Climate concerns growing for the future of many migratory species.
We travel all over coastal Massachusetts to learn about a few local “indicator species,” which can help explain the impact of climate change. Award-winning documentarian Kim Smith tells us the story of piping plovers breeding in Massachusetts.
Our beloved Piping Plovers and Monarchs are going to be featured on an episode of Chronicle this evening. “Wildlife Worries” is devoted entirely to indicator species including not only Monarchs and PiPls, but also Whimbrels, tiny terrapins, and more. The show airs tonight at 7:30pm on Chronicle, WCVB, channel 5.
Several months ago, I met with the outstanding Chronicle producer, Sangita Chandra, and the show’s stellar videographer, Jennifer Platt-Ure. Originally Sangita was looking for footage of Monarchs and PiPls, but then decided to include an interview from a filmmaker’s perspective. The interview was filmed at Winthrop Shores Reservation as it was a convenient location, and also the charming cafe, Piccolo Piatti. It was a joy working with Sangita as she has a keen interest in wildlife conservation. The show promises to be wonderfully educational. I can’t wait to watch the part about the whimsical Whimbrels and turtles, in addition to the PiPls and butterflies!
Chronicle writes, “New England wouldn’t be New England without the shore birds, butterflies, and turtles that spend part of the year here. These and other local creatures are considered ‘indicator species’ that also help us understand the impact of habitat loss and climate change. Tonight we get up close to giant sea turtles and tiny terrapins, whimbrels and piping plovers, and meet the people committed to protecting them.” . Included in that group – a park ranger who raises butterflies, a documentary filmmaker, and high schoolers studying river herring. Many thanks to our videography team – Bob Oliver, Jennifer Platt-Ure, and Rich Ward and to editor Ellen Boyce. Hope you enjoy the program!
I am delighted (and very surprised) to share that Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly has won Best Documentary at the San Diego International Children’s Film Festival. I write surprised as there were many beautiful films from around the world participating in the festival, and also because I wasn’t even aware we had been nominated for the award. My sincerest thanks and gratitude to SDIKFF!
Yesterday there were a number of Monarchs out on Eastern Point nectaring at wildflowers and in my garden. It was magical that we learned of the award on the same day as seeing these stragglers. We were celebrating Dia de Muertos here on Plum Street, and on this very same day, November 2nd, Monarchs were spotted arriving at Cerro Pelon and El Rosario Monarch Butterfly sanctuaries. Joel Moreno and his family at Cerro Pelon JM Butterfly BandB spotted the Monarchs traveling high in the sky in the upper thermals while my friend David Hernandez reports that at El Rosario, they are flying low on the mountain.
The wings of the butterfly in the upper photo appear as though they have been snipped by birds while the butterfly’s wings in the second photo are pristine.
Will the stragglers that we see at this time of year be able to travel the roughly 3,000 mile journey all the way to Mexico? I don’t know the answer to that question but we can make a guess that if a butterfly looks weather worn, with torn and tattered wings, it is unlikely that it will be able to complete the journey. On the other hand, some of these late Monarchs that we are seeing look as though they just eclosed (hatched) hours earlier. Their wings are a vibrant orange and black and are completely unscathed. Some butterflies will be funneled between the Appalachian and Great Rockies while others are destined to follow the Atlantic coastline, traveling towards Florida and the Gulf of Mexico states.Safe travels Monarca, wherever you land!
I hope you are able to get out and enjoy this extraordinarily lovely stretch of balmy weather we are having.
Inspired by my friend Nina’s beautiful altar that she and her family and friends create every year for the feast of St. Joseph, for the past seven years or so we have been celebrating Día de Muertos with an ofrenda that we set up on our front porch. Placing the ofrenda on the porch over Halloween makes for a wonderful hybrid bridge between American Halloween and the Mexican tradition of honoring the souls of lost loved ones. On Halloween night our porch has become a gathering place where we so very much look forward to seeing our neighborhood friends each year.
Cemetery Macheros, Mexico
The Mexican festivities of Día de Muertos typically begins the night of October 31st, with families sitting vigil at grave sites. Mexican tradition holds that on November 1st and 2nd, the dead awaken to reconnect and celebrate with their living family and friends; on the 1st to honor the souls of children and on the 2nd, to honor adults. The ofrenda, or “offering to the dead,” is a sacred Mexican tradition where those who have passed away are honored by the living.
In late October millions of Monarchs begin to arrive to the magnificent oyamel fir and pine tree forests of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, located in the heart of Mexico in the eastern regions of Michoacán and western edge of Estado de México. Their return coincides with the annual celebration of Día de Muertos. In Mexican folklore, butterflies represent the souls of departed loved ones, returning to Earth to be remembered by their ancestors. An even older tradition connects the Monarchs with the corn harvest, as their return signified that the corn was ripe. In the language of the native Purpécha Indians, the name for the Monarch is “harvester.”
Oyamel fir tree (Abies religiosa) with Monarchs Cerro Pelon, Mexico
The Day of the Dead finds its roots in the native people of central and southern Mexico. The Aztecs recognized many gods, including a goddess of death and the underworld named Mictecacihuatl.
Mictecacihuatl was linked to both death and resurrection. According to one myth, Mictecacihuatl and her husband collected bones so that they might be returned to the land of the living and restored by the gods. Just as did the ancient Egyptians, the Aztecs appeased the underworld gods by burying their dead with food and precious objects.
Día de Muertos is a celebration blending both indigenous people’s cultural beliefs and observances held by Spanish Catholics. The conquerors found it difficult to convince native peoples to give up their rituals honoring the goddess of death Mictecihuatl. The compromise was to move these indigenous festivities from late July to early November to correspond with the three-day Christian observance of All Saints’ Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.
This year I have been thinking about Camille Saint-Saëns’s Danse macabre, Op. 40, which is based on the French legend that Death packs a fiddle and comes to play at midnight on Halloween, causing the skeletons in the cemetery to crawl out of the ground for their annual graveyard dance party.
Saint-Saëns’s Danse macabre comes from an even older concept, the medieval allegory of the all conquering and equalizing power of death, which was expressed in poetry, music, the visual arts, and drama in Western Europe in the late Middle Ages.
Marigold flowers (Tagetes erecta), known as cempazúchitl or flor de muerto are placed on graves and ofrendas. The cempazúchitl are believed to lure souls back from the dead with their vibrant colors and lovely citrus, musky fragrance
Marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia) and Painted Lady butterfly
This new short, titled Resplendent Monarch Migration, features Monarchs during the late summer southward migration. Also highlighted are some of the more commonly seen butterflies of late summer, including the American Lady, the spectacular Common Buckeye (2:53), Pearl Crescent, Yellow Sulphur, and American Copper. The flora seen includes New England Asters, Seaside Goldenrod, Tall Goldenrod, Smooth Aster (pale lavender), and Common Milkweed. When you plant for the butterflies, they will come!
At 3:30 you can see a small overnight roost beginning to form. As the sun sets, particularly on chilly or windy evenings, Monarchs head for the trees. One by one they fly in, some settling quickly, others restless and shifting to a more preferable spot. By nightfall, all are tucked into the sheltering boughs of the Black Cherry tree. (4:15).
With the warming rays of Sun’s first light, the Monarchs begin to awaken (4:20). If it’s cold and windy they”ll stay a bit longer but typically, the butterflies either float down to the wildflowers in the marsh below, or in the case of this particular roost at Eastern Point, the Monarchs wasted no time and quickly departed. They flew directly south towards Boston by first traveling along the length of the Dogbar Breakwater before heading out to sea (4:30).
It took patience (and a lot of luck) to capture the butterfly heading up into the clouds (5:44). I wanted to share the imagery of the scale of a tiny speck of a creature juxtaposed against the vastness of sea and sky. Imagine, a butterfly that weighs less than a paper clip, journeys 2500 miles to the trans Mexican volcanic mountaintops.
Safe travels oh resilient one!
I have received a number of requests for Monarch footage. I cannot lend the footage from my documentary, Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly, currently airing on PBS however, this past summer, I spent time shooting butterflies in my garden, butterflies in pollinator gardens that I have designed for clients, and at our local marshes and meadows. All the footage was shot in beautiful 4k, which is what organizations are requesting.
Compared to year’s past, the 2022 fall southward migration has been a relatively quiet year (so far) for Monarchs traveling through Cape Ann. That is not to say we won’t see another batch or two coming through, but for the most part, we did not have the spectacular roosts that we have seen in some year’s past. We had many travelers flying through during the month of September, but the conditions were favorable and they kept moving along at a steady pace.
I found several roosts in late September. On one evening, the wind was blowing hard from the northwest and the Monarchs were clustered tightly on the east facing side of the tree, to get out of the wind. I didn’t notice the silhouette of Monarch arcs until twilight and counted a dozen or so Monarch arcs.
The golden morning sun revealed several hundred butterflies! It was a joy to see them stirring and fluttering in the dawn light.
Upon awakening, the butterflies didn’t spend any time drinking nectar from the wildflower meadow below as they often do, but headed straight out over the Dogbar Breakwater.
Although Cape Ann has not seen many large roosts this season, two Monarch staging areas, Cape May, New Jersey and Point Pelee, Ontario are both having spectacular migrations!! Monarchs gather at the Point Pelee peninsula before crossing over Lake Erie into Ohio. Likewise, the butterflies stage at Cape May before crossing the Delaware Bay. The butterflies wait for favorable winds to help carry them across bodies of water.
While I began writing this note yesterday morning and was looking out my office window, there were Monarchs drinking nectar from the Zinnias in the front flower border and Monarchs nectaring at the New England Asters around back. The migration is underway, with small assemblages here and there. I’m keeping my hopes up that we will see a greater influx in the coming days. And hopefully, too, the drought has not too badly harmed the Monarchs as there seems to have been enough moisture in the air that native wildflowers such as goldenrods and asters are blooming.
Our sweet little Hip Hop has not been seen for several days (as of this writing), but as Piping Plover Ambassador Deb writes, he has a Houdini-like way of disappearing and reappearing. Hopefully, he has departed. I am not sure if I sent this along to you – Ethan Forman from the GTimes wrote a fantastic article about our GHB Plovers. You can find the story here: Best Year Ever for Plovers at Good Harbor Beach.
I was so happy to read in the Gloucester Times that Mayor Verga’s new beach reservation system is a success, not only for the City, but because an interesting outcome is that I think the reservation system also helped the PiPls. Folks with reservations weren’t desperate to get to the beach by 7am and took their time arriving. The net result was that the wildlife that finds shelter and sustenance on the beach was less disturbed and could forage in relative peace. The new system appears to be a win for all!
In the sixties with mostly sunny skies this weekend. There are many creatures migrating along the coast and through New England currently. I believe I saw a pair of American Golden Plovers but haven’t had time to check my footage to verify 100 percent. I hope you have a chance to get out and enjoy the predicted beautiful weather and see some wildlife.
Charlotte’s first day of kindergarten with a newly emerged Monarch to send her off – her idea to accessorize 🙂
The first guideline in becoming an excellent citizen scientist is to do no harm while trying to do good. Considering the spiraling downward numbers of the Monarch Butterfly population, this basic tenet has never rang more true.
A number of friends have written in the past month with questions about captive rearing butterflies and the new listing of the Monarch as an endangered species by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) and by the state of California. The ruling by the IUCN, which is an organization based in Gland, Switzerland, has no legal bearing on rearing Monarchs however, that is not the case with the California ruling.
The ruling is understandable. There are folks who are rearing Monarchs by the hundreds, thousands, and even tens of thousands in wholly unsatisfactory conditions, ignoring safe and sanitary protocols.
As goes California, so goes the rest of the nation. I am deeply saddened that it won’t be long before we in the rest of the country will also no longer be able to rear Monarchs, even on the most modest scale.
One of the strongest reasons for not rearing hundreds (or more) Monarchs in close quarters is the spread of the highly contagious parasite OE (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha).
“Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE) is a debilitating protozoan parasite that infects Monarchs. Infected adult Monarchs harbor thousands or millions of microscopic OE spores on the outside of their bodies. When dormant spores are scattered onto eggs or milkweed leaves by infected adults, Monarch caterpillars consume the spores, and these parasites then replicate inside the larvae and pupae. Monarchs with severe OE infections can fail to emerge successfully from their pupal stage, either because they become stuck or they are too weak to fully expand their wings. Monarchs with mild OE infections can appear normal but live shorter lives and cannot fly was well as healthy Monarchs.” From Monarch Joint Venture
Simply put, the very best way to help Monarchs is to create pollinator habitats on whatever scale you can manage. Plant milkweeds native to your region, which provides food for the caterpillars.* Plant native wildflowers such as New England Asters, Seaside Goldenrod, and Joe-pye, which provide sustenance to migrating Monarchs and a host of other pollinators. Plant annuals native to Mexico with simple, uncomplicated structures, such as single (not double) Zinnias,Cosmos, and Mexican Sunflowers (Tithonia), which will bring the pollinators into the garden and provide sustenance throughout much of the growing season, while the pollinators are on the wing.
Plants such as daylilies, roses, and dahlias are eye candy for humans. Keep your candy to a minimum and know that they are just that, eye candy. They do not help pollinators in any way, shape, or form.
A Monarch in the wild flits from plant to plant and from leaf to leaf when looking for a suitable milkweed plant on which to deposit her eggs. She is carefully inspecting each leaf, first scratching the surface with her feet, the butterfly’s way of sensing taste. The female will typically deposit no more than one egg or possibly two eggs per leaf or bud. When you see an image of a large cluster of Monarch eggs, you can be sure the female was raised in close quarters in captivity and is desperate to deposit her eggs.
Eyeing landscapes that are usually lushly verdant at this time of year, every where we look, wild places and yardscapes are prematurely shriveling and turning brown. This does not bode well for pollinators, especially the butterflies we look forward to seeing in August and September, including Monarchs, Painted and American Ladies, Buckeyes. and Sulphurs. These beauties depend upon wildflowers for daily sustenance and to build their lipid reserves for journeys south.
Six tips to help your garden survive the drought
1. In our garden, we prioritize what needs water most. Pollinator favorite annuals and perennials such as Zinnias, Phlox, Monarda, Joe-pye, and milkweeds provide nectar for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies that are on the wing at this time of year, and they are watered consistently. Perennial wildflowers that Monarchs, the Vanessa butterflies, and Sulphurs rely on in late summer include asters and goldenrods and we give them plentiful water, too. Fruit trees, native flowering dogwoods and shrubs are also given plenty of attention because they take the longest to become established, give shade, and provide sustenance to myriad species of pollinators. Assess your own garden with an eye to prioritizing what you think pollinators are most reliant upon now and over the coming two months.
Plants such as daylilies, iris, lily-of-the-valley, grass, and hosta support nothing, or very few species. They are typically well-rooted and can afford temporary neglect.
2. Water by hand, selectively (see above). Hold the hose nozzle at the base of the plant to soak the soil, not the foliage.
3. Water deeply, and therefore less frequently. Fruiting and flowering trees and shrubs especially appreciate deep watering.
4. Watering after dark saves a tremendous amount of water as a large percentage of water (anywhere from 20 to 30 percent) is lost to evaporation when watering during daylight hours. The best time of day to water is after sunset and before sunrise.
5. Do not fertilize with chemical fertilizers, which promotes an over abundance of growth, which in turn requires more water. Instead, use organic fertilizers and amendments, which will improve the soil’s ability to store and hold water. Fertilize with one of Neptune Harvest’s excellent fish fertilizers, and cover the soil beneath the plants with a two inch layer of Black Earth compost. The soil will be healthier and able to retain moisture more readily.
6. Remove weeds regularly. Weeds suck up valuable moisture. To be clear, by weeds, I don’t mean plants that are misnamed with the suffix weed. So many of our native wildflowers were unfortunately given names that end in weed by the early colonists. For example, Butterfly Weed (Milkweed), Ironweed (Veronia), and Joe-pye Weed (Eupatorium), to name but a few. These native wildflowers are some of our very best plants to support native species of Lepidoptera.Canadian Tiger swallowtail drinking nectar – keeping the Zinnias well-watered to help the pollinators
Please join me Thursday, August 18th, at 10am at Essex’s T.O.H.P. Burnham Library for an all ages (5 plus) Monarch Butterfly talk, The Marvelous Magnificent Migrating Monarch. To register, please GO HERE I hope to see you there!
Headline after headline shouts: MONARCHS LISTED AS ENDANGERED, MONARCHS CLASSIFIED AS ENDANGERED, MONARCHS ARE NOW AN ENDANGERED SPECIES.
What most articles fail to highlight is that the species was listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Prior to the IUCN adding the Monarch to its Red List, most Americans had never even heard of the IUCN. Although the listing brings no funding to help protect the Monarchs, it can however serve as a call to action.
In 2020, the US Fish and Wildlife Service categorized the Monarch as warranting protection under the Endangered Species Act, but failed to add it to the Endangered Species List. The stated reason was because other species had higher protection priorities. Perhaps, too, an unspoken reason is that it would be very complicated try to prevent habitat loss, and to go toe to toe with companies that manufacture herbicides (Glyphosate),*along with the corporations (Bayer) that manufacture genetically modified crops that can withstand the deadly herbicides. The Monarch’s status will again be reviewed in 2024 and many hope that the IUCN’s declaration will prompt the USFWS to add the Monarch to the federal Endangered Species List.
Climate disruption, habitat loss, and the abuse of herbicides are the greatest threats facing the migrating population of the Monarch Butterfly. Where the population was once counted in the billions only fifty years ago, the numbers have plummeted to mere millions. Although that may sound like a robust number, in actuality, a series of events such as a drought in the northern breeding grounds followed by a deep freeze in the butterfly’s wintering habitat could wipe out the eastern population by as much as 90 percent.
We can all help the Monarchs, individually, and collectively. Creating Monarch habitat is probably one of the most joyful and satisfying first steps. Not only will you be helping the Monarchs, but many other species of pollinators will benefit from planting milkweeds and plants that are rich with nectar.
Over the next few weeks, I am going to be posting pollinator stories, along with gardening advice and tips to help our gardens survive the drought.
Charlotte and newly emerged Monarch August 3, 2022
*Glyphosate, manufactured by Bayer, is an herbicide used in the weed killer Roundup. Roundup is sprayed on vast acreage of farmland in the Midwest on crops that have been genetically modified to withstand the Roundup. Tragically, when the herbicide is sprayed on farm fields, the GMO crops can withstand the deadly toxin, but the milkweeds and other wildflowers growing in and around the farm fields are decimated.
Terrific update to share for Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly – We have been accepted to the San Diego International Kids Film Festival. With Covid on the rise, the presenters don’t know yet if the festival will be live or virtual, but it is fun to imagine attending.
Male Monarch and Coneflower
Truly an amazing number of Monarchs have been spotted across Cape Ann, and New England, in recent weeks. Many are finding eggs and caterpillars in gardens and in meadows. My friends Lillian and Craig, Jane, and Lauren shared their recent sightings. Please write and let me know what you are seeing in your garden. Thank you!
There are a surprising number of butterflies this year at Cape Hedge Beach. Several days ago an American Lady was warming on the popples and today, a female Black Swallowtail.
An easy way to see the difference between an American Lady Butterfly and a Painted Lady Butterfly
American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) ~ Note the two large eyespots on the underside of the hindwing, close to the outer margin.The Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) has four smaller eyespots on the underside of the hindwing.
Joyful update to share from Cape Ann PiPl nest check-up this morning –
The Cape Hedge Plover parent’s are doing an excellent job guarding their clutch of four eggs, the most well-camouflaged nest in Massachusetts, as our state coastal waterbird biologist Carolyn Mostello refers to the nest. There was a Coyote scavenging around the wrack line near the nest but Mom and Dad went into full protective mode trying to distract. The “broken wing” display wasn’t too necessary though as the second the Coyote saw me, he/she hightailed into the marsh.
Area #1 Salt Island
Essex Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer installed the exclosure at #1 (Salt Island end of the beach) yesterday afternoon and there are now three eggs in the nest! The Salt Island pair are not yet brooding full time and still continuing to mate. Quite possibly, we’ll have a fourth egg at #1. This little Mama has up to this point laid a total of six eggs, three in the first nest, which we think was predated, and three currently.
Area #3 Saratoga CreeK
In saving the best for last, our amazing handicapped Mom and ever vigilant Super Dad at #3 now have FOUR eggs in the nest. Mom popped off for a brief moment and I was “ploverjoyed” to see a fourth egg. I am not sure when this last egg was laid. It’s going to be a challenge to gauge when is the hatch date but I am working on that this weekend. *Borrowing the expression #ploverjoyed from our PiPl friends at Conserve Wildlife New Jersey 🙂
GHB #3 Mom well-camouflaged on the nest this foggy, foggy morning
Cape Ann’s current grand total of eggs in nests is Eleven (with a possibility of one more).
Yesterday morning, City Councilor Jeff Worthley and I met at Good Harbor Beach. He was very interested in learning about the Plovers and their history at GHB. Jeff agreed that Martha’s idea to speak before the next City Council meeting was a good plan; the next full council meeting is June 14th. He also suggested we do a brief presentation before City Council. The presentation has to be pre-planned and approved by City council president, Valerie Gilman. I don’t know if it’s either/or, or if we would be able to do both. What are your thoughts, PiPl friends? I think also we should definitely plan a “lessons learned” meeting at the end of the season, per Jonathan’s suggestion.
The Good Harbor Beach pre-reservation parking system goes into effect today. Some of the issues will be alleviated with the DPW and parking crew present, restrooms open, and end-of-the school-year high school senior parties behind us. We will still have issues with intoxicated persons tromping through the protected nesting area, but not the sheer numbers as the past two weeks, and hopefully we will see stepped up police enforcement on the beach.
A very brief Monarch update – Monarchs are here (first sightings by friends MJ on the 21st and Patti on May 23rd!) We see them in gardens, meadows, and dunes. Many other species of butterflies, too, have been sighted, including Tiger Swallowtails, Painted Ladies, American Coppers, Common Ringlets, and Spring Azures. May 23rd is early in the season for Monarchs. About every ten years or so we have an extra wonderful year with butterflies. The last was 2012. We are due and perhaps 2022 will be one of those years 🙂
Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly has been invited to screen at the Essex National Heritage Pollinator Week Program on the evening of June 22nd. For more information go here. Also, Beauty on the Wing is an official selection at the Santa Barbara Film Awards.
If anyone stops by GHB or CHB this weekend, please let us know. I feel fairly confident that the nests at GHB are safe, ensconced in their exclosures, but we like to check regularly nonetheless.
Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend with friends and family,
Please share your Monarch sightings. We would love to hear from you <3
This Mama Monarch photographed yesterday was zeroing in and depositing eggs on the freshly emerging shoots of Common Milkweed sprouting in the grassland meadows at Cox Reservation.
On May 21st the first Monarch was spotted; this is the earliest many of us have seen Monarchs in our gardens, dunes, and meadows. MJ observed one on the 21st in Lanesville, Patti in East Gloucester on the 23rd (she has tons of milkweed), Duncan spotted one at Brier Neck, they are in the dunes at Good Harbor Beach in the Common Milkweed patches, in my garden (also lots of milkweed), and have been seen at several Greenbelt sanctuaries, both Castle Neck River Reservation and Cox Reservation.
The butterflies at Cox Reservation were drinking nectar from the Red Clover
The Marvelous Magnificent Migrating Monarch – share with kids!
Please join us Wednesday, June 22nd at 7pm for a free in-person screening and Q and A of Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly at the Salem Visitor Center, as part of Essex National Heritage Pollinator week-long series of events.
Super fun news to share and please save the date – Essex National Heritage is hosting a week of events for National Pollinator Week, which takes place June 20th through June 26th. We have been invited to present a LIVE screening and Q and A of Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly on June 22, from 7pm to 9pm at the Salem Visitor Center.
The Salem Armory Visitor Center is located at 2 New Liberty Street, Salem, MA.
And more happy news to share – Beauty on the Wing is nominated for an award at the Santa Barbara Film Festival!
Common Milkweed emerging in May, Good Harbor Beach
And lastly, we saw our first Monarchs this week, one at Good Harbor Beach flitting through the dunes and a second at Cox Reservation. There is plentiful Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) emerging at our local dunes and meadows! <3
“There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.” –Rachel Carson
It’s glorious outdoors today and I hope you have a chance to get outside. See below for photos from my morning Earth Day walk, although I can’t bear to sit at my computer all day when it’s so gorgeous out and will head back out this afternoon to see what we see.
For Earth Day this past week I gave several screenings of Beauty on the Wing (thank you once again most generous community for all your help funding BotWing!) along with presenting “The Hummingbird Habitat Garden” to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. For over twenty years I have been giving programs on how to create pollinator habitats. People are hungry for real information on how to connect to wildlife and wild habitats and each year the interest grows and grows. It’s truly a joy to witness!
Last night it was especially rewarding to bring Beauty on the Wing to Connecticut’s Sherman Conservation Commission attendees. We had a lively Q and A following the screening with many thoughtful questions and comments. My gratitude and thanks to Michelle MacKinnon for creating the event. She saw the film on PBS and wanted to bring it to her conservation organization. Please let me know if you are interested in hosting a Beauty on the Wing screening.
Monarchs are on the move! The leading edge in the central part of the country is at 39 degrees latitude in Illinois and Kansas: the leading edge along the Atlantic Coast is also at 39 degrees latitude; Monarchs have been spotted in both Maryland and New Jersey. Cape Ann is located at 43 degrees — it won’t be long!
Monarchs are heading north! Female Monarch depositing egg on Common Milkweed
Hummingbirds have been seen in Mashpee this past week (41 degrees latitude). Don’t forget to put out your hummingbird feeders. Dust them off and give a good cleaning with vinegar and water. Fill with sugar water and clean regularly once installed. The sugar water recipe is one part sugar to four parts water; never replace the sugar with honey, and never use red food coloring.
Happy Glorious Earth Day!
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Super surprised to see this mystery duck asleep on a rock. I was so curious and kept hoping he would wake up so as to identify. He at last lifted his head for all of ten seconds and then promptly tucked back in and went back to sleep. I’ve only ever seen Surf Scoters bobbing around far off shore in the distance. Skunk bird- what a cutie!
American Kestrel, male, too far away to get a good photo but a joy to see!
Beautiful, beautiful Great Egret preening its luxurious spray of feathers. An egret’s spray of feathers is also referred to as aigrette.
No Earth Day post would be complete without our dear PiPls – Mom and Dad foraging at the wrack line this am, finding lots of insects for breakfast.
Please forgive me if I am slow to respond to your notes, emails, and kind comments. I am so sorry about that but am spending every spare minute on the Piping Plover film project, creating the first rough cut while converting six plus years of footage. And uncovering wonderful clips of these extraordinary creatures, some I am just seeing for the first time since shooting! Not an easy task but I am so inspired and full of joy for this project, trying not to become overwhelmed, and taking it one chunk at a time, literally “bird by bird,” as Anne Lamott would say.
From daily walks, a mini migration update –
Gadwall and American Wigeon pairs abound. Both in the genus Mareca, they share similar foraging habits when here on our shores and can often be seen dabbling for sea vegetation together. The Orange-crowned Warbler was still with us as of mid-week last, as well as the trio of American Pipits. The very first of the Great Egrets have been spotted and Killdeers are coming in strong. The first Ruby-throated Hummingbirds will be here any day now; at the time of this writing they have migrated as far north as North Carolina
Have you noticed the Weeping Willows branches are turning bright yellow? In the next phase they will become chartreuse. For me it it one of the earliest, earliest indicators that trees are starting to emerge from dormancy. And our magnolia buds are beginning to swell, too. Please write with your favorite early signs of spring and I’ll make a post of them.
Male and Female Gadwalls, American Wigeons, Black Ducks, and Buffleheads foraging for aquatic vegetation
As Putin’s war rages and the Russian’s crimes against humanity continue to hold the Ukrainian people hostage, we look for hope everywhere and anywhere. Especially when taking care of a child, an ill family member, or an elderly person we have to keep our spirits up, for the sake of our loved ones at the very least.
Hope is nations coming together and helping nations and individuals helping individuals, in the form of the hand extended to two million (and counting) refugees given by European neighboring countries, to the crushing economic sanctions imposed, to supplies arriving to the Ukraine from NATO countries and from around the globe, along with everyone in the world (aside from Putin and his allies at home and abroad), trying their damndest to prevent World War Three.We’re finding hope, too, in the signs of spring and new life beginning.
Four year old Charlotte coming in breathless with delight at the crocus and daffodil shoots emerging in the garden. And one of the most welcome sounds of spring is the beautiful chorus of courtship love songs of Passerines. There is renewed energy with the neighborhood songbirds; their appetites have increased markedly and nest building has commenced.
Eastern Bluebird male, Black-capped Chickadee, and American Robin eating the last of the Sumac fruits.
Monarch Butterflies are departing Mexico in a great swirling exodus while our winter resident birds are shoring up for their mass migration northward. Some have already left our coastline and waterways. There have been no sightings of the Snow Buntings for a week and fewer Buffleheads appear to be about. Soon, most of the Snowies will have departed. Local owls and eagles are laying eggs, while many travelers have yet to arrive.
Snow Buntings on the wing
Grand flocks of Brant Geese are massing. A long distant migrant, they’ve earned the nickname ‘Little Sea Goose’ for their habit of wintering over in saltwater bays, marshes, and sounds.
Killdeers have arrived and are sorting out their territories and, If you can imagine, Piping Plovers will be returning in just a few short weeks. To follow are members of the Ardeidae Family – Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Black and Yellow Crowned Herons, and Little Blue and Green Herons.
Piping Plover nest with two eggs
Mother River Otter and kits
We’ll soon see Muskrats, River Otters, and Beavers skirting around thawing ponds and baby Red Fox kits will in no time at all be peaking from dens.
Red Fox Kits
Red-winged Blackbirds have been here for several weeks. The male’s courtship call is welcome music of the marsh. He poses a striking silhouette chortling from the tips of Cattails, dressed in jet plumage with red shoulder epaulettes underlined in yellow. A female has yet to be spotted in her plain jane nesting camouflage of brown and tan.
Despite the horrors unfolding before our very eyes there is much to look forward to in the arrival of spring. We can’t as individuals end the war but we can take heart in a thousand acts of kindness and find joy in the unfolding beauty that surrounds, of new life in spring.
Super great news update from my friend and American Public Television Vice President Judy. She shares that since our documentary premiered a month ago, Beauty on the Wing has been broadcast 276 times, reaching 48.95 percent of the UStv households. She thinks we will have even greater activity in April because of programming centered around Earth Day! We have received emails and messages from viewers around the country, many inspired to create a Monarch habitat.
With thanks and gratitude to our many generous contributors, without whose help this film would not have been possible.
To the lovely woman in Idaho whose name I think is Shelly – if you are reading this – I accidentally deleted your note but would be happy to advise you on how to establish a Monarch habitat at your field. Please feel free to email so we can connect. Thank you!
We are are receiving many wonderful comments from viewers who have seen the film on their local public television channel, viewers from coast to coast! For we in Massachusetts (and everywhere), if you are a member of PBS Passports, here is the PBS.org Passports link to watch Beauty on the Wing:
Note about the photos – I took a bunch of these Monarch and Buoy photographs as there were several flying around the buoys one day (only on Cape Ann = Monarchs + buoys!). They were taken during this year’s autumn migration on a hazy October afternoon. I didn’t put two and two together until finally having a chance to look at the images several days ago, that one of the buoys was painted orange and black 🙂
Thank you Friends for your continued support and for your love of Monarchs!
Today Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly is scheduled to begin premiering on over 180 public television across the US. From cities coast to coast (including New York, LA, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, Charlotte, Raleigh, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Columbus, Hartford, and many more), you can check your local listings to find out when Beauty on the Wing is scheduled to air. Additionally, if you don’t see your city listed this week, more stations are planning to add the documentary to their schedule in the coming days.
If you happen to watch Beauty on the Wing on television, please write and let us know. We would love to hear from you!
The one major market that at this date is not planning to air Beauty on the Wing is Boston (??). However, if you are a member of your local PBS station and have contributed more than $60.00, shows are available to stream through PBS Passports. I believe the streaming option for Beauty on the Wing begins this week.
My deepest thanks and appreciation once again to all who so kindly donated to Beauty on the Wing. With your support we were able to complete our documentary, showcase at film festivals, and now bring to a nationwide television audience. Huge special shoutouts to my dear friend Lauren Mercadante who is not only extraordinarily generous, she also loves creating butterfly magic in her garden, and to Jesse Cook, who gave so generously of his music. Thank You Friends <3
Official 30-second promo for American Public Television
Good news to share for Beauty on the Wing – Many thanks to the Spotlight Documentary Film Awards for the gold award! And starting in February, Beauty on the Wing will begin airing on public television stations across the country. As soon as I have dates, I will write and let you know 🙂
Fantastic news for our West Coast population of Monarchs – Tuesday, January 25th, the Xerces Society released the outcome of the 2021-2022 Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count, an organized group of volunteer community scientists that has been cataloging the Western Monarchs for over 25 years. In a remarkable turn of events the final winter tally of 247, 237 butterflies were counted across the West, a 100- fold increase from last year’s count and the highest recorded since 2016!
Insect populations can fluctuate widely from year to year and the Monarchs are by no means out of the woods. In an otherwise bleak outlook for the West Coast population, this is a positive note and gives us hope that we can make the necessary changes to prevent the extirpation of the Western population.
We’re expecting a classic nor’easter snowstorm this weekend while last weekend we had an exquisite “ocean effect” snowfall, which was lovely and magical. I am teaching myself a new film editing program and used the B-roll that I shot during the fairy-like snowstorm at Hammond Castle. Link to new short film – Hammond Castle-by-the-Sea.
Conserve Wildlife NJ senior biologist Todd Pover makes a site visit to Cape Ann beaches, summer long updates from “Plover Central,” GHB Killdeer dune family raise a second brood of chicks, Cape Hedge chick lost after fireworks disturbance and then reunited with Fam, Great Black-backed Gulls are eating our Plover chicks, thousands of Moon Snail collars at Cape Hedge, Monarchs abound, #savesaltisland, missing Iguana Skittles, and Earwig eating Cecropia Moth cats.