Mobbing the ‘Wall’

People viewing Gold-Bordered hairstreak butterfly at “The Wall,” photographed by Jeff Zablow in Mission, TX

Sure, it’s been 25 years since I began searching for butterflies, in and about Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. 99% of the time I work by myself, and 99.673% of the time I had no one to point me to where to find the butterflies I sought.

I found them when I found them: Harvesters, Meadow Fritillaries, Compton Tortoiseshell, that Gulf Fritillary in the Outdoor Gardens of the Phipps Conservatory, those 7 or 8 species of Hairstreaks, that Leonard’s Skipper and the gorgeous Milbert’s Tortoiseshell and that fresh Tawny Emperor.

My friends back a few years ago invited me to join them at Mission, Texas, on a trip to the National Butterfly Center!! That was a trip that I cannot ever forget. I met dozens (DozenS!!!) of new butterflies there, and at the ‘Wall.’ set in and around a lovely home development.

This is the scene there, when someone spotted a very rare butterfly, no doubt visiting from Mexico, Mexico just some 3 or so miles away. Their cell phone network was set afire, and folks kept coming, speeding to this spot and dashing from their cars to not miss the OMG! hairstreak butterfly.

They ALL had long lenses. Me? I shoot with a Macro- lens (Canon 100mm/2.8). They minimally greeted me, stayed grouped as you see here and seemed mesmerized by the rare butterfly, but indifferent to the rare new visitor from Georgia (via Pittsburgh/Long Island/the mean streets of Brooklyn).

True be told. I was told, some minutes later, that when I crouched and robotically approached this bush, that I jeopardized the chance of the dozens who were then on their way there, reduced the chance that the hairstreak would be there for those desperate dozens, the chance to add this one to their life list. Told that I was seen as “Selfish.” Ouch!

I think it’s best for me to revert to what I’ve always been, a lone wolf, searching, seeking, hunting for images of fresh, beautiful and rare butterflies.

There are several of you out there who are Fantastic to work trails with, and I long for renewed field foraging with those best of the best! Barbara Ann, Angela, Mike, Phil, Curt, Rose & Jerry, Dave.

Jeff

MadMan Butterfly

Milbert's Tortoiseshell Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Where’s this going? I was just scrolling down the more than 1,000 images saved in our media library, when I came upon this one. Instant hot memory.

I’m at the long walk to the entrance to the extraordinary Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A world class arboretum. The long promenade walk to the entrance is lined with hundreds of Tall Verbena. I’m there because the sum total of tens of thousands of blooms lining the walk draw scores of butterflies, they coming from the outdoor gardens and the surrounding Schenley Park.

Just like that, !!, this Milbert’s Tortoiseshell butterfly flies in. I’m startled!!! I don’t see a Milbert’s for what, 8 or 9 years or more? This one is fresh, fresh.

I’m working with my Macro- lens, and the Phipps staff Frown upon anyone stepping foot in the beds.

I’m lit-up with excitement. Buzzed with joy! Like OMG! Boy from Brooklyn meets Super Star Celebrity!!!! Got the picture?

Alone? No. Dozens of people are passing by, to and from the Phipps entrance. Dozens.

I must have looked like a possessed madman, if they had bothered to notice.  Take it or leave it, I’m bouncing around like a monkey, my face Buzzed with a capital ‘B.’ The large number of folks walking by, unaware. Totally unaware that a very uncommon butterfly, one of America’s most startling and beautiful, was just 6 to 10 feet from them!!!!

It occasionally changed its flower. They were oblivious. I was stunned by this surreal scene. Me monkeying, they passing, passing the madman, not pausing to ask, “Excuse me, why are you . . . ?”

This thing I do is often the other side of surreal, Caron, Mary, Phyllis, Deb, Angela, Barbara Ann, Leslie, Cathy, Phil, Melanie, Laura, Virginia, Kenne, Deepthi, Nancy.

Jeff

If You Were A Hungry Bird . . .

Gray Hairstreak butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA, 7/11

Let’s go with the “If” thing, something that we normally steer away from doing (i.e., If I had million of dollars) But let’s do it here.

If you were a bird, happily habituated in Schenley Park in the center of Pittsburgh, and it was a sunny July morning with blue skies, and you did your normal Park crawl-flight and flew into the Outdoor Gardens of the Phipps Conservatory but, come to think of it, you’ve eaten few insects this morning, and even fewer seeds…. So the sun is heating up the Gardens, you’re a hungry bird, say a Cardinal, or a Mockingbird, or a Blue Jay. Hungry, thirsty, hot sun . . . and there you see it! A tiny morsel of yummy food, with a pair of long antennae, a pair of deep red eyes, each fitted with a black eyeball, a pair of gray wings . . . Our bird becomes a deadly predator, pause, prepare, Strike!

Biologists and naturalists for more than 100 years have positioned that the posterior end of Hairstreak butterflies, as with this Gray Hairstreak, have come to resemble the anterior end of the butterfly, especially when these Grays methodically move the “tails” in a alternating motion. Why, they offer? Because of what often happens next.

The bird strikes, the Gray begins to flee, and the butterfly survives, but remains ‘bird-struck.’ That is, a bit of the ends of both hindwings have been bitten off. Can it fly still? Yes, seemingly with little loss of flight agility. Will the end of the hindwings regrow? No. But, can it reproduce young? Yes, as long as it can convince prospective mates that it is still shmeksy!

Better to be bird-struck . . .

Jeff

Summer Azure

Summer Azure Butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow in Phipps Conservatory Outdoor Gardens, PA

I try to be at the Outdoor Gardens of the Phipps Conservatory as early as 8:30 AM. When I succeed at doing that (its 2.3 miles from home), I park, prepare my camera, and ready myself. Film loaded (Fuji slide), blousing garters on (a precaution – the same ones issued to me by Uncle Sam = they are among the best made things ever), 5-6 rolls of slide film at the ready, I enter the gardens area.

All that done, off I go. Who are among the first greeters waiting for me? Celastrina Neglecta. These pookies, as Michal would call them, are like the sirens that drew sailors to the rocks, only to be crushed. Why? We already have lots of images of Spring Azures (Celastrina Laden) and Celastrina Neglecta, but I want even better ones. So, for 0.05 seconds I debate the use of precious film to seek 10 to 20 shots of this darling. You see the result.

August 21st and here’s the best of that lot. Wingspan of 1″. Wherever I happen to photograph, there are never other people. When others do happen to come along, wherever I may be, Phipps, National Wildlife Refuges, Toronto, wherever, I watch to see if they have a look at the butterflies that flee from their path. They almost never do. Almost all people neglect to stop and examine these tiny Azures, so dainty and so finely marked. Nor do I see curiosity about the commas, red-spotted purples and other butterflies that also avoid giant soles of shoes as they come crashing down on trail. I am amazed to this day that more folks don’t want to savor the beauty that is within reach.

Like the elderly street-minders in Chinese cities, the Azures insure that you pass their stretch of trail safely, and then pass you off to the next trail monitor. You’re not alone on the trail from as early as March, through September.

Jeff

 

Cabbage White Butterfly

Cabbage White Butterfly at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh

For many of us this is the first and last butterfly that we see each year. We watch them fly in our neighbor’s yards, across ballfields and along the storefronts downtown. Do you ever wonder how those first 2 or 3 (200 or 300?) first came aground in these United States? Was that event in Massassachusetts? Virginia? South Carolina? Rhode Island or New York?

Our male has been bobbing from one Zinnia flower to the next, enjoying the nectars of the Outdoor Gardens at the Phipps Conservatory. Given little attention by most naturalists, these white and black beauties come to grow on you. Focused, hardy and seemingly unpalatable as their wings are often intact–how do this petite butterflies manage to so deftly handle their business?

Tomorrow and the next day you’ll likely see several in flight. Perhaps they are worth giving some thought to.

Jeffrey