Category Archives: Cape Ann Wildlife

THE DANCE OF COLOR AND LIGHT – MONARCHS ON THE MOVE!

Monarchs were on the move over the weekend, not only on Cape Ann, but all over northern and northeastern regions of the country* very solid numbers of migrating Monarchs are being shared, from Ontario, to upstate New York, Michigan, and Maine.

Lets keep our hopes up for good weather for the Monarchs on the next leg of their journey southward!

*Ninety percent of the Monarch Butterfly migration takes place east of the Rocky Mountains.

If you would like to help support the Monarchs, think about creating a milkweed patch in your garden. The best and most highly productive milkweed for Monarch caterpillars is Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), the milkweed we see growing in our local marshes and dunes. The seed heads are ripe for plucking when they have split open and you can see the brown seeds and beautiful floss.

For several of my readers who have expressed difficulty in germinating milkweed seeds, the following is a foolproof method from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

HOW TO GERMINATE MILKWEEDS

MILKWEEDS (ASCLEPIAS SPP.) ARE NOTORIOUSLY DIFFICULT TO GERMINATE. But don’t despair. The Wildflower Center has developed and tested a protocol that results in good germination rates for a number of our native milkweed species. Follow this process and you’ll soon be on your way to supporting monarchs, bumblebees and tons of other insects that depend on milkweed plants. READ the complete article here.

SAVE THE DATE – KIM SMITH MONARCH BUTTERFLY PROGRAM AT THE TRUSTEES OF RESERVATIONS STEVENS COOLIDGE PLACE

Please join me for the Monarch Migration Celebration at the Stevens Coolidge Place in Andover on Saturday October 5th at 10:30am. I am cosponsoring the event and giving my slide presentation and talk “Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly.” The presentation is part of a day long event celebrating the Monarch migration. This promises to be a wonderfully fun day for kids and adults!MONARCH MIGRATION CELEBRATION

You spent the summer watching them flit about your gardens, now it’s time to wish them well on their trip down to Mexico – it’s the Monarch Migration Celebration at Stevens-Coolidge Place!

This celebration will kick off with a children’s pollinator parade around the property (costumes encouraged!) bringing all visitors to an afternoon of demos, crafts & stories, seed bomb making and gardening tips to bring these orange friends to your yard in the spring. Want to join in the butterfly tagging? Bring your flying friends with you and we’ll be happy to show you how! Butterfly release at 2:30PM

Trustees Member: $3
Trustees Member Child: $5
Trustees Family: $15

Nonmember: $6
Nonmember Child: $10
Nonmember Family: $25
Please help us plan for the day. Pre-registration is encouraged.

STEVENS COOLIDGE PLACE

137 ANDOVER STREET

NORTH ANDOVER

GOLDEN FLOWER OF THE AZTECS

The brilliant red-orange Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) is a beneficial pollinator magnet. Plant and they will come! Grow a patch of milkweed next to your Mexican Sunflowers and you will not only attract Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and an array of bee species, but every Monarch Butterfly in the neighborhood will be in your garden.

Its many common names include Red Torch Mexican Sunflower, Bolivian Sunflower, Japanese Sunflower, but one of the loveliest is ‘Golden Flower of the Aztecs.’ Tithonia rotundifolia grows wild in the mountains of Central Mexico and Central America.

Mexican Sunflower is one of my top ten favorites for supporting Monarchs, is extremely easy to grow, and deer do not care for its soft, velvety leaves. Plant in average garden soil, water, and dead head often to extend the blooming period. Ours flower from July through the first frost. Collect the seedheads after the petals have fallen off, but before they dry completely and the songbirds have eaten all the seeds.

SAVE THE DATE – “THE HUMMINGBIRD GARDEN” – MY NEW PRESENTATION FOR THE NORTH SHORE HORTICULTURAL SOCIETY

THE HUMMINGBIRD GARDEN

OCTOBER 24TH AT 7:30PM

SACRED HEART CHURCH PARISH HALL

62 SCHOOL STREET

MANCHESTER, MA

The North Shore Horticultural Society has invited me to give a presentation about the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Over the years I have shared so much info about attracting this tiny avian pollinator that it was exciting to put the lecture together, just a matter of collecting all the bits into a cohesive program. BTW, it’s been a phenomenal year for hummingbirds in Cape Ann gardens!

“The Hummingbird Garden” is free for members and five dollars for guests.

I am looking forward to giving this program and hope to see you there!

THE HUMMINGBIRD GARDEN

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only species of hummingbird that nests in Massachusetts. Learn what to plant to help sustain this elusive beauty while it is breeding in our region and during its annual spring and fall migrations. Through photographs and discussion we’ll learn about the life cycle of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird and the best plants to attract this tiniest of breeding birds to your garden.

KIM SMITH MONARCH BUTTERFLY PROGRAM FOR KIDS AT THE SAWYER FREE LIBRARY

Come join us Wednesday morning from 10am to 11am at the Sawyer Free Library where I will be sharing Monarch fun with young people. We have art activities, as well as eggs, caterpillars, chrysalides, and possibly a butterfly or two emerging on the day of the program. I hope you can join us!

This program is held in conjunction with the Cape Ann Reads exhibit currently on view at the main floor of the Sawyer Free.

2019 has been an amazing year for Monarchs. We got off to a very early and fantastic start, but then with a wave of cool rainy weather the Monarch movement slowed considerably. Despite the slow down, we’ve had at least two subsequent waves come through for a total of three broods this summer. Hopefully this will translate to a great 2019 migration followed by strong numbers at the Monarch butterfly’s winter sanctuaries at Michoacán and the state of Mexico.

The eggs we see now on milkweed plants are the super generation of Monarchs that will travel to Mexico!

The photos show the Monarch caterpillar becoming a chrysalis. When ready to pupate, the caterpillar finds a safe place and spins a silky mat. He inserts his last pair of legs into the silky mat and hangs upside down in a J-shape for about a day. Biological developments that began when the caterpillar first emerged are in high gear now. The caterpillar’s suit, or exoskeleton, splits along the center line of the thorax and shrivels as the developing green chrysalis is revealed. The last photo in the gallery shows the moment when the old skin is tossed off.

NORTHERN GANNET MYSTERIOUS DIESEASE STRIKES AGAIN

Reposting this from 2017 as another Northern Gannet is struggling  on the Backshore.

A second Northern Gannet, in little over a week, has come ashore to die on a Cape Ann Beach. A friend messaged from the Backshore that the Gannet was resting on the rocks and was not walking well.

Heartbreaking to see, the usually majestic Northern Gannet is struggling to survive.

This beautiful Northern Gannet appears to have the same neurological symptoms of the mysterious disease that has caused over one hundred Gannets to wash ashore on Cape Cod beaches. Veterinarians are sending samples of the dead and dying birds to the USDA to see if federal experts can find the cause. A harmful algae bloom (often referred to as Red Tide) is suspect.

The Gannet tried and tried to take flight, but to no avail, wobbling instead and repeatedly tipping over.

The first dying Northern Gannet seen on a Cape Ann beach was shared by Ann Rittenburg. On July 12th, she discovered the bird struggling at Good Harbor Beach. Dianne Corliss, Gloucester’s Animal Control Officer, rescued the seabird. Dianne tried to help, but the Gannet was eventually put to sleep. She warns that the bills of Northern Gannets are extremely powerful. If you come across a Gannet on the beach, do not go near it as they are known to go for the eyes and necks of people. 

What makes the deaths even more troubling is that Northern Gannets are winter migrants through our area, and most months are spent at sea. During the summer season they are typically at their North American breeding grounds, which are six well-established colonies, three in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Quebec, and three in the North Atlantic, off the coast of Newfoundland.

My husband Tom and I saw  these magnificent seabirds from the shores of Provincetown last spring. They were feeding along with the Right Whales. The Northern Gannets soared high above the whales and then plunged straight down with a powerful ferocity. It was dramatic and gorgeous to see. I hope the same illness or Red Tide that is killing the Gannets will not affect whales.

ALIEN CATERPILLARS!

From the tiniest pinhead-sized eggs hatched quarter-inch caterpillars. A month later and these gorgeous Cecropia Moth caterpillars (30!) are approximately five to six inches in length and 3/4 of an inch in diameter.