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.
The zinnia and milkweed patch has been attracting a magical assemblage of butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, hover flies, and other insects throughout the summer. Stay tuned for part two coming soon – Monarchs and Friends in Marsh and Meadow!
Plant and they will come!
Monarchs and friends in the mid-summer garden. A host of pollinators finds sustenance in our zinnia and milkweed patch.
Various bees and skippers
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.
Please join me Thursday, August 18th, at 10am at Essex’s T.O.H.P. Burnham Library for a free all ages (5 plus) Monarch Butterfly event, The Marvelous Magnificent Migrating Monarch. To register, please GO HERE
Kim Smith is an award winning documentary filmmaker, environmental conservationist, photojournalist, author, illustrator, and an award winning landscape designer. For over twenty years, she has taught people how to turn their backyards and public spaces into pollinator habitat gardens, utilizing primarily North American native wildflowers, trees, shrubs, and vines. Kim’s programs and events are developed from her documentary nature films and landscape design work.
Her most recent feature length documentary Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly, currently airing on PBS, has won numerous awards and recognition, including Best Documentary at the Boston International Kids Festival, Best Feature Film at the Providence Children’s Film Festival, the environmental award at the Toronto International Women Film Festival, and Gold at the Spotlight Documentary Awards. One of the greatest hopes for the film is that it would be inspirational and educational to both adults and young people and we are overjoyed Beauty on the Wing is finding its audience.
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!
This past week after enjoying a delicious lunch of clam chowder and fried clams at Woodman’s, Charlotte, my friend Claudia, and I stopped by Greenbelt’s Cox Reservation en route home. Claudia moved to CapeAnn a year ago and had never been. She was delighted to know about Cox Reservation for future beauty walks through meadow and marsh and of course Charlotte had a fantastic time as she always does when running about in nature. While there, we spied a Monarch depositing eggs on Common Milkweed shoots emerging in the grassland meadow.
I returned the following day to see if the female Monarch was still afield and to try also to capture an audio recording of the music where ‘seaside marsh meets grassland meadow.’
I found so much more. A photo tour for your Memorial Day weekend –
Bobolinks in the Chokecherry Tree (Prunus virginiana)
There are several fields at Cox Reservation that are maintained grassland habitat to help nesting birds such as Bobolinks; a beautiful songbird in steep decline.
We’re accustomed to hearing and seeing male Red-winged Blackbirds; it’s not often we see the females as they are usually on the nest. This pretty female flew into a tree, waved her wings, and stuck out her very showy cloaca. I wasn’t sure what she was up to and when a male came from nowhere and suddenly jumped on her back to mate, I was startled and unfortunately jerked the camera, but you get the idea.
Female Red-winged Blackbird
Male and Female Eastern Bluebirds feeding their brood
Osprey pair nesting in the far distant marsh
With deep appreciation and thanks to Essex County Greenbelt Association’s Director of Land Stewardship Dave Rimmer for his continued help with Cape Ann’s Piping Plovers. Dave has been providing free of charge guidance, along with exclosing the Plover nests, since 2016.
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
Time to put out orange slices (and hummingbird feeders, if you haven’t already done so.) Orioles are nectar feeders and follow the blooming times of fruit trees on their northward migration along the East Coast. My friend Sally Jackson spotted a Baltimore Oriole at her hummingbird feeder several days ago, and they are delighting in our pear tree blossoms and orange halves we have placed in the garden.
Baltimore Oriole male
Recently while recording audio in a field, I was delightfully surprised by an Orchard Oriole, a species new to my eyes. Orchard Orioles are slightly smaller than Baltimore Orioles and their plumage is more rusty red rather than vivid orange. Nonetheless, they sing a characteristically beautiful bird song and it was a joy to hear the chorister from across the meadow.
Orchard Oriole male
You can see from the photos that orioles have evolved with long pointed bills, ideal for extracting nectar from fruit blossoms. Their toes, too, are especially well adapted to forging for tree fruits and nectar as they are long and flexible, allowing the birds to dangle every which way while clinging to the branches.
Ancient Crabapple tree, where the Orchard Oriole was spotted
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Please join me at the Sawyer Free Library on Saturday, May 14th, at 2pm for a FREE in-person all ages presentation about the life story of the Piping Plover –
Why Give a Peep for Plovers?
The Piping Plover is one of only a handful of birds that nests on North Atlantic beaches. By learning about this tiny but most resilient of shorebirds, we gain a deeper understanding on how best to protect Piping Plovers and our shared coastal habitat.
Told through the lens of Kim Smith’s photo journal work, the Piping Plover’s life story is presented from migration to nesting to fledging. We’ll also cover the current status of the bird’s population, learn about where Piping Plovers spend the winter, and how communities and conservation organizations can work together to help Piping Plovers flourish for generations to come.
If you are new to or have ever considered joining our Piping Plover Ambassador group, this presentation is a great way to become introduced to Piping Plovers. Please come and learn more about these most lovable and charismatic shorebirds.
Cedar Rock Gardens is carrying both Asclepias (milkweed) and Eupatorium (Joe-pye). Both of these wildflowers are two of the best plants for supporting native pollinators and creating a wildlife friendly garden.
CEDAR ROCK GARDENS Opening for the season: April 13th, 2022!
Starting Wednesday, April 13th we will be open for you to come shop the nursery for all the early spring – cold weather seedlings.
We have posted all the Flower, Herb and Vegetable varieties we are growing this year on our website for you to check out and get excited for!
Welcome Spring 2022!
We are very excited to be welcoming you back to shop with us for our 9th season. We have added some great new varieties of tomatoes, peppers and flowers to our growing list this year (including some bush varieties specifically for containers on your patio or deck) and we have a rockstar crew making sure all plants are happy, healthy and watered! We have already sent some Neptunes Harvest organic fish fertilizer through our hoses to the seedlings so they have the best possible start. We will be starting with cold weather seedlings on opening day even though this spring has proven to be about 2 weeks ahead of its self in terms of soil temperature and average day time temp – you can never be to sure in New England what next week will bring. They are alll currently hardening off in our unheated high tunnel before bring them outside today to start acclimating to the wind and elements.
We hope you are enjoying these longer days and taking some time to plan your garden layout we are always here to help with planning questions and any direct seeding questions you may have as you start to get into your veggie gardens. Right now we are direct sowing our sugar snap peas into the ground along with spinach. We are also direct sowing our arugula, mesclun mix and broccoli rabe under row cover for a little added protection from cold nights. We have organic seeds for sale and are happy to demonstrate how to get those going.
We look forward to seeing you and happy growing!
All the best,
Elise, Tucker, Fae and the whole Cedar Rock Gardens Crew
Covid 19 protocols:
We will be opening this season for you to come shop the nursery in person. Please continue to wear a mask if you don’t feel well while shopping with us at this time.
If you can not shop in person due to health concerns please call or email and we will happily facilitate you. We will not be accepting pre orders, all orders must be for plants that are currently available.
-Thank you for understanding
Mark your Calendars:
Warm Weather seedlings will begin to be available May 18th!
This includes Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplant, basil, loads of flowers and so much more!
For everyone that wished us well in our endeavors as new parents, thank you! Fae is wonderful and loves being in the greenhouses with us so far.
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!
One of the most beautiful creatures of the snowy landscape has to be the Snow Bunting. Also known as Snowflakes, Snow Buntings light up winter scapes with swirls of flight and highly animated foraging habits.
During the breeding season in the high Arctic, Snow Buntings eat a protein rich insect diet but while here during the winter months in the relatively milder climate of Massachusetts, they forage on tiny grass seeds and must constantly eat. Although their feeding habits are highly entertaining to the human observer, it’s really a matter of life or death for these cold weather warriors.
Standing on tiptoes for breakfast
Snow Buntings have several methods for extracting seeds. Sometimes they vigorously shake a wildflower or stalk of grass at the base of the plant. Other times they alight on a single blade of dried beach grass and slide their beaks along, shredding the stalk and releasing teeny seeds. They may stay alit and eat their foraged treasure, but more often than not, they shake the blade while perched and release the seeds to the ground. The Snow Bunting’s fellow flock member will seize upon the shower of released seeds and try to gobble them up. Herein lies the the conflict and disputes occur non stop while a flock is feeding. Typically one will readily retreat while the other dines, but occasionally a nasty battle ensues.
The wonderfully rich beach grass habitat where the Snow Buntings flock was formerly a barren scape that persistently washed away after every storm. Beach grass was planted, temporary dune fencing installed, and small rocks were added. After only several seasons, this habitat restoration project began attracting butterflies, songbirds, and nesting shorebirds during the spring and summer months, along with glorious creatures such as the beautiful Snow Bunting during the winter months.
I plan to find out exactly what this species of beach grass is that the Snow Buntings find so appealing because there are several locations on Cape Ann where habitat restoration is badly needed and I think this precise species of grass would surely be at the top of the list for stabilizing shoreline conservation projects.
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.