Category Archives: conservation speaker massachusetts

CHASING MONARCHS ~ WHIRLWIND TRIP TO STONE HARBOR AND CAPE MAY PART TWO

See Part One Here
Google maps sent me back to Cape May via a different route and I did not again pass the one gas station that appeared to be open for business. Concerned though that the Jetty Motel’s office would close for the night before I had checked in, I headed straight there, passing several closed gas stations along the way.  Not looking good in the refueling department. I arrived just in time, moments before the front desk closed, and was helped tremendously by the receptionist. She pointed me in the direction of the one and only gas station open and provided great advice for dinner, The Lobster House, located on Schellengers Landing Road, Fisherman’s Wharf at Cape May.

My dinner of chowder and oysters was fabulous! I met a super nice guy  at the bar and he shared lots of information about the area. He is marine biologist on one of the local whale boats, which is actually a schooner! He was headed the next morning to the Keys to help a friend rebuild his campgrounds.

The Lobster House is open seven days a week, all year round, and includes several restaurants, a coffee shop-lunch counter style diner, fish market, and dining on the Schooner American, which is moored dockside. The commercial fishing fleet at the Lobster House offloads millions of pounds of seafood and supplies much of the fresh seafood on the Lobster House menu.

The following morning I had checked out by daybreak, filled with anticipation to return to Stone Harbor Point to see the Monarchs departing the trees at first light. First though I headed to the beach across from the hotel for a very quick glimpse. The wide sandy beach has a perfect view of the Cape May Lighthouse. You can walk along the beach and through the trails of the Cape May State Park for direct access to the Lighthouse.

At the shoreline were poised to cross the Bay a great flock of Black Skimmers. Overnight the wind had picked up tremendously and the flock were aligned in perfect soldier-like order, all facing into the strong gusts. Oh how I wished I could have spent more time there exploring this area so rich in fabulous creatures and wildlife. Most definitely on my next visit!

Notice the amazing lower mandible of the Black Skimmer. While flying, the Skimmers use their bill to skim small fish along the surface of the water. The Skimmers pictured here are mostly young Black Skimmers in plumage mottled brown and white.

I arrived at Stone Point Harbor just as the butterflies were awakening. When butterflies roost in trees, they will often situate themselves so that the eastern light of the early morning sun rays warm their wings. They will also typically (but not always) choose overnight sleeping areas that are out of the way of the of the prevailing winds.

Because of the strong winds, instead of leaving the trees all at once, as I have often observed, the Monarchs would take off, have difficulty navigating the wind, and then return to the trees. These attempts lasted several hours as the Monarchs tried again and again to negotiate the harsh wind.

In the mean time, the Monarchs that weren’t as intuitive as the ones that were roosting in trees had roosted overnight on the dried out stalks of wildflowers. They were having an extremely tough time, clinging with all their strength to the stalks or getting pulled down to the sand. This was challenging to observe as there was nothing that could be done to help the butterflies expending so much energy to stay grounded.

Monarchs Clinging to Dry Stalks of Seaside Goldenrod and Beach Grass in the Sand

Time was spent between the trees and the dunes. After several hours there were still a number of butterflies warming in the trees, barberry bushes, and wildflowers when I had to leave Stone Harbor Point to return to Cape May Point to check on butterflies that may have been there.

Female (left) and Male Monarch Butterfly warming their wings on a barberry bush.

None were roosting at the Cape May Lighthouse and few were on the wing.  With the wind blowing in precisely the opposite direction for safe travel across the Delaware Bay, the Monarchs were waiting yet another day to take the next leg of their journey. Looking towards a nine hour drive ahead of me, I couldn’t stay a moment longer. Except to grab a bowl of chowder at the Lobster House and have a quick glimpse in the daylight hours at the Fisherman’s Wharf at Cape May.

Sea Bass fishing season was open and fisherman Jim is cutting up squid for bass bait.

Monarchs began arriving in Angangueo several days ago. And in much greater numbers than have been seen in recent years. Barring any huge weather events, this late, great batch of migrants will make it too. Friends are reporting that there are Monarchs in their gardens still, and I have one of Patti Papows caterpillars in its chrysalis, yet to emerge.

Eggs, caterpillars, chrysalides, and butterflies that would have been killed by more seasonable colder temperatures are able to survive in the unusually warm weather we are experiencing on the East Coast. However, most of the wildflowers that provide fortification to the Monarchs on their southward journey have withered. You can help late stragglers by keeping nectar producing flowers in your garden going as long as possible. In our garden, it is the old passalong Korean Daisy that is providing nectar to bees and butterflies, and it will bloom until the first hard frost.

Friends of the Monarch Butterfly: If you would like to help towards the completion of the documentary film Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly, please consider making a tax deductible donation here:

DONATE HERE

Donors contributing over $5,000. will be listed in the credits as a film producer.

For more information, visit the film’s website here: Monarch Butterfly Film

For an overview of the film’s budget, please go here: Budget

Thank you so very much for your help.

With gratitude,

Kim

CHASING MONARCHS ~ WHIRLWIND TRIP TO STONE HARBOR AND CAPE MAY PART ONE

A SERIES OF EVENTS OF THE MOST FORTUNATE SORT!

Monarchs flying into the tree to roost for the night.

As I wrote briefly last, this past week I traveled to Cape May and Stone Harbor. The coastline of New Jersey, as is Westport, Massachusetts, yet another region where the Monarchs are known to gather in large numbers on their southward migration. I was hoping to investigate and possibly capture some footage for my documentary film Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly. I was inspired to take the trip by sightings of Monarchs reported by my daughter Liv. Over the weekend she had seen quite a few on Coney Island, Brooklyn, as well as at Battery Park, located at the southern tip of Manhattan. Checking the weather report, I know that after a day or two of bad weather during the butterfly’s migration, the Monarchs are often seen in good numbers the following day. So Saturday and Sunday were great conditions for migrating Monarchs in NYC, Monday and Tuesday bad weather was predicted–in all likelihood no Monarchs on the wing–so perhaps, I thought by Wednesday the Atlantic coast Monarchs would possibly be moving through New Jersey.

After the long drive Wednesday I arrived at Cape May at 3:00, with little time to spare. The skies had become overcast and the afternoon was turning chilly. Very fortunately, I arrived just in the nick of time to film a batch passing by the Cape May Lighthouse, located at Cape May Point. If I got nothing else, those first few minutes of the visit would have been well worth the time spent driving!

I next headed over to Saint Peter’s by-the-Sea, a tiny charming church tucked on a side street where the Monarchs are sometimes seen, roosting in the trees on the grounds of the church. Only a few could be located. Fortuitously, a man pulled up and got out of his car near to where I was walking. He was quite clearly a birder, dressed in camouflage, a sun hat, sensible shoes, and toting binoculars around his neck. “Hello, sir, have you seen any Monarchs today?” I inquired. “No, he replied, yesterday yes, but none today.” A few minutes later he was joined by a whole slew of birder lovers and, with unbelievably good luck, a few moments after that, one birder came running up, excitedly showing me a photo on her phone, exclaiming that numerous numbers were spotted further north, at Stone Harbor Point. “Find the parking lot, hit the dunes, locate the dirt road, and there you will find them, at the end of the road,” she said. Oh my, I said to myself, I’ll be looking for yet another needle in a haystack, this time in completely foreign territory, and, more driving. Happily, Google maps got me there in half an hour but by now it was getting very close to sunset.

Miraculously, I found the butterflies! Ten thousand, at least. They were swirling around the dunes searching for tree limbs and shrubs on which to take shelter for the night. One tree in particular, an old Japanese Black Pine that was tucked at the base of the dunes, and out of the wind, was hosting thousands. Watching the movement of masses of Monarchs flying for me never ceases to be a magical experience and I filmed the butterflies well into the lingering twilight. The afternoon had been cloudy gray and overcast, except for the last twenty minutes of the day, when the sun lit up the dunes and butterflies in tones of yellow and gold. I wondered as I was filming if these were the very same Monarchs that I had seen in a large roost at Eastern Point in Gloucester ten days earlier, or that Liv had seen in New York several days earlier.

Located on the adjacent beach was a noisily chattering flock of American Oystercatchers, and I shot some photos and footage of these fascinating shorebirds as well, because migrating birds are an integral part of Beauty on the Wing. American Oystercatchers breed along the Jersey shore and the south coast is at the northern end of their winter range.

Yak, yak, yak!

As I was completely unfamiliar with the area, I had planned to be tucked into my cozy hotel room on the beach by sundown, under the covers with a warm dinner, recharging camera batteries and myself. But now it was pitch black, I hadn’t yet checked in, had missed lunch and was super starving, but worse, was out of gas and didn’t know where to find a gas station that was open this late in the season.

Part Two tomorrow.

Stone Harbor Point

The dunes are covered in Seaside Goldenrod

Recycling and trash barrels!

 

Read More about Stone Harbor Point wildlife sanctuary here.

Read more about Stone Harbor Wetlands Institute here.

American OystercatcherRange Map

Friends of the Monarch Butterfly: If you would like to help towards the completion of the documentary film Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly, please consider making a tax deductible donation here:

DONATE HERE

Donors contributing over $5,000. will be listed in the credits as a film producer.

For more information, visit the film’s website here: Monarch Butterfly Film

For an overview of the film’s budget, please go here: Budget

Thank you so very much for your help.

With gratitude,

KimSome limbs of the Japanese Black Pine were covered in Monarchs and some limbs the butterflies were more sparsely spaced.

Little New England Cottontail!

Why does this little rabbit look so different from the rabbits we see so often in our gardens, alongside roadsides, and in meadows and dunes? Because it is a New England Cottontail!

Massachusetts has two species of cottontails, the New England Cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis) and the Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus). The introduced vegetable-and-flower-eating Eastern Cottontail has flourished, while this beautiful and illusive little creature’s numbers have dwindled to an alarmingly low number.

Prior to 1930, New England Cottontails were present in all 14 counties of Massachusetts and it was the only cottontail species appearing among 59 reports, except for 7 from Nantucket where Eastern Cottontails were introduced as early as the 1880s. Between 1924 and 1941, at least 16,200 Eastern Cottontails were imported from the mid-west and released. Another 4,600 were raised and released at a state propagation facility.

The most critical threat to New England Cottontails is loss of habitat. They can only survive in the ephemeral landscape of newly emerging forests, which provide low ground cover for shelter. Once a forest matures, the low growing plants become too sparse to offer food and shelter. Today the New England Cottontail resides in only about one fifth of its historic range.

The photo above of the New England Cottontail was taken at Gooseberry Island in Westport. He shot across the path on the way to the beach and wish I had a better photo to share, but now that I know to look for them there, I’ll try again.

You can compare the difference in the rabbit species in the two photos. The New England Cottontail’s (above photo) ears are shorter and his fur a bit grayer than the Eastern Cottontail (below). When I caught a glimpse of him I immediately recognized the rabbits we saw daily at my grandparent’s home, built in the dunes on a bluff on Cape Cod, where at that time, there were few homes and lots of cool scrubby habitat for wild creatures.
The ubiquitous Eastern Cottontail, Good Harbor Beach

Dwindling New England Cottontail Range Map.

As you can see, New England Cottontails have been completely extirpated from Cape Ann and Essex County.

Learn more about New England Cottontails here.

MONARCH MIGRATION UPDATE AND THANK YOU KIND DONORS FOR CONTRIBUTING TO MY DOCUMENTARY “BEAUTY ON THE WING!”

I AM OVERJOYED TO SHARE THAT WE HAVE RAISED OVER $2,500.00 IN THE FIRST WEEK OF “BEAUTY ON THE WING” ONLINE FUNDRAISER!!! MY DEEPEST THANKS AND GRATITUDE  TO NEW ENGLAND BIOLABS, LAUREN M., MARION F., ELAINE M., DONNA STOMAN, PEGGY O’MALLEY, JOEY C., CATHERINE RYAN, JOEANN HART, JANE PAZNIK BONDARIN AND ROBERT REDIS (BOTH FROM NEW YORK), NUBAR ALEXANIAN, PETER VAN DEMARK, PATRICIA VAN DERPOOL, FRED FREDERICKS, LESLIE HEFFRON, JIM MASCIARELLI, DAVE MOORE (KOREA), LILIAN AND CRAIG OLMSTEAD, TOM HAUCK, AND ANONYMOUS PERSONS FOR THEIR GENEROUS HELP.  
If you would like to help towards the completion of my documentary film Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly, filmed in the wilds of Cape Ann and Angangueo, Mexico, please consider making a tax deductible donation here:

DONATE HERE

Donors contributing over $5,000. will be listed in the credits as a film producer.

For more information, visit the film’s website here: Monarch Butterfly Film

For an overview of the film’s budget, please go here: Budget

Thank you so very much for your help.

With gratitude,

Kim Smith

Cape Ann Monarch Migration Update October 16, 2017

Monarchs roosting overnight in the old chokecherry tree.

We have had four beautiful waves of Monarchs pouring into Cape Ann. The first arrived on September 23rd and the fourth departed last Wednesday morning, on the eleventh of October. As there are reports of Monarchs still further north, we should be expecting at least one more wave, quite possibly this week. And, too, my friend Patti found several Monarch caterpillars in her garden only several days ago. These caterpillars won’t be ready to fly to Mexico for another week to ten days at least. If this warm weather continues, we may still yet have more batches coming through in the coming weeks.

What can you do to help the Monarchs, Painted Ladies, bees, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and all pollinators at this time of year? Don’t tidy up the garden just yet!  When you cut back remaining flowering stalks and sprigs, you are depriving winged creatures of much needed, and less readily available, nourishment. Bees, and migrating butterflies on the wing, especially Monarchs, need nectar throughout their journey to Mexico. Songbirds eat the seeds of expiring flowering stalks.

I keep my client’s gardens neat and tidy at this time of year by pulling out the occasional dead plant and trimming away dried out foliage. In deference to the pollinators, the very best time of year to plant bulbs and organize the garden for the following year, is after November 1st, at the very earliest. And even then, if for example my Korean Daisies are still blooming, I work around the plant. Usually in November and up until the first frost, it is covered in bees. I’ve had many a Monarch pass through my garden in November and the Korean Daisies were there at the ready to provide nectar for weary travelers.

I keep my client’s gardens neat and tidy at this time of year by pulling out the occasional dead plant and trimming away dried out foliage. In deference to the pollinators, the very best time of year to plant bulbs and organize the garden for the following year, is after November 1st, at the very earliest. And even then, if for example my Korean Daisies are still blooming, I work around the plant. Usually in November and up until the first frost, it is covered in bees. I’ve had many a Monarch pass through my garden in November and the Korean Daisies were there at the ready to provide nectar for weary travelers.

Patti’s Caterpillar, found in her garden on October 14th. He’s now at our home in a terrarium, happily munching away on Common Milkweed leaves. I leave him outdoors in a sunny location during the day but bring him indoors late in the afternoon because the air temperature is dropping considerably at night. Patti Papow Photo

WHEN A WEED IS NOT A WEED and Why Joe-Pye is So Darn Lovable!

A bodacious beauty possessing the toughest of traits, Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium) is the stalwart star of the eastern native plants garden. Large, airy dome-shaped flowerheads blooming in a range of shades from pink to lavender to purple provide food, by way of nectar, foliage, and seed heads to myriad species of bees, butterflies, and songbirds. Beginning in mid-July and continuing through mid-October, pollinators on the wing can find sustenance in a garden planted with Little Joes and Big Joes.

Joe Pye, the person, is thought to have been a North Carolina Native American medicine man who used these wildflowers to cure many ailments, including typhoid fever. The plants became know as Joe Pye’s weed.

A name changer from weed to wildflower would be a game changer for numerous species of native plants. Why do so many native wildflowers have the suffix weed? Because when the colonists arrived from Europe, they wanted their crops, as well as European cultivated flowers, to grow in their new gardens. Anything native that interfered with their plans was deemed a “weed.” Examples of beautiful and invaluable North American native pollinator plants with the name given weed are milkweed (Asclepias), sneezeweed (Helenium), ironweed (Veronia), and jewelweed (Impatiens capensis).

Three favorite and fabulous species for the New England landscape are Eutrochium purpureum, E. maculatum, and E. dubium. Joe-pye grows beautifully in average to moist soil, in full sun to light shade. Plant Joe-pye in the back of the border. E.purpurem grows five to seven feet tall, while Little Joe grows three to five feet. With their beautiful blossoms, robust habit, winter hardiness, and disease resistance, these long blooming members of the sunflower family are treasured for their ability to attract an array of butterflies, bees, and songbirds to the garden during the mid- to late-summer season.

Just look at this sampling of the different species of Lepidoptera finding noursihment from the blossoms of Joe-Pye!


Tiger Swallowtail

Painted Lady
Black Swallowtail

 

Monarch

Joe-Pye does especially well in a coastal native plants garden.

If you enjoyed reading this post, I hope you will consider donating to the completion of my documentary film Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly. Every contribution is tremendously appreciated. For more information on how you can help, please visit the film’s website at http://www.monarchbutterflyfilm.com

KIM SMITH POLLINATOR GARDEN PROGRAM FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC THURSDAY EVENING

Please join me Thursday evening, August 10th, at 7:00pm, at the Peabody Institute Library, South Branch. I will be giving my talk about how to create a garden to benefit a host of pollinators and screening several short films. I hope to see you there! 

The day we planted blueberries, is the day the Catbirds moved in. Many species of songbirds are pollinators, too!

Painted Lady nectaring at wildflower Joe-pye, Good Harbor Beach

 

MONARCHS HERE, THERE, AND EVERYWHERE PART TWO AND PLEASE CONTINUE TO REPORT YOUR MONARCH SIGHTINGS

The title of the post could just as easily have read Monarchs, Eggs, and Caterpillars Here, There, and Everywhere. I haven’t seen this much Monarch activity on Cape Ann in over ten years and hope so much the number of Monarchs seen in gardens, meadows, and dunes indicates a strong migration.

Thank you to everyone who has written in with your Monarch sightings! The reports are tremendously informative and fun to read, so please, do continue to let us know. The rainy cool weather has temporarily put the kibosh on mating and egg laying, but they are here on our shores and just waiting for a few warm hours and the sun to come out to renew breeding activity.

Monarchs not only drink nectar from the florets of milkweed, it is the only species of plant on which they deposit their eggs. In the above photo you can clearly see the Monarch probing for nectar with her proboscis, or drinking straw. 

Look for the butterflies, eggs, and caterpillars wherever milkweed grows. In our region, they are most often found on pink flowering Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), as opposed to the orange milkweeds, A. curassavica and A. tuberosa.

Female Monarch depositing an egg on an upper leaf of Common Milkweed.

The eggs are typically laid on the underside of the leaf, near the top of the plant. Tiny golden domes, no larger than a pinhead, Monarch eggs are easily confused with the eggs of other insects.

Once the tiny caterpillar emerges, it will stay towards the top of the plant, venturing further to larger leaves as it grows.

Four Monarchs in One Photo!

I was trying to take a snapshot of two Monarchs flying but not until I returned home did I realize that resting on a leaf were a pair of Monarchs mating. Lara Lepionka had just sent a photo the day before of a pair mating in a tree above her garden. Typically Monarchs will begin mating on the ground, or the foliage of a lower plant plant such as squash or milkweed. They will join together abdomen to abdomen and, once securely attached, the male then carries the female to a safer location. A male and female Monarch will stay coupled together for four to five hours before releasing (see photo below of a pair of Monarchs mating, towards center left.

Lara Lepionka cell phone photo of Monarchs mating in a tree.

Monarch and Common Milkweed Good Harbor Beach

Not everyone has a gorgeous milkweed patch like Patti Papows. Don’t despair. You don’t have to go far! I am finding tons of eggs and caterpillars on the Common Milkweed that grows around the edge of the parking lot at Good Harbor Beach.

Patti Papows Common Milkweed with Monarch and Bee.