The festival went very, very well. The organizers, Laura Azevedo and Natalia Morgan from Filmmakers Collaborative, working with WGBH, did an extraordinary and outstanding job producing an online film festival, no easy feat, but especially during a global pandemic! I was able to view many of the films and they were wonderfully entertaining and inspiring. I am so proud Beauty on the Wing was a part of the BIKFF 2020!
Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving, wherever that may be during these most challenging of days.
We in Essex County are so incredibly blessed to have Greenbelt working so hard to conserve beautiful green space throughout the region. Check out this super video to get an overview of just some of the good work that has taken place this past year.
From Greenbelt, “Join Greenbelt President, Kate Bowditch, as she reviews Greenbelt’s challenges and accomplishments this past year. Thank you for your continued support of our organization!”
If you’d like to make a donation in support of Greenbelt, please visit ecga.org/annualfundBluebird nesting box Greenbelt Ipswich
Piping Plover Dad and Marshmallow Good Harbor Beach
At this time of year flocks of Snow Buntings small and large can be found at our local sandy beaches and rocky coastlines. I am finding them throughout my roaming range, from Plum Island to South Boston.
What is not to love about this sweetly charming tubby little songbird, including its name, Snow Bunting, and nickname Snowflake. I am often alerted to the Snow Buntings presence by their distinct and highly varied social chattering. More than once though I and it have been startled as one flutters away to avoid my footsteps. The alarmed Snow Bunting will call loudly, warning its flock mates of a human, and then they will all lift to the skies in a swirling unison of Snowflakes.
Snow Buntings especially love rocky crevices and outcroppings. They nest in rocky areas of the Arctic tundra and while resting and foraging along Massachusetts coastlines, Snow Buntings go largely undetected in the similarly colored rocks.
The conical -shaped bill of Snow Buntings tells us that they are are seed eaters and in autumn and winter, Massachusetts beaches provide a wealth of seed heads remaining on expired wildflowers and grasses. Beach stones, along with piles of beach debris, trap seeds and I have captured a number of photos where the foraging songbirds pop up between the rocks with a mouthful of seed.
Early morning invariably finds Snow Buntings sleeping amongst beach rocks. It is a joy to watch as they slowly awaken, stretching and floofing, before tumbling out in a burst of black, white, and rusty brown to forage for the day.
Remarkably, Snow Buntings are nocturnal migrants. They are able to detect the geomagnetic field of the Earth for guidance to their breeding and overwinter grounds. The orientation of the Snow Bunting during migration is independent of any visual cue.
The 40 plus year old annual Christmas Bird Count shows a 64 percent decline in the Snow Bunting population. Climate change and neonicotinoids (pesticides) are thought to be the main reason for the decline.
Gloucester resident Kim Smith will showcase her film on butterflies at the Boston International Kids Film Festival on Saturday, Nov. 21
Smith’s “Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly” is a 56-minute narrated film featuring visuals of Cape Ann and Mexico’s volcanic mountains.The film explores the life journey of the monarch butterfly from birth, and talks about environmental impacts that led to it being an endangered species.
“I think butterflies are beautiful. They make a garden come to life,” Smith said.
The picture will not only share information about monarchs, but will bring attention to other endangered species as well, said Smith.
The film is 10 years in the making, she said. The idea of the film came to her in 2006 when Smith was writing a book about monarch butterflies and taking pictures of them.
“It was a phenomenal migration that year and they just kept pouring in,” Smith said. “Over the years, I just kept at it.”
Smith bought a video camera and took it with her wherever she went.
Smith traveled to Mexico twice to film, and other parts of the project were shot in Gloucester. She said she enjoys incorporating Cape Ann because it’s a “special and unique place” that’s full of hardworking people.
“I love my community, I love the people in my community. It’s truly my home,” Smith said.
Smith then reached out to the Boston International Kids Film Festival, who helped her through the process of presenting her film.
The festival, taking place November 20-22, will be held virtually due to the coronavirus.
The festival includes 70 animated short and narrative films from 17 countries, all directed towards children.
Laura Azevedo is the executive director of the festival, who said it’s important to help creators get their stories out to the world.
“We’ve been a resource for independent filmmakers all over the country,” Azevedo said. “It’s a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to it.”
Azevedo said Smith’s film will do a great job connecting with children. Kids will get access to the movie and a zoom link to interact with Smith about butterflies and the filmmaking process.
“Kim’s film is an example of one where we work with schools as well,” Azevedo said.
Smith hasn’t just helped the environment on-screen. Kim Smith Designs was launched in 1985, and Smith has designed and maintained gardens in locations such as Gloucester, Cambridge, and Andover.
The award-winning landscape designer now brings her talents to the screen, and said she appreciates the Boston International Kids Film Festival for highlighting her findings.
“It’s grown and grown and grown over the past eight years,” Smith said. “Filmmakers are provided an opportunity to showcase their work.”
Her film will be during block #3 of the festival on Saturday, Nov. 21 at noon. To purchase tickets to the festival, visit this link: https://bikff.org/schedule/
“Filmmaking is one of the best ways in the world to communicate,” Smith said.
Joseph Barrett is a senior communication student at Endicott College.
So looking forward to tonight’s opening of the Boston International Kids Film Festival! The show’s opener is the outstanding film, The Biggest Little Farm, and there is a full lineup of over 65 films scheduled from now through Sunday. See the schedule and how to purchase tickets here.
Beauty on the Wing is playing during Block #3 at noon on Saturday, November 21st, followed by a Q and A.
Who doesn’t love The Cranberries “Dreams,” and one of my favorite covers of this beautiful song is by Mandy Lee and MisterWives. I edited a rough cut of Monarch Dreams this afternoon, with clips from Beauty on the Wing and set to “Dreams.” That my film is at last finding an audience is a dream come true for me.
I dream about Monarchs and other creatures nightly and am thinking about ways to make Monarch Dreams more dream-like, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy this cut <3
In case you missed previous posts and emails, if you would like to see my Monarch Butterfly film documentary, please consider watching Saturday, November 21st, from the comfort and safety of your own home, via the Boston International Kids Film Festival and WGBH. 100 percent of the ticket sales goes to support this outstanding festival! There will be a Q and A following the screening, with me in the role of director, and hosted by WGBH and Filmmakers Collaborative.
With beautiful music by Jesse Cook and filmed on Cape Ann, Cape May, Santa Barbara, and the butterfly sanctuaries at Cerro Pelon and Angangueo, Mexico. Please share with friends and click the link below to learn more.
Block #3 Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly
During the last weeks of summer, I was blessed with the great good fortune to come across a flock of Cedar Waxwings. Everyday I followed their morning antics as they socialized, foraged, preened, and was even “buzzed” several times when making too quick a movement or crunched on a twig too loudly for their liking. They were actually remarkably tolerant of my presence but as soon as another person or two appeared on the path, they quickly departed. I think that is often the case with wildlife; one human is tolerable, but two of us is two too many.
The Cedar Waxwings were seen foraging on wildflower seeds and the insects attracted, making them harder to spot as compared to when seen foraging at berries on trees branches. A flock of Cedar Waxwings is called a “museum” or an “ear-full.” The nickname ear-full is apt as they were readily found each morning by their wonderfully soft social trilling. When you learn to recognize their vocalizations, you will find they are much easier to locate.
These sweet songbirds are strikingly beautiful. Dressed in a black mask that wraps around the eyes, with blue, yellow, and Mourning Dove buffy gray-brown feathers, a cardinal-like crest atop the head, and brilliant red wing tips, Cedar Waxwings are equally as beautiful from the front and rear views.
Cedar Waxwings really do have wax wings; the red wing tips are a waxy secretion. At first biologist thought the red tips functioned to protect the wings from wear and tear, but there really is no evidence of that. Instead, the red secondary tips appear to be status signals that function in mate selection. The older the Waxwing, the greater the number of waxy tips. Birds with zero to five are immature birds, while those with more than nine are thought to be older.
Waxwings tend to associate with other waxwings within these two age groups. Pairs of older birds nest earlier and raise more fledglings than do pairs of younger birds. The characteristic plumage is important in choosing a mate within the social order of the flock.
By mid-September there were still seeds and insects aplenty in the wildflower patch that I was filming at when the beautiful Waxwings abruptly departed for the safety of neighboring treetops. Why do I write “safety?” I believe they skeedaddled because a dangerous new raptor appeared on the scene. More falcon-like than hawk, the mystifying bird sped like a torpedo through the wildflower patch and swooped into the adjacent birch tree where all the raptors like to perch. It was a Merlin! And the songbird’s mortal enemy. Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks, too, had been hunting the area, but the other hawks did not elicit the same terror as did the Merlin.
Merlin, Eastern Point
Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks
A small falcon, the Merlin’s short wings allow it to fly fast and hard. The Merlin is often referred to as the “thug” of the bird world for its ability to swoop in quickly and snatch a songbird out of the air. The day after the Merlin appeared, I never again found the Waxwings foraging in the wildlflowers, only in the tree tops.
Within the sociable ear-full, Waxwings take turns foraging. Some perch and preen, serving as sentries while flock-mates dine. Cedar Waxwings mostly eat berries and they love a wide variety. The first half of their name is derived from one of their favorite fruits, the waxy berries of cedar trees. During the breeding season, Waxwings add insects to their diets. Hatchlings are fed insects, gradually switching to berries.
Juvenile Cedar Waxwing with adult Waxwings
If you would like to attract Cedar Waxwings to your garden here is a handy list that I compiled of some of their most favorite fruits and berries –
Dogwood, Juniper, Chokecherry, Cedar, Honeysuckle, Holy, Crabapple, Hawthorn, Serviceberry, Mulberry, Raspberry, Grapes, and Strawberry. Cedar Waxwings are becoming increasingly more prevalent in backyards because people are planting more ornamental flowering and fruiting trees.
Although not the gala premiere event we had envisioned pre-covid, if you would like to see my Monarch Butterfly film documentary, please consider watching Saturday, November 21st, from the comfort and safety of your own home, via the Boston International Kids Film Festival and WGBH. 100 percent of the ticket sales goes to support this outstanding festival. I hope you can come! With music by Jesse Cook. Filmed on Cape Ann, Santa Barbara, Cape May, and the butterfly sanctuaries at Cerro Pelon and Angangueo, Mexico. Please share and click the link below to learn more.
Block #3 Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly
While filming Cedar Waxwings at Eastern Point, I came across this remarkable scene in a small patch of wildflowers. The patch was only about fifteen feet long by ten feet wide, but was layered in hundreds of orb spider webs. I was so glad to have been there that morning because the following day I returned after a storm, and all the spider webs had vanished.
A mystical symbol of the season for their ability to weave intricate webs, orb spiders are an important part of our ecosystem. They eat hundreds of species of insects in our gardens and homes, and are also themselves a source of food for other organisms.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to Joann Mackenzie, Andrea Holbrook, and the Gloucester Times for the beautifully written story“Butterfly Film Takes Flight”.
Ten years in the making, Kim Smith’s butterfly film takes flight
Kim Smith’s monarch movie 10 years in the making
GLOUCESTER TIMES OCTOBER 28, 2020
By Joann Mackenzie Staff Writer
Every story has a back story, and Kim Smith’s back story began in her backyard.
In the mid 1990s, Smith — an award-winning landscape designer — filled her Gloucester garden with native and pollinator plantings that attract all manner of winged creatures. These, thanks to lots of milkweed, included lots of magnificent monarch butterflies. “I just loved them,” says Smith, “I wanted more and more of them.”
There began a tale that this year saw Smith complete a 10-year project, the making of the 56-minute documentary “Beauty on the Wing — Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly.” In a few short months, and despite the pandemic canceling its local premiere, the film has seen its way to six film festivals, all virtual, the latest of which — the Boston International Kids Film Festival — runs Nov. 20 to 22.
American Public TV Worldwide —the world’s largest distributor of educational television has just signed the documentary for global distribution.
Armed with a handheld digital camera, an artist’s eye, and a love of her subject, Smith has captured the life, work and world of what she calls “this charismatic little creature,” beginning with its metamorphosis from a tiny egg, to its amazing annual journey from the summer shores of its Gloucester habitats to its winter habitats in the Mexican mountains and forests of Michoacán, where the monarchs annual arrival has long been regarded as something of a miracle: the returning of the souls of the dead descending from the sky in fluttering orange clouds, to roost by the millions in the trees.
When she began the project in 2006, Smith knew nothing about filmmaking. Photographing the monarchs, first as “a record,” she was urged on by family and friends. One of them, Gloucester’s late historian Joe Garland, was particularly encouraging. “Oh, I thought, I have to learn to make a film,” she recalls, of her early days learning the basics with Andrew Love and Lisa Smith at Cape Ann TV (now Studio 1623).
Investing in a hand-held HD Canon video camera, Smith began shooting digital. “It was small and so easy to use that I could crouch down, or lie down to capture extreme close-ups,” she says. Supported by community fundraising that covered the $35,000 production budget, she shot “tons of footage over the years,” wrote and recorded the narrative script, and saved on post production costs by teaching herself to digitally edit her film.
Her goal, she says, was not just to celebrate the monarch, but to educate viewers about the plight of this creature that is loved around the world. Indigenous to North America, these light, bright orange butterflies have through the centuries been blown by wind and weather to other continents, including England, where, in the late 17th century, they were named in honor of King William III of England, also known as the Prince of Orange.
In the last 20 years, however, the butterflies’ numbers have plummeted worldwide from a billion to 30 million, as the excessive use of herbicides has killed off much of their main food source —milkweed— while climate change has confused their flight patterns. And in Mexico, the logging of trees has sabotaged the delicate ecosystem of their annual return.
Smith’s film joins a growing body of environmental activism on behalf of the monarch butterfly. Gardeners across the nation have, like Smith, filled flower beds with milkweed to feed their numbers. The Obama administration, concerned by its alarming decline, allocated $3.2 million to protect it.
In making her documentary, Smith traveled to Mexico twice to film, and learned firsthand just how endangered the monarchs have become. Over time, she says, she came to see monarchs as “little gateway creatures that can open the way to for people to learn about other endangered creatures.”
At Good Harbor Beach, a favorite early morning photographic haunt, Smith began to turn her camera to another local endangered species, piping plovers. Like the monarchs, the little shore birds rely on a fragile ecosystem that Smith began to take an active role in protecting, while filming them. With her monarch documentary now in worldwide release, the piping plovers are on their way to star billing in a new documentary, now in production.
Meanwhile, the Boston International Kids Film Festival, a program of Filmmakers Collaborative, will screen Smith’s documentary as “one of best that the world of independent filmmaking has to offer.” Shown for one week to schoolchildren across the city, the festival, which describes her documentary as “illuminating how two regions, separated by thousands of miles, are ecologically interconnected,” will then host a Zoom author event in which the students can engage in a Q&A which Smith herself.
Smith, by the way, doesn’t just train her talents on winged creatures. In yet another ongoing film project, she captures the aerial antics of Gloucester’s falling Greasy Pole walkers. That documentary, which celebrates the spirit of the city’s annual St Peters Fiesta, is well underway.
Gloucester resident Kim Smith is a documentary filmmaker, environmental conservationist, photojournalist, author, illustrator and award-winning landscape designer.
Her documentary “Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly” was released in February. It has been chosen as an official selection at New Haven Documentary, Nature Without Borders International, Flickers’ Rhode Island International , Docs Without Borders , WRPN Women’s International, and Conservation Wildlife film festivals.
It next shows at the Boston International Kids Film Festival (https://bikff.org/schedule/) on Nov. 20 to 22; tickets start at $20. Links to view the film will be provided upon ticket purchase.
Last spring my husband Tom and I traveled to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve at Cerro Pelón to continue filming Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly. We stayed in the magically beautiful tiny rustic town of Macheros at the equally as beautiful JM Butterflies Bed and Breakfast. The hotel is owned and operated by a visionary husband and wife team, Joel Moreno Rojas and Ellen Sharp. In five short years, the dynamic duo turned a four room home into a wonderfully accommodating 14 room inn, replete with a new restaurant, swimming pool, ensuite bathrooms, internet, mountain view roof top cocktail area, yoga studio, with many more amenities.
Macheros is located at the base of Cerro Pelón, the location where the butterflies overwintering grounds were first documented by Mexican citizen scientist Catalina Aguado Trail, working with Canadian and US scientists (1975). The trail leading up to the sanctuary is mere footsteps from JM Butterflies B and B..
Cerro Pelón is the most pristine of all the reserves. The beautiful natural state in which the sanctuary is kept is only made possible by a group of highly dedicated arborists. The arborists daily patrol the forest to prevent illegal logging and provide information to the guides on the butterfly’s current location (Monarchs move around the mountains during their winter stay). The arborists are working to protect the existing forest. Some organizations focus on replanting trees after they have been logged, but it can take 30 to 40 years for a tree to become a special “butterfly tree,” one on which the butterflies roost during the winter.
Monarchs and Snakeroot, Cerro Pelon
The arborists are paid through the forest conservation non-profit organization created by Ellen and Joel appropriately called Butterflies and Their People. The mission of Butterflies and Their People is to support the Monarchs while also providing livelihoods for members of the community. Much of the village of Macheros depends on visitors to the sanctuary. Additionally, the Inn provides well paying jobs including restaurant work, trail guides, drivers, and inn keeping.
As you can imagine, a tiny town such as Macheros has been devastated by the pandemic. Gratefully so, no one in Macheros has caught the disease however, the local town officials have closed the sanctuary to the public for fear that someone may contract Covid from visitors to the sanctuary. Cerro Pelón will be shuttered for the entire year, a devastating blow to the tiny township and all her citizens. As has happened to so many in the US and around the world, overnight the people of Macheros lost their livelihoods.
A fundraiser has been organized by Carlotta James and the Monarch Ultra Team. So far, they have raised $1,900.00, nearly two thirds of the $3,000.00 goal.
Please consider donating to the 50km pop-up fundraiser at:
Love when able to successfully (not always achieved!) capture the tracing of the Monarch’s wings in movement -the dot, dot dot of the beautiful border patterning.Monarch Butterfly Migration October 2020 – Monarch and wild mustard flowers
Monarchs are currently migrating, albeit in small numbers, throughout the North Shore. The butterflies arrived several days ago and because of the rainy weather, they are in a holding pattern. When the sun reappears, look for Monarchs on any still-blooming garden favorites such as zinnias, as well as wildflowers. Please send an email or comment in the comment section if you see Monarchs in your garden or while outdoors over the weekend and upcoming week. Thank you!
Many species of asters and goldenrods have finished flowering; instead the Monarchs are fortifying for the long journey by drinking nectar at Black Mustard flowers, and even Dandelions.
Although not native to North America, Black Mustard (Brassica nigra) is beneficial to bees and butterflies for late season sustenance. Don’t you love its lemony golden beauty in the autumn sunlight?
Black Mustard is not the easiest nor most efficient plant for Monarchs to draw nectar from. I never see the butterflies on Black Mustard unless it is very late in the migration and there are few other choices available.
The ray flowers of asters provide a convenient landing pad for butterflies. Panicle-shaped flowering plant, such as goldenrods, also provide a convenient landing pad while supplying a smorgasbord of nectar rich florets. Black Mustard provides neither. You can see in several photos in an upcoming post that the Monarchs are nectaring with their legs gripped tightly around the base of the flower.
Black Mustard is an annual plant native to Eurasia and North Africa. Cultivated widely as a condiment, medicinally, and vegetable, it came to North America via the early colonists. The plant is in bloom from May through October, or until the first hard frost, and grows well in disturbed man-made sites.
Black Mustard is a member of the Brassicaceae, also classically called the Cruciferae (Latin, meaning ‘cross-bearing’) in reference to its four ‘crossed petals’, which is commonly known as the mustard family. Black Mustard is related to cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, kohlrabi, kale, turnips, and watercress.
Thank you all so very much for taking the time to respond to my ‘survey’ question about how you view films. Wow, what a variety of answers. I am working on a plan for Everyone to view!
Such a disappointingly light Monarch migration through Cape Ann this autumn but the shift in wind direction at the beginning of the week produced a tiny sprinkling of butterflies. Friends along the New Jersey coast are reporting good numbers the past few days. You can see on the map from Journey North how few overnight roosts have been recorded on the East Coast. Typically the map is much more densely colored: Monarch Butterfly Overnight Roosts 2020 Hopefully the migration will strengthen in the central part of the country
Stay well and take care,
Very best wishes,
Migrating Monarch in the garden fattening up on nectar at the pink New England Asters
Foraging energetically amidst the expiring sunflower stalks and then darting to the thicketed woodland edge, a mixed flock of adult and juvenile Common Yellowthroats is finding plenty of fat bugs to eat in these early days of autumn.
Common Yellowthroat female juvenile
Yellowthroats breed in cattail patches at our local North Shore marshes and will soon be heading south to spend the winter in the Southeastern US, Mexico, and Central America.
The above male in breeding plumage was seen taking a bath in our garden several years ago.
If you observe a butterfly that looks twice as large as normal fluttering by, take note. What you are seeing is often a pair of butterflies mating.
This afternoon when I returned home that’s just what caught my eye, two Small Whites, also known as Cabbage Whites, joined abdomen to abdomen, looking for a discreet place to stay coupled together for a bit.
The Whites flew from aster clump to aster clump, then to the lilac foliage before finding a hidden spot. A disrupter (male ) tried to break up the match, but the pair would have none of it.Males are mostly white except for the black dots and smudges of gray on the forewings. The females are similar to males, and also have some yellow shading with stronger gray stippling on the underside of their wings.
Winds from the north brought a tiny kaleidoscope of Monarchs to our shores over the weekend. Isn’t that a wonderful official word for a group of butterflies! A bunch of caterpillars is officially called an army.
Will there be more waves of Monarchs passing through? Time will tell. Along the Atlantic Coast Flyway, we’ve seen far fewer butterflies so far this year, especially when compared to last year’s numbers. Keeping my hopes up though 🙂Dancing Monarch
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
Life at the Edge of the Sea – Cedar Waxwing Baby Masked Bandits
For over a month I have been filming a flock of Cedar Waxwings. Exquisitely beautiful creatures, with their combination of soft buffy and brilliantly punctuated wing patterning, along with graceful agility, it’s been easy to fall in love with these birds and they have become a bit of an obsession.
I filmed some wonderful scenes and will share the photos and story as soon as there is time but in the meantime I wanted to share these photos of a juvenile Cedar Waxwing so you know what to look for. Waxwings are often found high up in the treetops. They are most easily seen on limbs bare of leaves. Their repetitious soft trilling song gives them away and if you learn the sound you will begin to see Cedar Waxwings everywhere. They have an extended breeding period in our region and because it is so late in the season, this juvenile may be one of a second brood.
While I was shooting for my short short story, the Waxwing flock was mostly on the ground in a wildflower patch devouring insects. Cedar Waxwings are more typically berry-eating frugivores. During the summer they add insects to their diet and I think it may have to do with keeping the hatchling’s bellies filled. It wasn’t until they moved back up into the treetops that this little guy began appearing amongst the flock. He has the same masked face, but the breast is softly streaked. You can see the yellow feathers tips beginning to grow in.
So often I hear folks blaming goldenrod as the source of their allergy suffering, when they really mean to say ragweed. The three species of goldenrod that we most often see in our coastal north of Boston fields, meadows, woodland edges, and dunes are Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens), Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima), and Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis). All three have beautiful yellow flowers, Seaside blooming a bit after Canada and Tall, and all are fabulous pollinator plants, providing nectar for bees, butterflies, and migrating Monarchs.
In our region, we most often encounter Common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisifolia), with Plain Jane tiny green flowers and raggedy looking foliage. Goldenrods and ragweeds both bloom at roughly the same time of year, in mid- to late-summer, but why is ragweed the culprit and goldenrods are not? The colorful showy flowers of goldenrods are attractive to pollinators and they are both insect and wind pollinated. The drops of goldenrod pollen are too large to fall far from the plant. Ragweed’s tiny flowers are not of interest to most pollinators and the plant has evolved to rely on the wind to disperse its pollen from plant to plant. Ragweed produces massive amounts of teeny, breathable pollen to travel widely on the wind.
Cedar Waxwing foraging in weed patch with Common Ragweed
Although many of us are fortunate not to be bothered by ragweed, I completely empathize with friends who are. If it is any consolation, I recently learned two good uses for Common Ragweed. Shetland sheep love to eat it and it is good for their wool. And I have been following a flock of Cedar Waxwings for over a month. I often see in the morning the Waxwings descend on patches of mixed weeds, mostly Common Ragweed. Waxwings change their diet in summer to include insects and I think the birds are attracted to the plant for the host of insects it supports. So next time you are ragging on ragweed remember, it is a native plant and it does support a community of insects and birds.