Ode To Harvesters

Harvester butterfly photographed at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

My English profs would be disappointed in me, if they opened this post and found that I no longer remember what an Ode is. What I do recall is that an Ode was often melancholy, written for something missed.

Well I so miss seeing Harvester butterflies. Those tiny gems that startle you when you see a puddle in the middle of a favorite trail, and at the edge of that puddle you see a geometric form, always the first indication that you have seen a butterfly, usually hairstreaks on a leaf or a very tiny skipper or blue butterfly.

I spotted this one on the Nichol Road trail in Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania. I loved that trail, rich as it was in habitat and butterflies. On that trail I experienced a trifecta, over the years seeing Mourning Cloaks, Milbert’s Tortoiseshell and Compton Tortoiseshell. MY eyes registered something, a triangular shape at a tiny puddle formed. by the rain the night before. What’s that?

I made the most robotic of all approaches, and knew that was something special! I every so carefully got down on my belly (Park vehicles do sometimes use this road!), confirmed Harvester!! and crawled inches closer. Not wanting to spook this Harvester butterfly, I did not make a full approach and I shot away.

The original Pookie, this butterfly is a favorite of field guide writers, for its caterpillar is the only known carnivorous caterpillar in North America.

Ode to Harvesters? Truth be told, I’ve seen 2 of them, on that stretch of trail over the years, I’ve not seen another in some 20 years. Twenty years! I so miss the Rush! when you meet a Harvester.

Jeff

Butterfly Most Likely

Hackberry Emperor Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park in Pennsylvania

You’re working your way along the trail, forest to your right and left. Raccoon Creek State Park, in far western Pennsylvania. The heat of the day is beginning to be felt this morning. Sun is up, and it’s vaporizing the dew still resting on the billions of leaves around you. It’s the summer, and the heat is becoming a factor. Beads of sweat have got to be forming on your forehead, though they are still bearable, and don’t slow you down.

You see her out of the corner of your eye, a slur of comely browns, white, black and, is that cream? Moments pass, as you continue up trail. Then . . . there she is, didn’t wait for introductions, dismissive of personal space, and without concern about your personal situation, and your sense of propriety.

Who is the brazen female, who is now upon you, you a total stranger? The USA butterfly most likely to land on you, a Hackberry Emperor, found in wooded habitat, especially where hackberry bushes and trees are to be found. Maine to California, Miami to North Dakota and to Texas, too.

Did she choose you for your shmeksy! good looks, your come-and-get-me musky takeaway? Your kindness of heart, good deeds or connection with the Almighty? OK, for your really good choice of field get-up?

No, no, no. She’s on you for something else, most likely to score some perspiration salts from the now sweaty neck, or to broadcast her territorial claim to that stretch of trail, or just for the ride. Most don’t understand how fortunate they would be, to travel down the road a bit with you . . . she does. She’s a Hackberry Emperor.

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