Category Archives: Creating a Butterfly Garden

PEARL CRESCENT – YET ANOTHER REASON TO GROW ASTERS (as if we needed one!)

Life at the Edge of the Sea – Pearl Crescent Butterfly

Seen throughout the summer, the beautiful female Pearl Crescent on the asters is from my garden just a few days ago. Pearl Crescents drink nectar from a great many flowers. On the smaller side, with a wing span of about 1.5 inches, they are not always easy to identify because their wing patterning is highly varied. The composite photograph below is from wiki and shows some of the many variations.

Grow Native! Pearl Crescents are found throughout North America, wherever asters grow. Asters are the caterpillar’s food plants and according to Mass Audubon the species of asters they are known to feed on in New England are: Heath Aster (Aster pilosus), Many-flowered Aster (A. ericoides), Bushy Aster (A. dumosus), Calico Aster (A. lateriflorus), Whorled Aster (A. acuminatus), Smooth Aster (A. laevis), Panicled Aster (A. simplex), Purple-stemmed Aster (A. puniceus), and New England Aster (A. novae angliae). Female Pearl Crescent

Pearl Crescent Caterpillar – image courtesy wikicommons media

ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SCENTS ON ALL OF CAPE ANN – ‘SAILOR’S DELIGHT’ SUMMERSWEET

Clethra alnifolia is more commonly known by its many descriptive names of Summersweet, Sweet Pepperbush, and Honeysweet. In an old book on fragrance, written by Louise Beebe Wilder, she writes that in Gloucester of old it was described as ‘Sailor’s Delight.’ During the 19th and early 20th century, as told by Wilder, the sailors entering the harbor on homebound ships would reportedly delight in its fragrance wafting out to see.

Much of Niles Pond road is to this day lined with great thickets of ‘Sailor’s Delight.’ Wild Clethra growing on Cape Ann blooms during the month of August.

The following is an excerpt from a book that I wrote back in 2004-2007, which was published by David R. Godine in 2009. The book is about designing landscape habitats for wild creatures and for people, titled Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities: Notes from a Gloucester Garden, and all that I wrote then, still holds true to day.

“Summersweet bears small white florets held on racemes, and depending on the cultivar may be shaded with varying hues of pink to rose-red. The tapering spires of fragrant blossoms appear in mid to late summer. Clethra has a sweet and spicy though somewhat pungent aroma, and when the summer air is sultry and humid, the fragrance permeates the garden, Summersweet is a nectar food attractive to bees and a wide variety of butterflies, notably the Silver-spotted Skipper.” See more at Oh GardenMyriad species of bees and butterflies, along with Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, are attracted to Clethra for its sweet nectar, while American Robins, Goldfinches and warblers dine on Summersweet’s ripened berries.
Clethra fruits ripening

SUNFLOWER DREAMS

I am dreaming nightly about sunflowers. Thanks to the mystical beauty found at School Street Sunflowers, it’s no wonder why

Nature rarer uses yellow
Than another hue;
Saves she all of that for sunsets,—
Prodigal of blue,

Spending scarlet like a woman,
Yellow she affords
Only scantly and selectly,
Like a lover’s words.

Emily Dickinson

Don’t miss School Street Sunflowers while the field is in full, glorious bloom. There are still hundreds of buds yet to open. Pay online in advance to reserve a time – see below.

Paul Wegzyn is the genius behind School Street Sunflowers

With Paul’s Dad, Paul.

Sunflowers, freshly cut each morning, are for sale. Only $10.00 a half  dozen and they last a very good long while.

When you go -the sunflower trail is one way, which is great for avoiding mashups on the trail during the pandemic. Paul and his staff all wear masks, so please wear your mask as well. This year, the tractors are not available for playing on because they would need to be disinfected after each use. There are picnic tables and wonderful vignettes for family photos. I went with three year old Charlotte on a sunny morning and she led the way through the winding trail. Last year, Charlotte only ventured a few feet into the field; this year it was “COMEON, hurry up Mimi!”

Live in the Sunshine, Swim the Sea, Drink the Wild Air – Ralph Waldo Emerson

School Street Sunflowers is located on School Street in Ipswich, behind the high school. For more information visit –

Website: www.schoolstreetsunflowers.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/schoolstreetsunflowers

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/schoolstreetsunflowers

Live music with Paul’s friend and first year Berkeley College of Music student, Jade Hua

Sunflowers are heliotropic when they are young. By the time they mature, sunflowers generally face toward the East throughout the day. The scientific name for Common Sunflowers is Helianthus annus – helios for resembling the sun, anthos for flower, and annus for yearly.

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360 degrees of Sunflowers 🌻 #schoolstreetsunflowers

A post shared by Kim Smith (@kimsmithfilms) on

INSTAGRAM HACK!

Friends, my Instagram account was hacked and it was super creepy. My kimsmithdesigns account and monarchbutterflyfilm account are temporarily disabled. If you would like to follow me on instagram, I have a new account, kimsmithfilms. Please follow at kimsmithfilms if you would like to connect on Instagram. Thank you so much! Monarch Butterfly and blue Rose of Sharon

MINIATURE HUMMINGBIRD, ENORMOUS FURRY BEE, FLYING LOBSTER, OR MUTANT NEW WORLD CREATURE?

Hummingbird and Snowberry Clearwing Moths

By Kim Smith

Startled! is an apt description of the reaction most gardeners experience when first they encounter a clearwing moth. Hovering while nectaring, with wings whirring rapidly and audibly, is it a miniature hummingbird, enormous furry bee, flying lobster, or mutant new world creature?Verbena and Hummingbird Clearwing MothHummingbird Clearwing Moth  (Hemaris thysbe) nectaring at Verbena bonariensis 

The family Sphingidae are easily identified in both their adult and caterpillar forms. The medium-to-large-sized sphinx, or hawk, moths have characteristic robust, chunky bodies tapering to a point, and slender wings, which are adapted for rapid and sustained flight. Often mistaken for hummingbirds, the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe), with green tufted body and ruby colored scales, suggesting the male hummingbird, and the Snowberry Clearwing Moth (Hemaris diffinis), with the gold and black striped color pattern similar to that of a fat bumble bee, mimic both the bees and birds they fly with during the day. The ability of certain Sphingids to hover in mid air while nectaring is unusual in nectar feeders and has evolved in only three species: Sphingids, bats, and hummingbirds. Sphinx moths also do an exceptionally unusual movement called “swing-hovering,” swinging from side to side while hovering, it is thought, in an effort to escape predators lying in wait amongst the flora.

Snowberry Clearwing Moth (Hemaris diffinis), nectaring at Buddleia

Sphinx moths are grouped together because their caterpillars hold their head and thorax erect in a sphinx-like fashion. Most larvae have a horn protruding from their last segment. For this reason, they are often called hornworms. The adult sphinx moth is a powerful flier and usually has a long proboscis suitable for tubular-shaped flowers with a deep calyx, such as trumpet vine. The slender wings must beat rapidly to support their heavy bodies. The names of many sphinx or hawk moth species correlate to their caterpillar host plant, to name but a few examples: Catalpa Sphinx, Huckleberry Sphinx, Paw Paw Sphinx, Cherry Sphinx, and Elm Sphinx.

The order Lepidoptera is comprised of butterflies, moths and skippers. The name is derived from the Greek lepidos for scales and ptera for wings. Their scaled wings distinguish them as a group from all other insects. Shortly after the Hummingbird and Snowberry Clearwings are born, they immediately begin to shed their wing scales, hence the common name clearwing moth. While nectaring, moths receive a dusting of pollen as they brush against the pollen-bearing anthers. Their fuzzy, fur-like scale-covered bodies are an excellent transporter of pollen. Because moths are on the wing primarily at night, moth-pollinated flowers are often white and pale, pastel-hued and tend to be sweetly scented. White flowers are more easily distinguished in the evening light, whereas colorful flowers disappear. Adult clearwing moths are diurnal (day flying) and nectar at a variety of flowers. In our garden, they are most often spotted at our native Phlox ‘David,’ bee balm (Monarda didyma), purple-top Verbena bonariensis, and butterfly bushes with blue and white flowers. The larvae of Hummingbird Clearwings feed primarily on viburnum, honeysuckle, and snowberry (all Caprifoliaceae), and less commonly on hawthorn, cherry, and plum (Rosaceae). Snowberry larvae feed on honeysuckle and snowberry.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth nectaring at native Phlox paniculata ‘David’
(Click photo to see full size image)

For the most part, Sphinx moths are on the wing at night, although the beautiful White-lined Sphinx (Hyles lineata) is often seen at dusk. The forward wings are dark olive brown streaked with white. The hind wings are black with a vivid band of rose-pink. Found throughout North America, both larvae and adults are consummate generalists. The caterpillars feed on the foliage of apple trees, four-o’clocks, evening primrose, elm, grape, and tomato. The adults nectar at a wide variety of flowers including larkspur, gaura, columbine, petunia, moonflower, lilac, bouncing bet, clover, Jimson weed, and thistle. White-lined Sphinxes are drawn to lights and those that remain in the garden the next morning are quite subdued, and may come to your finger.

Snowberry Clearwing

Orchids often have a symbiotic relation to very specific sphinx moths. The starry white, six-petalled Comet Orchid (the French common name, “Etoile de Madagascar” means “Star of Madagascar”) produces nectar at the bottom of an extremely long corolla, nearly a foot in length. Star of Madagascar (Angraecum sesquipedale) was predicted by Charles Darwin to have a highly specialized moth pollinator with a proboscis at least that long.  “Angraecum sesquipedale has nectaries eleven and a half inches long, with only the lower half filled with very sweet nectar…it is, however, surprising, that any insect should be able to reach the nectar: our English sphinxes have probosces as long as their bodies; but in Madagascar there must be moths with probosces capable of extension to a length of between ten and twelve inches!” (Darwin). The giant hawk moth Xanthopan morganii praedicta (“the predicted one”) was named appropriately upon its discovery, after Darwin’s death.

Etoile de Madagascar and Hawk Moth Xanthopan morganii praedicta

Image courtesy wiki commons media

Co-evolution, the specialized biological embrace of two species, bears both benefits and risks. Each partner benefits in that no energy is wasted on finding ways to reproduce. The risk lies in becoming too dependent on a single species. If one half of the co-evolved partnership perishes, the other will surely become extinct as well.

This article was first published on August 3, 2011 and was subsequently republished by the New England Wildflower Society.

 

THANK YOU HEATHER ATWOOD AND KORY CURCURU FOR THE WONDERFUL MONARCH FILM 1623 STUDIOS INTERVIEW!

Thank you so very much to Heather Atwood and Kory Curcuru for sharing about all things Monarchs, including the current state of the butterflies, Monarchs and other species of butterflies found in our gardens, and about my forthcoming film Beauty on the Wing; Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly.  

I look forward to watching weekly episodes of their show, Cape Ann Today, and was simply delighted to be interviewed. Thank you again

“As light as a paperclip and they travel over 3,000 miles.” The Monarch Butterfly and its awe-inspiring life cycle has become a sort of northstar for documentary filmmaker Kim Smith. Watch the trailer to her soon-to-be-released film, “Beauty on the Wing – Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly” and hear Smith discuss this iconic winged being, and what we can do to support its journey.

You can watch the interview on either Youtube or the Facebook link; I think the Youtube version is a little clearer.

WHERE HAVE ALL THE BUTTERFLIES GONE?

In thinking about where have all the butterflies gone, I am reminded of the poignant song written by Pete Seeger “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” which although a song about the futility of war, sums up much about the environmental impact of habitat loss. Without wildflower habitat, there will be no pollinators of any sort.

Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago.

Buckeye and Seaside Goldenrod

Where have all the butterflies gone? Different species of butterfly populations fluctuate from year to year. For example, some years you may see far greater numbers of Buckeyes, the next year not so much. That same year you may hardly see any Tiger Swallowtails but will the following.

That being said,, everyone must realize that every year there are fewer butterflies than the year before. Butterflies thrive in meadows, the very same topography that is the easiest to build upon. Every time a new house or shopping mall is built on a meadow, we decrease not just butterfly habitat, but a whole community of wildlife habitat.

In the above photo you can see a Monarch with a Black Swallowtail flying overhead. This stunning patch of wildflowers and nectar plants was sited in Gloucester at a prime spot for Monarchs to rest and refuel after migrating across Massachusetts Bay. The new home owners ripped out most of the wildflowers and planted the site in a more formal style, with non-native perennials and shrubs. At this location, I would often see Monarchs, Tiger Swallowtails, Black Swallowtails, Painted and American Ladies, Sulphurs, and many other species. That is no longer true.

Tiger Swallowtail drinking nectar from Joe Pye-weed at the same wildflower patch, no longer in existence.

Butterfly and bee populations are declining overall, not only because of habitat loss, but because of the unbridled use of herbicides and pesticides in agriculture and home lawn care.

Butterflies are especially sensitive to fluctuations in weather, and also to overall climate change. This year we had a long, cold wet spring. The inclement weather is continuing, too, from a butterflies perspective, because although we are seeing some warmer temperatures the past few days, it has mostly been rainy, foggy, or overcast. Butterflies thrive during long stretches of sunny, hot weather. Their wings don’t work very well in the damp and cold. Because of global climate change, we have seen a seven percent increase in precipitation worldwide.

One of the best years I have ever seen for dozens and dozens of species of butterflies, including Monarchs, in the Northeast, was the summer and fall of 2012. That year, we had a warm winter followed by a warm spring, then a warm, dry summer, and a long, warm Indian summer. It was butterfly bonanza that summer and autumn!Adding to people’s concern is the fact that last year, there was an abundance of spring rain that in turn created an extraordinary wildflower bloom in Texas, which got all the butterflies off to a good start. In 2019, we were seeing Monarchs as early as early June, which was very unusual for Cape Ann. Folks are comparing this year to that of 2019, however, 2019 was not an average year.

Monarchs are a case unto themselves. Their spring and summer numbers depend upon a variety of additional conditions, including how successful was the previous year’s autumn migration, whether or not there were nectar providing wildflowers on their northward and southward  migrations, and wind and weather conditions from Canada to Mexico.

Note the bar graph in that the eastern population of the Monarchs plummeted by half, according to this year’s spring count by the World Wildlife Fund Mexico.

Particularly in the northeast, the wind patterns during the Monarchs spring northward migration matter tremendously. My friend Charmaine at Point Pelee, in southern Ontario, which is 49 degrees latitude (we are 43 degrees latitude) has been raising and releasing Monarchs for over a month now, while most of us on Cape Ann have only seen a smattering. The Monarchs moved this year in a straight northward trajectory. If the wind does not blow from west to east during some part of their northward migration, far fewer will end up along the eastern shores.Monarchs and Seaside Goldenrod

All is not lost. I am 90 percent certain we will soon be seeing some of our migratory and non-migratory local populations, we just need some good weather. They are later than usual, but not gone entirely.

For so many more reasons, I am hopeful for the future of wildlife and their habitats and see such tremendous, positive change. Despite the current administration’ s extremely harmful stance against the environment, many, many individuals and organizations are gaining a deeper appreciation about the importance of habitats and taking positive action. Many have made it their life’s work. These individuals and organizations are creating wildlife sanctuaries and conserving existing habitats. If the Monarch is declared an endangered species, that will surely bring an added awarenesses and increased federal spending for protecting and creating habitats.

How can you help the Monarchs, which in turn will help myriad species of other butterflies and pollinators? Plant wildflowers! Both Marsh and Common Milkweed for their northward migration, and lots of nectar-rich later summer blooming wildflowers for their southward migration, including New England Aster, Smooth Aster, Purple-stemmed Aster, Seaside Goldenrod, and Canada Goldenrod.Monarchs and New England Aster

CECROPIA LOVE AMONGST THE LILACS

NORTH AMERICA’S STUNNING AND LARGEST MOTH THE CECROPIA AND WHY THESE GIANT SILK MOTHS ARE THREATENED – PART TWO

See Part One Here

After spending the winter and most of the spring tightly wrapped in their cocoons of spun silk, the first male eclosed on the last day of May. Burly and beautiful, Cecropia Moths emerge with wings patterned in white crescent spots outlined in rust and black, sapphire blue and black eyespots, waves and wiggly lines in soft woodland hues, and a wide tubular body banded and dotted orange, black and white.

It is easy to tell the difference between a male and female because of the male’s spectacular plume- like antennae.

The females were equally as easy to identify because their antennae are comparatively more slender.

Males rely on their superbly oversized antennae to detect the female’s pheromones.

After each Cecropia Moth emerged from its cocoon and their wings had dried, we placed them on the shrubs around our front porch. The males eventually flew off, but the females stayed in one place and usually by morning we would find a pair, or two, mating in our garden.

They stayed coupled together all day long, uncoupling sometime during the evening. We kept two of the females for several days and both rewarded us with dozens of eggs.

I had read it only takes a week or so for the larvae to emerge from their eggs and was beginning to think ours were not viable, when they began hatching today! In actuality it really took between two and three weeks for the caterpillars to emerge. Possibly the cooler temperatures during this period slowed hatching. The caterpillars are teeny tiny, perhaps one quarter of an inch, black with pokey spines. Charlotte and I collected a bunch of Chokecherry (Prunus viginiana) branches this morning as we prepare to raise another batch of stunning Cecropias.

The adults, both male and female, are short lived. Giant Silk Moths, which include Luna, Polyphemus, Promethea, and Cecropia emerge without mouthparts and cannot eat. Cecropia Moths spend several months in the larval stage, most of their lives as a cocoon, and only a week or two as their beautiful winged adult selves. Giant Silk Moths live only to reproduce.

Threats to Giant Silk Moths are significant. The number one threat is Compsilura concinnata, a tachinid fly that was introduced to North America to control invasive European Gypsy Moths. Both insects are a cautionary tale of why not to introduce invasive species without knowing the full breadth of the harm they will cause. Spraying trees with toxic pesticides that kills both the caterpillars and the cocoons is also a major threat. And, too, squirrels eat the cocoons

Hyalophora cecropia moths are univoltine, having only one generation per year. Our Cecropias began hatching just before the full moon. I have more cocoons and am wondering if this next batch of moths are waiting to emerge prior to July’s full moon.

 

 

TWELVE NATIVE MILKWEEDS

Did you know that there are over two hundred species of milkweed (Asclepias) found around the world? Seventy different species are native to North America.

Milkweeds, as most know, are the host plant for Monarch Butterflies. A host plant is another way of saying caterpillar food plant.

Monarchs deposit eggs on milkweed plants. Some milkweeds are more productive than other species. For the Northeast region, the most productive milkweed is Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). The second most productive is *Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). What is meant by productive? When given a choice, the females choose these plants over other species of milkweed and the caterpillars have the greatest success rate. In our own butterfly garden and at at my client’s habitat gardens, I grow both side-by-side. The females flit from one plant to the next, freely depositing eggs on both species.

This fun chart shows some of the most common species of milkweeds found in North America. *Swamp Milkweed is another common name for Marsh Milkweed.

SINGING THE PRAISES OF CAPE ANN’S WINGED AERIALISTS- Please join Kim Smith, John Nelson, and Martin Ray for a fun zoom hour of conversation!

Please join John Nelson, Martin Ray, and myself for an hour of talk about the many birds and habitats found on Cape Ann. The event is hosted by Literary Cape Ann and will be moderated by Eric Hutchins, Gulf of Maine Habitat Restoration Coordinator for NOAA.

From Literary Cape Ann’s newsletter-

TRY BIRDING IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD!

Singing the praises of Cape Ann’s winged aerialists

Families are invited to join some of our favorite local naturalists and authors —  John Nelson, Kim Smith and Martin Ray — for a fun hour talking about the many birds and natural habitats found on Cape Ann. Wildlife biologist Eric Hutchins will moderate this-one hour conversation.

Zoom in this coming Friday, June 19, at 6:30 p.m. for an hour of fun as you celebrate the long-awaited summer solstice. See and hear birds, ask questions, learn some birdwatching tips and discover ways to document your bird sightings using your camera, notebook, blog or sketch pad.

This event is brought to you by Literary Cape Ann, a nonprofit group that provides information and events that support and reinforce the value and importance of the literary arts. LCA commemorates Toad Hall bookstore’s 45 years of service on Cape Ann. LCA’s generous sponsors include: SUN Engineering in Danvers, Bach Builders in Gloucester and The Institution for Savings.

Use this link next Friday: 
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81423552319?pwd=VU5LU21Ga09wVE5QYWpsRnlhRCtFUT09

Order books by our guest authors at The Bookstore of Gloucester. For those interested, bird books make great Father’s Day gifts. Further down in this newsletter, you’ll find lots of great information about books and birdwatching organizations.

Thank you, Kim Smith and Martin Ray, for providing us with some of your beautiful photography to help promote this event. And thank you, John Nelson, for the annotated lists of books and birding organizations.
Meet our panel!

Meet our panel!

Artist, author/blogger, and naturalist Martin Ray will talk about maintaining his fine blog, “Notes from Halibut Point,” and share stories discovered in that magical place.

Filmmaker, naturalist, and activist Kim Smith will share her own adventures chronicling Cape Ann’s vibrant bird life including the work she does advocating for the endangered piping plovers that nest at Good Harbor Beach.

Author-naturalist John Nelson will start things off with some birdwatching basics before getting into a few stories about local birds, their habits and habitats from his new book, “Flight Calls: Exploring Massachusetts through Birds.”

Our moderator, Eric Hutchins, is the Gulf of Maine Habitat Restoration Coordinator for the NOAA Restoration Center located in Gloucester. He  has worked as both a commercial fisherman and government biologist on domestic and foreign fishing vessels throughout the Northeast and Alaska.

Books by our speakers are available through The Bookstore of Gloucester:

Martin Ray
“Cape Ann Narratives of Art in Life” — A collection of interviews and images tracing the creative lives of 28 contemporary artists.
“Quarry Scrolls” (2018)— 24 photographs of Halibut Point natural life and scenes with accompanying Haiku poems

Kim Smith:
“Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!” — Written and illustrated by Kim Smith.

John Nelson:
“Flight Calls: Exploring Massachusetts through Birds”

More books, recommended by John Nelson:

  1. Sibley, David. The Sibley Guide to Birds
  2. Kroodsma, Donald. The Singing Life of Birds. 2005. On the science and art of listening to birds, by a professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts and a foremost authority on bird vocalizations.
  3. Leahy, Christopher, John Hanson Mitchell, and Thomas Conuel. The Nature of Massachusetts. 1996. An excellent introduction to the natural history of Massachusetts by three prominent Mass Audubon Society naturalist-authors.
  4. Sibley, David. What It’s Like to Be a Bird. 2020. Just published, a study of what birds are doing and why, by a longtime Massachusetts resident and renowned author/illustrator of a series of bird and nature guides.
  5. Weidensaul, Scott. Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds. 2000. A Pulitzer Prize finalist study of bird migration by the naturalist and author of Return to Wild America, the subject of his memorable 2020 BBC lecture.
  6. Zickefoose, Julie. Baby Birds: An Artist Looks into the Nest. 2016. Where art meets natural history, by a talented author/artist, former student of biological anthropology at Harvard, and keynote speaker at the 2014 Massachusetts Birders Meeting.

If you’d like to learn more or get involved in the birding life, here are some recommendations from John Nelson:

An excellent overall resource is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, especially the “All About Birds” sections, which includes free access to the MaCauley Library (the country’s best collection of vocalizations of birds and other animals), the free Merlin bird identification app, live bird cams, and other resources for beginners and intermediates. Some programs, like their “Joy of Birdwatching” course, require an enrollment fee, but many of their resources are free to anyone.

For bird conservation, the most active national organizations are the American Bird Conservancy and National Audubon. For state bird conservation, Mass Audubon (not affiliated with National Audubon) is most active and the best source of information, but many other organizations are involved in preservation of habitats, often with a local focus.

For birding field trips, Mass Audubon and the Brookline Bird Club both offer frequent trips at different seasons to Cape Ann, sometimes for just a morning, sometimes for a whole day. Both organizations welcome novices, and both have trip leaders who make an effort to be particularly helpful to beginners. Mass Audubon trips, generally sponsored by MAS Ipswich River or MAS Joppa Flats, require advance registration and some payment.

Brookline Bird Club trips are free, without any registration, but regular participants are encouraged to join the club with $15 as the annual dues. The name of the BBC is misleading; the club originated in Brookline in 1913 but is now one of the largest, most active clubs in the country and offers field trips across and beyond Massachusetts.

John Nelson is on the BBC Board of Directors and leads a few Cape Ann trips in both winter and spring. John reminds us that this is a strange time for beginners, since Mass Audubon has cancelled many field trips and the BBC has cancelled all trips through June, but eventually field trips will open up again, especially in places where social distancing is most possible.

The very active Facebook page, Birding Eastern Mass, has over 2,000 subscribers, from novice birders to experts. It’s a great site for sharing bird photos.

 

About Birding in Our Backyard

This Zoom event is for friends and families who are looking for safe, fun things to do close to home. Cape Ann’s abundance of natural wonders are here for us to enjoy and protect. Try chronicling your experiences in a new blog or a photo journal.

• • •

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.
— John Muir, from “Our National Parks”

NORTH AMERICA’S STUNNING AND LARGEST MOTH THE CECROPIA AND WHY THESE GIANT SILK MOTHS ARE THREATENED – PART ONE

Last summer my friend Christine gave me a handful of Cecropia Moth eggs. Nearly all hatched and grew, AND grew, AND GREW. The caterpillars were a whopping five inches in length and the width of a very large man’s thumb before they began to pupate (become a cocoon).

Cecropia Moth Eggs

First Instar

Second and Fourth Instar

Third Instar

Fifth and Final Stage

Cecropia Going Pooh (Frass)

The Cecropia caterpillar eats the leaves of many trees and shrubs, including alder, ash, birch, box elder, Chokecherry, elm, lilac, maple, poplar, Prunus and Ribes species, and willow. People are always a bit dismayed when I tell them that the adult is born without mouthparts and cannot eat during its brief lifespan. The adult’s only purpose in life is to mate and it lives for about a week or so.

We fed our Cecropia caterpillars Chokecherry (Prunus viginiana), because I knew of a good source where it was growing plentifully.

Cecropia Spinning a Cocoon -The caterpillar pulled some leaves loosely around, but mostly the cocoon is made from its own spun silk. Some spin their cocoons on tree branches and some on the sides of the buildings.

All winter the cocoons lived in glass terrariums on the side of our front porch, which is not enclosed, and which is also out of direct sunlight. The cocoons need to experience normal fluctuations in temperature so that adults will emerge at the correct time of year, when trees are leafed out.

Cecropia Moths are the largest moths found in North America. They are members of the Family Saturniidae. There are approximately 1,500 species of large moths in this family and they are found all over the world. The very largest are found in the tropics, but the wingspan of our Cecropia Moths can reach an amazing 7 inches across (compared to a Monarch, with a wing span of approximately 3.5 inches).

Part Two – emerging, reproduction, laying eggs of the next generation, and how we can help this increasingly rare species.

 

Cecropia Moths are found east of the Rocky Mountains, in Canada and the United States

 

 

 

HAPPY FIRST DAY OF SPRING PUSSY WILLOWS!

When you see a patch of Pussy Willows look, too for the Mourning Cloak Butterfly. Pussy Willows are the caterpillar host plant for Mourning Cloaks. One of the first butterfly on the wing in early spring, Mourning Cloaks winter over as adults in the cracks and crevises of tree bark.

LOSS OF HABITAT, THE USE OF PESTICIDES AND HERBICIDES, AND CLIMATE CHANGE ARE HAVING A PROFOUNDLY NEGATIVE IMPACT ON THE BUTTERFLIES

IT’S NOT JUST MEXICO’S FORESTS THAT NEED PROTECTING FOR BUTTERFLY MIGRATION

THEIR ROUTE FROM CANADA IS THREATENED BY OVERUSE OF HERBICIDES AND CLIMATE CHANGE, AMONG OTHER FACTORS

Monarch and Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Mexico, the United States and Canada must share responsibility for the conservation of the monarch butterfly, according to a biologist who warns that the insect’s North American migratory path is at risk of becoming a thing of the past.

Víctor Sánchez-Cordero, a researcher at the National Autonomous University’s Institute of Biology and Mexico’s lead representative on a tri-national scientific committee that studies the monarch, said that the butterflies’ route from southeastern Canada to the fir tree forests of Michoacán and México state is under threat.

He blames the excessive use of herbicides, changes in the way land is used, climate change and a reduction in the availability of nectar and pollen.

“The commitment to conserve this migratory phenomenon not only focuses on Mexico; it’s a shared responsibility between our country, Canada and the United States,” Sánchez-Cordero said.

The researcher, who along with his team developed a system to monitor the migration of the monarch, said that there is a misconception that the most important – almost exclusive – factor in ensuring the continuation of the phenomenon is the conservation of forests in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (RBMM), located about 100 kilometers northwest of Mexico City.

That idea “has placed great international pressure on Mexico,” Sánchez-Cordero said before adding that he and his team published an article in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science that shows that the decline in the number of monarch butterflies migrating to Mexico is not due to deforestation in the RBMM.

Deforestation has been drastically reduced in the past 10 years but butterfly numbers have continued to decline, he said.

“The dramatic reduction in the density of monarch butterflies that arrive at overwintering sites in Mexico doesn’t correlate with the loss of forest coverage, which shows that this factor is not responsible for the population reduction. … Other hypotheses to explain the decrease must be sought,” Sánchez-Cordero said.

One possible cause for the decline, he explained, is that the excessive use of herbicides is killing milkweed, a plant that is a main food source for monarch butterflies and on which females lay their eggs. Less nectar and pollen in the United States and Canada as a result of deforestation is another possible cause, Sánchez-Cordero said.

He added that large numbers of migrating butterflies have perished in Texas and the northeast of Mexico due to drought linked to climate change.

To conserve the migratory phenomenon of the monarch – butterflies fly some 4,500 kilometers to reach Mexican forests from Canada over the course of three to four generations – a network of conservation areas along their migration routes needs to be developed, Sánchez-Cordero said. He also said that the routes followed by the butterflies should be declared protected areas.

“A new conservation paradigm is needed. … It’s something that we [Mexico, the United States and Canada] should build together,” the researcher said.

Monarch Butterfly Seaside Habitat

SAFE GUARDING THE BUTTERFLIES: FILM INTERVIEW WITH JOEL MORENO ROJAS AND ELLEN SHARP FOUNDERS OF THE BUTTERFLIES AND THEIR PEOPLE PROJECT

In March I had the tremendous joy of interviewing Ellen Sharp and Joel Moreno Rojas, founders of the nonprofit organization “The Butterflies and Their People Project.” We filmed the interview from the rooftop of their hotel, JM Butterfly B&B, which is located at the base of Cerro Pelon Monarch Butterfly Reserve in Macheros, Mexico. Cerro Pelon is the old volcanic mountain where the Monarchs wintering home was first located by Mexican citizen scientist Catalina Aguado Trail, on January 2, 1975.  Trail was at the time working under the direction of zoologist Doctor Fred Urquhart of the University of Toronto.

Joel and Ellen are simply an amazing dynamic duo. They have built a beautiful and welcoming bed and breakfast at Cerro Pelon, the most pristine and least trafficked of Monarch sanctuaries. Largely through the conservation efforts of The Butterflies and Their People Project they have helped provide economic opportunities that have in turn dramatically reduced illegal logging and deforestation of the core protected areas of the forest.

The mission of The Butterflies and Their People Project is to “preserve the butterfly sanctuary by creating jobs for local people in forest and monarch butterfly conservation. The Butterflies & Their People Project is an Asociación Civil (non-profit organization) registered and located in the village of Macheros in the State of Mexico.”

I hope you’ll watch and will be equally as enamored of Joel and Ellen as were we. You’ll learn more about how The Butterflies and Their People Project came to be, the importance of protecting the existing Monarch Butterfly forest sanctuaries, and how jobs and economic growth go hand and hand with protecting the vitally important temperate forests of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.  And a bit about how this extraordinary couple met and began their journey in Monarch conservation.

To learn more about The Butterflies and Their People Project visit their website.

To donate to The Butterflies and Their People Go Fund Me fundraiser click here.

To learn more about and make a reservation at  JM Butterfly B and B click here.

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY AND THANK YOU SO MUCH MONARCH FRIENDS!

Thank you so much dear butterfly friends for sharing Beauty on the Wing trailer. As I am writing this post, the new trailer just hit 600 views. That is quite wonderful as it has only been three days since we first shared the trailer and because unlike YouTube where if you watch only a few moments of a video it counts as a hit, with Vimeo, you have to watch it all the way through to be counted. By sharing the trailer and generating many views, you are truly helping when festival judges are viewing submissions.

So thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing!!! 

I couldn’t resist sharing the above photo from Alisa Marie, a member of the terrific group “The Beautiful Monarch,” administered by the very knowledgeable Holli Hearn.

Monarch Heart

Monarch Butterfly Film Update

Dear Friends,

You are receiving this note because you donated generously or because you have been a friend and supporter in one manner or another to my documentary Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly.

I am beyond excited to share that we will be picking up the masters this week from the color and sound editing studio, Modulus, which I have been working with these many months. The film has come together beautifully. I think you will love the soundtrack by Jesse Cook and the new mix and voiceover recording. Because of several delays over the course of editing, I was able to include footage from the butterfly’s spectacular late winter exodus at Cerro Pelon, Mexico, and from the exquisite Monarch migration that took place along the shores of Cape Ann this past fall.

Currently I am submitting Beauty on the Wing to film festivals. Over the weekend I sent in no less than 18 submissions. Some festivals we’ll hear back from within a few weeks, others it may take several months. In the meantime, I am learning about film distribution and am working on scheduling a sneak peek preview screening for all my donors and will keep you posted about that.

Here is the new short trailer. I hope you will have two minutes to view and also, if you could please share. The old trailer has thousands of views and believe it or not, number of views is important to festival organizers and film distributors So please share. Also, I am creating a longer, more detailed trailer and will send that along later this week.

A most heartfelt thank you for your generosity and your kind support. I am so grateful.

Sincerely,

Kim

P.S. See below a very rough draft of a poster because I needed one quickly for the festival applications- I am looking for a graphic designer who can help with some ideas I have for posters, postcards, and other promotional materials. Please let me know if you have someone you love to work with. Thank you!

THE HISTORIC BUTTERFLY MIGRATION OF 2019 CONTINUES MOVING THROUGH CAPE ANN

Another banner weekend for butterflies on Cape Ann with Yellow Sulphurs, Painted Ladies, and American Ladies joining the streams of Monarchs migrating along our shores.

Butterflies struggle at this time of year to find sources of nectar. Whatever you do, please do not cut back your garden until mid-November or so. Best NOT to cut back at all and to leave the drying seed heads for the songbirds and leaf litter and plant stalks for hibernating bees and caterpillars, but if one really must cut back, wait as long as possible.

If you click on the photos in the gallery, each picture is labeled with the name of the butterfly and the names of the late-blooming plants on which they are drinking nectar and building their fat reserves for the journey ahead . Butterflies will even fight over a Dandelion to try to get nectar when nothing much else is available (the best reason of all not to use Roundup on the Dandelions in a lawn).

 

https://www.instagram.com/p/B32T2FDn9wu/

CHASING BUTTERFLIES!

I spent the weekend chasing butterflies and will post more about the historical migration we are currently experiencing, along with the fantastic Monarch celebration at The Stevens Coolidge Place in Andover, when I have more than a few moments to write a post.

And I discovered how to find the magical butterfly trees that the migrating Monarchs roost in on cold nights!! More about that, too 🙂

Butterfly tree at day’s end.

KIM SMITH MONARCH BUTTERFLY CONSERVATION PROGRAM SATURDAY OCTOBER 5TH AT THE STEVENS COOLIDGE PLACE ANDOVER

These magical creatures never cease to amaze and surprise. Early one morning I went looking in the butterfly trees for an overnight roost. Instead I found them sleeping like a dream in a golden field.

The light was pure rose gold for a few brief moments, casting a pearly pink glow over the butterflies, too.

I’ve seen a small cluster of sleeping Monarchs on a wildflower branch before, but never a field full. The wind was strong; perhaps they felt safer roosting closer to the ground.

It was funny to watch them awaken. Some flew off, but most stayed in place and began drinking nectar. Bees do this, they sleep in flowers, but it was a first to see Monarchs sleeping in their breakfast.

Come join me Saturday morning at The Stevens Coolidge Place in Andover for all things Monarch. I will be giving my Monarch conservation program at 10:30. For more information go here.

Male (left) and Female Monarch Waking Up in Goldenrod Field

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.

CALLING ALL POLLINATORS!

I designed the urban habitat garden at the Mary Prentiss Inn to be an inviting paradise for the neighborhood pollinators – and the Inn’s guests and neighbors love it too 🙂

WELCOME TO THE MARY PRENTISS INN!

MONARCH EGGS UPDATE

Dear Friends,

There has been more interest than anticipated in Monarch eggs. Thank you to everyone for writing!

At present, Jane has over 100 caterpillars in her kitchen terrariums. These will become butterflies within the month, and each female that emerges will lay between 300 to 700 eggs. I’ve compiled a list of everyone who left a comment. We are thrilled and grateful readers are so interested in helping raise Monarchs this summer. I will contact all as soon as Jane has a new batch of freshly laid Monarch eggs.

In the meantime, I am going to type up some FAQs. I also suggest using a glass rectangular fish tank/terrarium, with a fitted screen top, for rearing the caterpillars. If you don’t have one, they are available at our local pet stores. Also, a package of cheese cloth. Along with a plentiful supply of milkweed, that’s all you will need.

Thank you again and we’ll be in touch. ❤

FILMING WITH THE BBC FOR THE MONARCHS!

Good news for my Monarch Butterfly documentary!

Dear Friends of Beauty on the Wing,

The past two summers we have seen a mini boom of Monarchs in gardens and meadows. Hopefully this will translate to a greater number of butterflies overwintering in Mexico, but we’ll only know after the annual count that takes place during December of 2018. I have been able to capture some wonderful footage and carve out good chunks of time time for editing.

I have some exciting news to share and that is over the past month I have been in discussion with producers from a BBC nature program. They found the trailer for Beauty on the Wing and contacted me for help writing the story about the Monarch migration through New England. Yesterday, I spent the day with the BBC film crew for my interview, and then showed them all around Cape Ann’s beautiful Monarch habitat. It was a very rewarding day and we covered much ground. The show is being produced in conjunction with PBS and will air in the US sometime in October. For myriad reasons, this is fantastic news for my film!

That’s all for now but I’ll keep you posted when I know more details.

Thank you Friends for your continued support and interest in Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly!

Warmest wishes,

Kim

The interview took place at the lovely home and garden of my friend and East Gloucester resident Patti Pappows. When I met Patti, she already had a gorgeous established garden however, over the past few years, she has been adding great patches of milkweed and many species of native New England wildflowers. Just ask her how many butterflies (and hummingbirds) visit her garden daily! Patti’s garden made the most beautiful setting to showcase Cape Ann’s butterflies and wildflowers, despite the clouds and drizzle.The cameraman Bobby and producer Sophie were absolutely delighted and amazed to see half a dozen Monarchs emerging yesterday during shooting! 

Monarch Butterfly Ovipositing Egg on Marsh Milkweed: NINETEEN SIBLINGS READYING TO EMERGE

All nineteen eggs hatched and became caterpillars. They have pupated and are nearing the end of metamorphosis. You can see the developing butterflies within the chrysalis case. I wonder if they will all eclose (emerge) on the same day??

Several readers have written to ask how do I manage to have so many Monarch Butterfly caterpillars and chrysalises. The answer is very simple–because we have planted a wonderful little milkweed patch! We grow both Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) side-by-side. Our milkweed patch is planted near our kitchen. When washing the dishes, I can look out the window and observe all the pollinators and fabulous activity that takes place at the milkweed patch.

Several weeks ago, a Mama Monarch arrived and I watched as she gently floated from leaf to leaf, and bud to bud, ovipositing one golden egg at a time. She went back and forth between the Common and Marsh, depositing eggs on both the tender upper foliage as well as the more sturdy lower leaves. I waited for her to leave, but not too long (because the eggs are quickly eaten by spiders) and collected the sprigs with the eggs. I thought I had scooped up about eight eggs and you can imagine our surprise when 19 caterpillars hatched, all within the same day! Female Monarchs like to deposit eggs around the tiny buds of Marsh Milkweed and many of the eggs were hidden within the buds.

Here’s a video of a Mama depositing eggs on Marsh Milkweed buds. Charlotte was with me that day and we were dancing to the song “There She Goes” as the butterfly was depositing her eggs and it was too perfect not to include in the video clip.

Our garden is postage stamp size, but I have managed to fill it with a wide variety of songbird, butterfly, bee, and hummingbird attractants. The great majority of plants are North American native wildflowers and shrubs, and we also include a few nectar-rich, non-native, but non-invasive, flowering plants. Plant, and they will come 🙂

THANK YOU TO COURTNEY RICHARDSON AND THE CAPE ANN MUSEUM KIDS!

We had a super fun morning at the Cape Ann Museum Kids program. Courtney Richardson and her assistants Sarah and Nick set up a long table in the auditorium where the caterpillars, art supplies, plants, and pods were arranged. The kids were wonderfully curious, as were the adults. Many thanks to Jan Crandall for supplying the caterpillars. Thank you to Courtney and to the Museum for the opportunity to share about Cape Ann Monarchs!