Category Archives: Lepidoptera ~ Butterflies, Skippers, and Moths

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

HERE’S TO A HAPPY NEW YEAR AND A HAPPY NEW DECADE! 

In spending the afternoon reflecting on the past year’s wildlife stories and photos, I have been thinking about what an extraordinary place is Cape Ann. How fortunate we all are to see amazing and beautiful wildlife stories unfolding in our own backyards each and every day! I am planning a Cape Ann Wildlife 2019 Year in Pictures and hope to find the time to post that this week.

News this year of an increase in Monarchs at the butterfly’s overwintering sites in Mexico, as well as strong numbers during the summer breeding season and fall migration, gives me great hope for the future of this beautiful species, and for all wildlife that we take underwing.

Monarchs flying into Gloucester butterfly trees, forming an overnight roost.

Our community has taken under its wings a pair of Piping Plovers. The two began calling Good Harbor Beach home in 2016. Because the community came together and worked as a team, this year we were able to fledge three tiny, adorable marshmallow-sized fluff balls at Gloucester’s most well-loved and populous beach. Thank you Piping Plover friends and Community for all that you did to help these most vulnerable of shorebirds successfully reach flying age. 

Another example of “underwing” – three nearly full grown PiPl chicks, all determined to nestle for warmth under Papa

MONARCHS AND PAINTED LADIES STILL ON THE WING AND WHY I ENCOURAGE YOU TO BE LAZY AND NOT TIDY UP YOUR GARDEN!

Monarchs, Painted Ladies, American Ladies, and Yellow Sulphurs are still migrating through Cape Ann–Massachusetts, New England, the mid-Atlantic states, and all along the East Coast for that matter. There isn’t much in the way of nectar plants available at this time of year. If you have anything at all blooming in your garden, even a Dandelion, it will help butterflies and bees on the wing.

This newly emerged Painted Lady was scrounging around at all the dandelions in and around Eastern Point. You can see why if the deadly herbicide Roundup had been applied to this lawn, there would be nothing for the butterflies.

The above Monarch butterfly was drinking nectar from what appeared to be a dried out stalk of Seaside Goldenrod. Although it may seem of no use to you and I, the Monarch was probing deeply into the florets and finding sustenance.

If you have to tidy up your garden, wait until after Thanksgiving, and go cautiously. Bees burrow into dried flower stalks, songbirds find nutrition in the seed heads, and the caterpillars of many species of butterflies, such as those of the Great Spangled Fritillary, winter over in leaf litter at the base of plants.It is not beneficial to pollinators to invite them to your garden, and then decimate the over wintering species with zealous tidying-up. Take a break, be lazy for the sake of the pollinators 🙂

Monarch dispute over a Dandelion

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).

 

A FRONT FULL OF MONARCH BUTTERFLIES SWEEPS ACROSS THE COUTRY

You may have seen on social media sites the map of butterflies moving through Oklahoma. This is the original story in which the maps appeared: A front full of butterflies swept through Oklahoma City on Saturday

The line on the map above isn’t rain, but from butterflies and dragonflies. We can surmise based on what has been happening along our shores that the species you see in this front are most likely a swirl of Monarchs, Painted Ladies, and Green Darner Dragonflies. The north easterly winds are carrying the insects south.

Below is a map showing autumn and spring migrations. The orange arrow is the fall migratory route of the Monarchs.Anything red represents rain. Blue indicates more unusual shapes, often biological in origin. Notice behind the “butterfly front” the large spattering of blue. That’s where the insects were. (GR2 Analyst)

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

SAY WHAT! MONARCHS MATING IN SEPTEMBER???

This pair of Monarchs did not get the 411 that they are supposed to wait until next spring to mate!

Beginning in early spring, Monarchs depart Mexico. They lay eggs of the next generation and then perish. This next generation moves northward depositing their eggs on emerging milkweed. It takes four to five generations to reach the Monarch’s northern breeding grounds, of which Cape Ann is a part. The Monarchs that we see in the early summer only live for about four weeks.

The Monarchs that eclose at the end of the summer are a super generation of Monarchs. Another way to think about them is that they are also referred to as the ‘Methuselah’ Monarchs. This last brood of the summer lives for a very long time for a Monarch, about seven to eight months. The Methuselah Monarchs that we see migrating today will travel south all the way to the trans-volcanic forested mountains of central Mexico. They sleep through the winter in butterfly trees in a state of sexually immaturity known as diapause, then awaken in spring to move northward and deposit eggs of the next generation, thus completing the circle of the Monarch’s life.

So that brings us back to this atypical pair mating in the marshy meadow in September. Every year during the annual southward migration I see at least one pair of Monarchs mating. I wonder, will the pair survive and continue to migrate? Will their offspring survive and travel further south?

Please join me Saturday, October 5th, at 10:30 at The Stevens Coolidge Reservation in Andover for a Monarch Migration Celebration and for my conservation talk about the Monarchs. For more information, see here.