Caron 2

Northern Pearly Eye Butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park in Pennsylvania

‘Jeff’s Earrings’ served as my first pick, responding to Caron, she asking what may be my 5 favorite butterfly images. My first photo was shared here yesterday.

Caron 2? For many years Raccoon Creek State Park was my favorite destination. Doak fields there is a more than 100 acre meadow, where after 3 to 4 hours, I usually saw not a single soul there. Perfect! After those hours in the summer sun, I would hike back to my truck. That 3/4 of a mile hike, went along a moist area, with trees on each side. For many years, I would see Northern Pearly-Eye butterflies fleeing ahead of me. They preferred that short stretch of Nichol Road trail, enjoying the dappled shade, moist forest borders and nearby little stream. I scored few shots of them, ever.

This time, about 4 years ago, my eyes searched the low growth of the trail edges. There it was, a very, very fine Northern Pearly-Eye. It was a good size and . . . it held to its leaf.

I so, so slowly made my approach, decided not to cop ‘insurance’ images. I was going in, robotically. I’m pretty sure I had Fuji Velvia ASA 100 (faster) film in camera. I began talking to this gem telepathically, ‘Don’t go, don’t go, Please.’

Pearly-Eye remained in place. I was no down on my left knee. Good. I slowwwwly raised my Macro-lens. Good. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Perhaps 35 or more exposures.

I waited the 2 weeks or so to get my slides back from Dwayne’s Photo. You must remember that day, Caron, for that day you heard a muffled scream of Joy!! when I louped them on my lightbox. Several were worthy of Caron’s List, Yippee!!!

Jeff

Pipevine Color Pop!

Pipeline Swallowtail Butterfly sipping nector on a thistle photographed by Jeff Zablow in Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, PA

Marcie McGehee Daniels posted electrifying images of the 1st Pipevine Swallowtail she has ever seen in her yard in South Carolina. Soon there was alot of activity at her Facebook post. I came along shortly after she put her images up, and remembered to come back later last night, and again this morning. Lots of Comments. Lots of ‘Likes.’ Pipevines peak interest. Butterfly enthusiasts really like seeing them, and spread the word. Traffic picks up, and shares follow. You tell me your Pipevine experience, and I’ll tell you mine.

Why does the sudden appearance of Battus philenor bring so much excitement?

Cech and Tudor’s Butterflies of the East Coast (Princeton University Press, 2005) writes “dazzling,” “open flaunting of bright colors,” “cautionary displays [of hot colors].” This image here pleased me, because the orange is bright, the blues are so sweet, the black is total, and the whites on wing and body are sharp. Catch this ventral (lower) view in good sunlight, real-time, and the result is “Wow!” Capture that on an image, and you’ve done well.

Lucky you are to leave with a fine image of the dorsal (upper) view. A fresh male displays a field of flowing blue on its hindwings that forces another “Wow!” whether you consciously meant to or not.

They fly in directly, while you are busy scanning around the wildflower beds, leaving you little time to anticipate. There you are, suddenly realizing that that is not a Spicebush, not a Eastern Black, not a Black-form Eastern tiger swallowtail female!! It’s, it’s  . . . a Pipevine!!! Your brain calculates that hey Jeff Z, you don’t see many of them, and hey Jeff Z, this one is a beaut!!!! Fresh, strong, very shmeksy!!!!! It’s a rush for sure. Will you leave with 20-30 exposures, and therefore the chance of a Winner or two?

How do you insure that you’re chance of seeing them improves? Virginia’s answer to that: Plant their hostplants, native Pipevines. These medium-sized vines increase the odds of seeing them by alot. Curt gave me a pipevine last year. It came through our frigid Pittsburgh winter just fine. So, you can do that too. Obtain several and train them up a trestle, and Presto! you have more good news to look forward to.

When will a Pipevine swallowtail fly into your personal space? Will we be able to hear your suppressed shout of Joy!? Lots of “Oohing” and “Ahing” making this one of the most Pop! butterflies that I know.

Jeff

I’m Often Asked What I Have . . .

Butterflyweed Wildflowers at Raccoon Creek State Park

Here we are in the middle of Spring 2016, and I’ve been asked over and over again, what I’ve planted and will plant in My Own home garden in Pittsburgh. Established 4 years ago, this once wasteland of a space was renewed, with 3 truckloads of good grade topsoil and 1.5 truckloads of mushroom manure (available here in southwestern Pennsylvania). Distributed, graded and contoured, this was given time to settle in, and then we planted the foundation beds. The front bed is approximately 45 feet by 10 feet, sits behind an iron fence, and on a good sunny weekend day, sees no less than several hundred adults and children pass to and from Frick Park, our next door neighbor. The Park offers the nearby and locally famous ‘Blue Slide Playground’ as well as ball fields, meadows, forest and extraordinary Off Leash Area for dogs. This 900+ acre park is in the city of Pittsburgh. Well maintained, it is heavily used.

Imagine that. Hundreds of people may walk by my front garden on a sunny Saturday or Sunday. I engage some of them in conversation, and I enjoy that alot. Questions are appreciated, and responses are rationed, depending on how much the questioner wants to hear.

So the front garden and the rear side garden share my time and energy.

I’ve gone Native, with much thanks for that to Kathy McGregor of Sylvania Natives and her suggestion, read Doug Tallamy’s book. I did and things changed. I went native, for good reason.

Just a few days ago I was asked to share a photograph of the front garden. I tumbled this over in my mind, and concluded that sharing photographs of gardens somehow seems to not do them justice. Rare the image that produced the beauty of an entire garden.

The front garden, along appropriately named Beechwood Boulevard, features American plum (3), Pagoda dogwood (2), Ice hydrangea (3), False dragonhead (a pleasant surprise), irises (dutch), Milkweed (A. syriaca – Thank you Monarch Watch), Cardinal Flower (Native), Asters (2 different cultivars), Crocosmia (To buck up my Ruby throated visitors), Daffodils, Hyacinths,  Salvia (2-3 types), Giant Zinnia (obtained locally from the greenhouse in Clayton (the Frick mansion)) and Tulips. This year I’ve added: Dense Liatris (Gayfeather ), additional Native Cardinal flower, New Jersey Tea, a Striped Maple (for fun). I have too, 3 painted rocks, created for me by a very talented artist.

The rear side garden is a Big challenge, as I add new plants by day, and Frick Park’s groundhogs, deer and perhaps opossums always remember to leave me a Thank you Note the next morning. Persist I do though, and the garden features 3 Dogwood trees (Cherokee pink), 2 American Hornbeam trees, 2 Chokecherry trees, a Tulip Poplar tree, 2 Hazelnut bushes and 8 bedraggled Pussy Willow bushes (feasted on daily? by deer). In this rear side garden there is the ‘Peanut garden’ with belgian block (AKA cobblestones in native Brooklyn) with Cutleaf Coneflower, Monkeyflower, Milkweed (A. syriaca), Dwarf Balloonflower, Daffodils, Pipevine (Thanks Curt), Tithonia (Mexican sunflower), Liatris, Dill, Mint (Chocolate?) and . . . Anise Hyssop, which No One told me is terribly invasive!! The seeds of anise hyssop have what seems to be 110% success. I also have a side small bed with Senna (Native). This year I’ve added: Shrubby St. John’s Wort, Buttonbush and Native Butterfly Weed ( Asclepias tuberosa, acquired at the Adkins Arboretum in Maryland’s Shore area). I hope my new Butterfly weed grows to be as lush and healthy as the one shown in this image, seen in Raccoon Creek State Park.

Yesterday I watched a very buff looking garter snake (3 feet) happily moving through the front garden. A pleasing sight to anyone who loves their garden and welcomes any and all visitors. So there it is, the sign is out for Butterflies, Bees, Wasps, Moths, Hummingbirds, Birds, Snakes, Earthworms, Fox and yes, Groundhogs, Deer, Opossum, Raccoons and whomever else shows up. Ain’t the Pittsburgh your Grandma remembers.

Jeff

Where Would You Look?

Close up of Red Admiral Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow as it was basking on a trail at Raccoon Creek State Park in Pennsylvania
Today is February 11th in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This Red Admiral butterfly was photographed on August 27th, 2014. I was scouring Doak field for butterflies when this beaut flew in and stopped on a leaf. A real looker this one, sporting those smart red-orange bands, blue dots at the trailing ends of its hindwings, bright orange bands along its hindwing margins and even white tips on antennae. This butterfly is dressed to the 9’s.

“Where Would You Look?” asks a toughie. If you went outdoors today, or tomorrow, determined to find this Vanessa Atalanta, where should you look? To begin, they are common to all eastern US states, from Maine all the way south to Florida. Where in your area are they today, February 11th?

Answer? You’re unlikely to find their eggs, caterpillars, chrysalises or adults. Huh? Almost all the ones you will find in your garden, parks, farms, schoolyards and greenbelts fly up from Southern states in the Spring. Rarely do they overwinter as pupae. They are not well equipped to withstand northern winters. Remember those -9F nights we had this winter? This winged beauty has no adaptation for those temperatures.

You may hesitate to get into your car and drive 14 hours to St. Simons Island, Georgia. The butterflies take their time flying up from around there, but, that is what they do. Route I-95 anyone?

Jeff