Favorites For 2016: Tiger Swallowtails

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow at Phipps Conservatory,  Pittsburgh

We’re in a butterfly year that for sure challenges. Butterflies are flying, but aren’t you seeing them less often, and in reduced numbers? Don’t you work your trails thinking, ‘I miss the Eastern tailed blues, duskywings and American coppers that usually monitor me as I move along this or that trail?’ and ‘It was so much fun watching the Wood nymphs play Peek-a-Boo with me just 2 or 3 years ago!’ Totally “Missed seeing Monarchs surprise us all and come on stage” to resounding cheers, in June!

That’s the year I’m living here in ’16. Then who does this year seem to belong to, at least for now? I say, the Tiger swallowtails, Papilio glaucus. Males are almost everywhere, doing the wild and crazy swooping, diving, swerving and otherwise wild flying in search of females. Their females have certainly played hard to find, too.

Enjoy your Independence Day, and report back, won’t you?

Jeff

Wood Nymph Butterfly

Wood Nymph Butterfly at Raccoon Creek State Park Enlarged

Ah the Wood Nymph butterfly. The rich chocolate color of fine leather or of a scrumptious Hershey bar. These medium sized butterflies capture the hiker’s imagination because from May to late September they are the trail markers that we encounter as we enjoy our way alongside forest edge, fields and most cut edges. Some zip away and out of sight, some fly ahead just 15 feet, while others hesitate and stand their ground.

Cercyonis pegala offers another benefit. They display fascinating diversity. While the markings of most other butterflies show hardly any variety, those of wood nymphs present a great deal of difference. Large eyes or smaller eyes, yellow, orange or   intermediate colors, blues, or whites or indeterminate pastels in the eyes. Rich browns to a host of brown variations in the wing. You notice these things when you pause to examine your trail sentries. It just makes for fascinating travel.

I have been straining my brain to remember having ever seen a wood nymph butterfly nectaring at a flower. If I have and can’t remember, then even so I’ve spotted hundreds over the years, and though I’ve seen them at scat, and attracted them to traps of banana/fruit, visits to flowers elude my memory.

Our instant individual was on Nichol Road trail in Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania. On my approach it quickly flew off, straight to a nearby tree. It perched on the opposite side of the trunk. I approached very slowly, saw it there…and it allowed my to shoot quite a few macro- images. Probably  a female, with larger eye spots and larger in size

I kept and now use this image because it effectively shares the real time look of wood nymphs and because of the nice interplay offered by bark and butterfly.

Jeffrey

Wood Nymph Butterfly

Wood Nymph Butterfly at Raccoon Creek State Park

Here’s the view of the Wood Nymph Butterfly the first time that you ever see one. You’re probably on a trail that skirts the edge of a wooded habitat.

Two possibilities present themselves. Cercyonis pegala will 1) will flee, flying low and disappearing into dense tree undergrowth or into the field vegetation or 2) it will allow you to continue your approach and then flee.

We can presume that this one is a female. Females perch. Males patrol, searching for receptive females. When you first become fascinated with butterflies, the non-stop, seemingly senseless flight of male Wood Nymphs justifies your thinking that these butterflies are ‘crazy.’

So here again is a butterfly species that almost seems to be trailing/tracking you as you happily hike that trail along forest’s edge. This is the kind of escort that is appreciated as I spend hours working unspoiled habitat, on the hunt for butterflies to photograph. I see Wood Nymphs, but I don’t see humans for hours on end. I sometimes stop, look skyward and think.

Jeffrey