Rises: A Monarch Reward

Monarch female ovipositing photographed by Jeff Zablow at the Butterflies and Blooms Habitat in Eatonton, GA

I spend several mornings, attempting to score September shots of Monarchs deep within the milkweed beds at the Butterflies & Blooms in the Habitat, in sweet Eatonton, Georgia. As I stood at the edges of those several Asclepias patches, females Monarchs would fly in their meandering way, and then head straight to the milkweeds.

Why? They were laying eggs, one at a time, ovipositing it is called. Wow! Few were the times that they landed at the tops of the milkweeds. Almost all of the successful ovipositing tries were at the inner milkweeds, those within the inner reaches of these plant groups.

What to do? Who would want to have a look at my images, if the entire butterfly could not be seen? Duh!

We have spent the last years fretting. We, hundreds of thousand of us east of the Mississippi River have worried, will this decline in Monarch numbers continue, to the . . . Heaven Forbid! disappearance of eastern Monarch?

I mulled this over, and decided: Take these exposures. This, this is what we have been hoping and praying for, the continued resilience of Monarch populations, in Eatonton, Lilburn, Frewsburg, Oxford, Griffin, Watkinsville, Gibbstown, and Shellman Bluff, to name a few. These females set their eggs, and those that are successful, will fly to the center of Mexico, and overwinter there, in fir trees.

Our Monarch reward, in part for all of the effort, sweat and tears of Monarchmama, Virginia and Lisa and the rest of our Monarch stewards.

A Monarch female, earnest to set her eggs, the product of a strong bull male, and a determined, beautiful female.

Jeff