This Spring’s Feast of Colors and Welcomed Arrival of Butterflies

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly resting on a leaf photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

The perennials, bushes and trees in our 1-year young 800 Macon Garden are budding out now. Many are looking spectacular, including irises, Joe Pye, Sassafras’s, Clematis, Asters (many, many different asters), Buttonbush, Hibiscus, Liatris . . . . Senna are on order and will soon be delivered. Mountain Mint is doing its quick spreading thing (and we are pleased with that). Lindens and Hackberry trees look robust, Hercules Club new leaves have superb color . . . Butterflies have begun appearing, especially male Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies.

This enjoyable ‘wave’ of pleasing green, the flowers that have opened so far (Chokecherry, Chokeberry, Alabama Croton) have primed us for the 50,000 Azalea blossoms that will open this coming week. Soon the irises will open, and the Turtlehead too, and the many, many coneflowers, tradescantia, Brickellia, Florida Dogwood . . . .

The excitement for us is way up, the feast of colors that is being prepared and the welcomed arrival of flights of butterflies all remind of the infinite beauty of G-d’s Creations.

With Passover and Easter approaching, all of this so buttresses us, after the last, remarkable year. Look again at this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly. How Beautiful is this meticulously crafted butterfly, she, G-d’s gift to us all?

Raccoon Creek State Park, southwestern Pennsylvania, some 8 hours from Grand Central Station in New York, New York


I Photograph Butterflies

Gray Hairstreak photographed by Jeff Zablow at Fort Federica, Saint Simons Island, GA

It’s frustrating to watch sylvan habitat lost to development. I’ve been bemoaning the loss since as far as I can recall. That must have begun when I was some 12 years old, and fine ‘bay-side’ land was invaded by bulldozers in the Arverne Section of Rockaway Beach, in New York City’s Queens. I roamed those acres before the ‘dozers came, and their loss, even for a wide awake 12-year old, was forever irreversible.

We didn’t travel at all, and I had no idea how vast the United States were. Pre-teen me thought that soon there’d  be nothing left between Brooklyn and Los Angeles (where many of my friends ended up moving to).

It sure may well be that I still retain that apprehension that butterflies and orchids (didn’t know about natives back then) and bumblebees and darners and such will disappear, on my ‘watch.’ It’s true that back in about the 4th grade, in Public School 244 in Brooklyn, my teacher told us that bald eagles, beavers, and mountain lions would all be gone, during our lifetimes. I’ll never forget that, for it was clear that I’d never even get a chance to see them, except for those sad, forlorn captives in the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn.

So there I was celebrating the losses sure to come, of so much, including plants and animals that were then unknown to me: wildflowers, trees, snakes, lizards, birds (I still hate knowing that the Ivory Billed Woodpecker is lost), bison, the Eastern Timber Wolf, the Regal Fritillary Butterfly that flew where my East 58th Street, Brooklyn house stood, when the British and Hessians marched through there, as they prepared to make their pincer attack on New York, New York.

I am thrilled to go into the bush to find and photograph butterflies. They are still flying, and often in good enough numbers to dissuade me from believing my 4th grade teacher.

There are way too few of us, who seek and shoot butterflies, but that’s what we are doing, and will seek to continue to do. My move, 2 years ago to central Georgia’s Piedmont region pleased me, for there I’ve seen so many new butterflies, some of them in my own yard, it, now busy with hostplants whose siren aromatic signals draw butterflies that we greet with Oohs! and Aahs!

I photograph butterflies, as for example this spiffy Gray Hairstreak.


Red River Valley & Those Red-Banded Hairstreaks

Red-Banded Hairstreak butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at "Butterflies and Blooms in the Briar Patch," Eatonton, GA

The backstory here goes back to Brooklyn, me as a boy, a pre-teen enduring a less than happy existence, truth be told. A release, an important one was the radio. I cannot recall home many hours I listened, safely inside away from there asphalt, concrete and brick that was my milieu day in and day out. Hours, countless hours with my radio sweetly bathing me in Paul Robeson (Old Man River), what I think was Dixieland (that I heard like one million times, and that nearly got me into Big trouble, for I loved to whistle, and sometimes when I was teaching in New York City and in Pittsburgh, I’d realized OMG’ I’m whistling Dixieland in my Big City classroom, or in the school halls during passing!!) and Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Coming . . . . My favorite of them all? Red River Valley, which I must have heard one billion times, and sang aloud too many times to count.

I survived the streets, grew up, still singing, whistling those loved songs/tunes. The irony of all this was not lost on me. But . . . Where was the Red River Valley, and why wasn’t I there? Why did I grow up where I did, why was my early association with Them preordained?

In 1962, me and a friend hitchhiked from Binghamton, New York to Miami Beach, Florida. We must have been dumber than stumps, for once we entered ‘the Deep South,’ as soon as we opened our mouths, my poor boy from Brooklyn and his rich boy from Westchester, New York tagged us as prospective troublemakers! Not! We reached Miami Beach, and I was not lynched after I left that Greyhound Bus Station in that town in South Carolina. How was I to know that I misread the sign on that mens room door??

I’m now a resident of Eatonton, Georgia, to the puzzlement of my own family and friends. Why Daddy? Why? Those country tunes sung to my heartstrings. I tired of carrying that huge folding knife those 4.5 years of riding the subway to and from college. I must have always wanted acres, sun, trees, civility and butterflies.

I just did research using Google. I listened again to Red River Valley, sung in turn bye Gene Autry, Eddy Arnold, Connie Francis and Chris Isaak & Steve Nicks. The lyrics vary some, but this sticks:

Then come sit by my side if you love me, Do not hasten to bid me adieu, Just remember the Red River Valley, And the one who has love you so true.

It turns out that the real Red River Valley is out in the U.S. northwest, but that didn’t matter so much to me. Butterflies became a Sweet pursuit for me, and Virginia’s Butterflies & Blooms Briar Patch Habitat in Eatonton, Georgia riveted me, with its fly squadrons of fresh, beautiful butterflies. Field guides had teased me, suggesting how much more beautiful butterflies were in the American South. Especially memorable was their mention that the Red-Banded Hairstreak butterflies were amazing, with broad, richly red bands and more.

Well there they were, including this one in the Briar Patch Habitat, and Scrumptious swallowtails, yellows and oranges and more, so much more. I found myself singing Red River Valley time and time again in that special place, and the haunting memories of a life on the streets, an unhappy childhood home, teaching and disciplining tough kids who were notorious in their own neighborhoods . . . and Frieda’s A”H battle and passing softened and slipped away.

Yes we’re not in the famous Red River Valley, but this new home so works for me, and the excitement of planting new natives, that may one day draw King’s Hairstreaks, Goatweed Leafwings, Hessel’s Hairstreaks, Great Purple Hairstreaks and more, excites me.

It seems that Johnny Cash sang Red River Valley also, but I could not Google that. As I close, I’m brain singing it, as he would have.


Why Eatonton Georgia?

"Billy' Butterfly Mobile photographed by Jeff Zablow at Butterflies and Blooms in the Briar Patch Habitat I, Eatonton, GA

I’m now a Georgian, though each time I’m asked why I moved to Georgia, and especially why I relocated to the Georgia Piedmont (central Georgia, east of Atlanta), I again and again realize that native Georgians don’t fully appreciate the riches that Georgia provides, time and time again.

Steadfast followers of winged recall that those several years of driving down to Virginia’s Butterflies & Blooms Briar Patch Habitat in Eatonton charmed me, much. When I had to decide where to go, after Pittsburgh, the answer was clear, to this sweet little city, Eatonton, with the best wild butterfly habitat east of the Mississippi River.

Eatonton made Virginia and her loyal supporters move the habitat to a bigger, different locale in town. This now begins year two there, having been forced to dig up and replant several hundred native shrubs, perennials, grasses and trees. This they did with nary a complaint, helped by folks from here and there.

I came here for their butterflies. For the genuine friendliness of folks here in Georgia, for the Big savings in almost everything (Krogers is some 20%-25% cheaper than Pittsburgh’s Giant Eagle, real estate taxes are much cheaper, car care is much cheaper (and high quality service), gasoline is 15% cheaper, . . . )

Why Eatonton? This butterfly mobile sings out the answer to this query. Folks care here, they support our country and they Honor those who did so with their sweat, passion and lives. Lieutenant Colonel Billy Maltbie Jr. is the son of a Big Supporter of the Briar Patch Habitat, and this American Hero died, much too young, while serving in South Korea. A friend of the Habitat fabricated these butterfly silhouettes, and Virginia hung this one for this not forgotten Patriot, whose ancestor fought in our own Revolutionary War, to oust the Brits and create the United States of America.

Jeff, Happy as a Duck, in beautiful Eatonton, where service to country is respected and supported.


Butterfly Peril #1 ?

Argiope with sulphur prey photographed by Jeff Zablow at the Butterflies and Blooms Habitat in Eatonton, GA

At night in bushes, perennials and trees? I’m not sure I can count all of the perils that butterflies face: ants, beetles, lizards, spiders, birds, snakes, assassin bugs . . . . During the day this same list balloons, with legions of additional predators that prey on butterflies.

When you run, and are at the Butterflies & Blooms Briar Patch Habitat here in Eatonton, Georgia so many of these predators are met in real-time. Now, you know that images of a predator preying on a beautiful butterfly immobilized, make many cringe, darken their mood instantly.

I have long thought about the urgency of helping interested people learn about butterflies. Habitat disappears by the minute, pesticides and their ilk kill, and long ago I thought about how the USA”s millions of pristine, grass covered gardens deter butterfly survival. We discussed this back in John Adams High School in South Ozone Park, New York, in the 1970’s, on a much simpler level. With Doug Tallaway’s book, I personally understood. is a platform to share, see and understand.

So, when I stood there, and saw this Cloudless Sulphur butterfly in the web of this Black and Yellow Argiope spider, maybe 4 seconds after the Cloudless took a sad turn in flight . . . I first wondered if y’all had the stomach for this very natural scene and I knew I’d have own debate some time later, post it or not post it?

Me? I’m glad I’m not a butterfly. The dangers are many. I fought each and every one I had to in Brooklyn, back then. This Cloudless not only has no defense against attack, but choose turning left instead of right, and you’re ‘chopped liver.’