Tag Archives: Danaus plexippus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DONATE HERE

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

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

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

Thank you so very much for your help.

With gratitude,

Kim

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

A SERIES OF EVENTS OF THE MOST FORTUNATE SORT!

Monarchs flying into the tree to roost for the night.

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

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

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

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

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

Yak, yak, yak!

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

Part Two tomorrow.

Stone Harbor Point

The dunes are covered in Seaside Goldenrod

Recycling and trash barrels!

 

Read More about Stone Harbor Point wildlife sanctuary here.

Read more about Stone Harbor Wetlands Institute here.

American OystercatcherRange Map

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

DONATE HERE

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

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

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

Thank you so very much for your help.

With gratitude,

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

Hello From Cape May and Stone Harbor!

Whirlwind trip to Cape May to check on the late, great Monarch migration of 2017. Leaving at 5am, from Gloucester, it is an eight to nine hour drive. I spent the afternoon and evening there and then left the following day at noon. Although brief, I found all that I was looking for and much, much more. There are vast areas of wildlife habitat along the southern New Jersey coastline and so many beautiful connections between Cape Ann and Cape May; I would love to return again soon!

The Monarchs are in trouble. I am hoping with all my heart that the tens of thousands that are currently held back by winds blowing from the wrong direction, along with intermittent inclement weather, will be able to cross the Delaware Bay as soon as possible. Will write much more this weekend after catching up with work and after I am able to sort through photos. 

Reigning Monarchs #monarchmigration #jerseyshore #nativeplants #danausplexippus

A post shared by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

Cape May Lighthouse

COMMUNITY MILKWEED SEED POD PROJECT FOR THE POLLINATORS!

MILKWEED SEED COLLECTION AND DISTRIBUTION PROJECT SUNDAY OCTOBER 15TH

Collect ripe milkweed seed pods (only Common Milkweed and Marsh Milkweed please). Place in a paper bag, not plastic, as plastic can cause the seed pods to become damp and moldy.

Bring seedpods to Captain Joe and Sons on Sunday morning between 10:30 and noon. Captain Joes is located at 95 East Main Street, East Gloucester.

If you’d like to distribute seeds, meet at the dock between 10:30 and noon and I will show you what to do.

NOTE: It is easy to tell when milkweed seedpods are ripe. The seeds inside turn brown. Do not collect the pods when the seeds are white or green. If you pick them too soon, they will never be viable. You can check the seed pods by slitting the pod a tiny bit and peeking inside.

Any questions, please comment in the comment section or email me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. Thank you and I hope to see you Sunday morning!

To learn more about how you can help fund the documentary Beauty on the Wing and the Monarch Butterfly Film Online Fundraising event, please visit the film’s website at monarchbutterflyfilm.com.

MONARCH FILM FUNDRAISING SCREENING PARTY

Dear Friends,

This past spring I had a tremendously inspirational experience. Out of the blue, a lovely woman from Concord, Laura Stevens, contacted me about the possibility of viewing my documentary film about the Monarch butterflies, Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterflies. I was reluctant at first, explaining that the film was in a rough cut form. Although the rough cut features the butterflies and Cape Ann in the most beautiful light, the film does need finessing.

Laura comes from a wonderful family and they all love Monarchs! Every year, she and her family gather together for a reunion based around a weekend of learning. Laura explained that it would be an extra special treat for the 27 women and children who attend the reunion to see the film. The more I thought about it the more I thought it would be a super idea, and sent her access to the film.

Several weeks passed when in the mail I received the most heartfelt thank you letters from Laura and her family members who had attended the screening, from the ninety-five year old great auntie to the youngest child there. And soon after that, donations towards the film’s completion arrived from this most generous family. I am so grateful to Laura and her family for the donations, and for their kind encouragement and enthusiasm.

At that time the thought crossed my mind that this would be a wonderful way to continue to raise funds for the documentary. Landscape design work and the story of Little Chick and the Piping Plovers has kept me from doing any recent fundraising, but my work typically slows for a brief period during the end of August and beginning of September.

Female Monarch Butterfly and Marsh Milkweed, 2017

Don’t you think it auspicious for my film project that we are seeing so many butterflies this summer? I began documenting the Monarchs in our region in 2006, which was a tremendous year for the Monarch migration through Cape Ann. The year 2012 was quite strong as well, but in the past four years, as the worldwide population has plummeted, so have the Monarchs migrating through our area. Imagine that in 1977 when the Monarchs were first discovered at their winter sleeping grounds, the butterflies were counted by the billions, while today only by the millions.

My hope for Beauty on the Wing is that it will travel to the various conservation and environmental festivals, and then be made available to classrooms around the nation. Another dream for the film is that it will be translated into Spanish and French. Just as American and Canadian children are curious about the butterflies’ winter home after departing their northern breeding grounds, Mexican children are equally curious as to the butterflies’ destination after they leave the butterfly sanctuaries in central Mexico.

The intent of this letter is to learn if amongst our readers there is interest in hosting a screening of the film in its not quite completed form. The purpose of the screening would be to raise money towards the film’s completion and distribution. And, too, I thought it would be a more fun, educational, and personal way to fundraise. To date I have received over $5,000 in generous donations. I am working with the non-profit filmmaker’s assistance group, the Filmmakers Collaborative. Donations made through FC are tax deductible. An itemized budget is available upon request. Beauty on the Wing is 54 minutes long. I thought we could show twenty minutes of highlights and then discuss the current state of the butterflies. Viewer feedback would also be of tremendous help. Screening parties could be so much fun, especially at this time of year during the butterfly’s migration, and especially in 2017 while we are seeing so many Monarchs on the wing.

Readers, what do you think? Please comment on this post or write me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail. Thank you so very much for your time, thoughts, and interest.

Warmest wishes,

Kim

 

Links:

Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly film website

A Flight of Monarchs

Trailer

Film Interview with Doctor Thomas Emmel at the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve at Sierra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four Monarchs in One Photo!

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

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

Monarch and Common Milkweed Good Harbor Beach

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

Patti Papows Common Milkweed with Monarch and Bee.

MONARCHS HERE, THERE, AND EVERYWHERE! PLEASE REPORT YOUR MONARCH BUTTERFLY SIGHTINGS (EDITED)

Reports of Monarch Butterfly sightings are coming in from all around Cape Ann, and beyond. I have seen more this this year than in recent summers. I wonder if higher numbers in July indicates a stronger migration in September. We can hope!

At this time of year, the females are depositing the eggs of the next generation.  You can find Monarchs at wildflower meadows, dunes, and gardens, where ever milkweed and nectar-rich flora grow. Typically, the eggs and caterpillars are found on the undersides of the uppermost leaves.

If you would, please report any Monarch activity that you have seen–eggs, flight, caterpillars, nectaring, mating, whatever you discover. Please share the approximate date and place. Even if you have shared previously in a comment, I hope to keep all the sightings in one place, so please re-comment. Thank you! 

*EDIT:

Thank you everyone for writing! How exciting that so many are being spotted, many more than the past several years. One was in my garden this morning, again, and two at Good Harbor Beach dunes earlier this morning.

Adding JoeAnn Hart, Susan Burke and Michele Del, as they commented on Facebook.

Patti, do you have caterpillars?? I’d love to stop by and see.

Please keep your comments coming. Thank you!!!!

When watching, note that the first two minutes of the film were shot in Gloucester. I think you will be dazzled by the numbers of Monarchs that travel through Cape Ann’s backyards and meadows during the peak of migration.