I so appreciate Heather taking the time to talk about Piping Plovers and Monarchs both. She asked tons of great questions and in a short period of time, we got in lots of information! Please see our interview below <3 !
For more about Hip Hop and the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers, see here –
And, 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, GO HERE
Monarch Butterfly and Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias vericillata)
As Putin’s war rages and the Russian’s crimes against humanity continue to hold the Ukrainian people hostage, we look for hope everywhere and anywhere. Especially when taking care of a child, an ill family member, or an elderly person we have to keep our spirits up, for the sake of our loved ones at the very least.
Hope is nations coming together and helping nations and individuals helping individuals, in the form of the hand extended to two million (and counting) refugees given by European neighboring countries, to the crushing economic sanctions imposed, to supplies arriving to the Ukraine from NATO countries and from around the globe, along with everyone in the world (aside from Putin and his allies at home and abroad), trying their damndest to prevent World War Three.We’re finding hope, too, in the signs of spring and new life beginning.
Four year old Charlotte coming in breathless with delight at the crocus and daffodil shoots emerging in the garden. And one of the most welcome sounds of spring is the beautiful chorus of courtship love songs of Passerines. There is renewed energy with the neighborhood songbirds; their appetites have increased markedly and nest building has commenced.
Eastern Bluebird male, Black-capped Chickadee, and American Robin eating the last of the Sumac fruits.
Monarch Butterflies are departing Mexico in a great swirling exodus while our winter resident birds are shoring up for their mass migration northward. Some have already left our coastline and waterways. There have been no sightings of the Snow Buntings for a week and fewer Buffleheads appear to be about. Soon, most of the Snowies will have departed. Local owls and eagles are laying eggs, while many travelers have yet to arrive.
Snow Buntings on the wing
Grand flocks of Brant Geese are massing. A long distant migrant, they’ve earned the nickname ‘Little Sea Goose’ for their habit of wintering over in saltwater bays, marshes, and sounds.
Killdeers have arrived and are sorting out their territories and, If you can imagine, Piping Plovers will be returning in just a few short weeks. To follow are members of the Ardeidae Family – Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Black and Yellow Crowned Herons, and Little Blue and Green Herons.
Piping Plover nest with two eggs
Mother River Otter and kits
We’ll soon see Muskrats, River Otters, and Beavers skirting around thawing ponds and baby Red Fox kits will in no time at all be peaking from dens.
Red Fox Kits
Red-winged Blackbirds have been here for several weeks. The male’s courtship call is welcome music of the marsh. He poses a striking silhouette chortling from the tips of Cattails, dressed in jet plumage with red shoulder epaulettes underlined in yellow. A female has yet to be spotted in her plain jane nesting camouflage of brown and tan.
Despite the horrors unfolding before our very eyes there is much to look forward to in the arrival of spring. We can’t as individuals end the war but we can take heart in a thousand acts of kindness and find joy in the unfolding beauty that surrounds, of new life in spring.
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.
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 <3
“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.
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
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.
Although Monarchs have been sited as far north as 46 degrees, it is still very early for us even though we are at 43 degrees latitude because we are so far east. Please write if you see one in your garden. And feel free to send a photo. I will post photos here. Thank you so much!
Keep your eyes peeled, especially on emerging milkweed shoots. In the photos below, Monarchs are drinking nectar from, depositing eggs on, and also mating on the milkweed plants. Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) are the two most productive milkweeds for the Northeast region.
My husband and I are huge fans of Jesse Cook and with gorgeous music and extraordinary musicianship, his concerts are not to be missed. Tom introduced me to his work several years ago when I was looking for a uniquely beautiful sound to score a short film for the Berkshire Museum, about butterflies in flight, for which Jesse graciously and generously permitted. More about Jesse and Monarchs when my forthcoming documentary is released.
Jesse Cook travels the world with his fingers. Through his globe-spanning and genre-bending compositions, the nimble-fingered guitarist has taken nouveau flamenco to places it has never been, creating new fascinating hybrids. As one of the most celebrated instrumentalists on the planet, Cook is forever restless, constantly searching for new sounds, rhythms and textures to explore.
Born in Paris and raised in Toronto, Cook studied classical and jazz guitar, and as a child was always intrigued by the highly rhythmic rumba flamenco style. Following up on that curiosity, Cook dove headfirst into the gypsy musical tradition as he began to find his own musical voice. After a show-stopping performance at the 1995 Catalina Jazz Festival, Cook’s little-heard debut, Tempest, suddenly took off in the U.S., landing at # 14 on the Billboard Charts. Cook’s career has seen steady growth in the years that followed, his multi-cultural take on rumba flamenco striking a nerve with listeners. One of the hallmarks of his sound and aesthetic is to travel the world, meeting and collaborating with artists and incorporating the results into his music. In addition to headlining concerts and festivals, he has opened for such legends as B.B. King, Ray Charles, The Chieftains and Diana Krall.
In 1998, Cook was nominated for a Juno Award as Instrumental Artist of the Year. In 2001, he received a Juno Nomination for Best Male Artist, as well as winning in the Best Instrumental Album category for Free Fall. In 2009, he was Acoustic Guitar’s Player’s Choice Award silver winner in the Flamenco category. He is a three-time winner of the Canadian Smooth Jazz award for Guitarist of the Year and numerous other awards. Over twenty years into his career, Cook is now forging more than just musical traditions of the world. With his 2015’s One World, he is now forging the ancient with the modern, infusing contemporary sounds of the electronic digital age into his timeless rumba flamenco rhythms.
“…lightning fast and bright flamenco guitarist…Jesse Cook…is about as seductive, percussive and danceable as this kind of music gets…also a powerful pop songwriter, with each melody standing out above the weaving rhythms sung by his intoxicating strings.” Jazziz
Thanks so much to my friend Heidi Wakeman who texted to let me know there was what she thought a trio of Black Skimmers down the creek at Good Harbor Beach. I raced over and sure enough there were three Black Skimmers, as well as several Laughing Gulls, resting on the creek edge, along with a flock of gulls.
You could tell they were weary and wind tossed so we observed from the far side of the creek so as not to disturb the little travelers. Heidi and I enjoyed watching for a bit. A Great Blue Heron briefly flew on the scene, joining a mixed gathering of herons and egrets. Heidi stayed awhile longer and got to see them fly and skim-feeding.
Black Skimmers are called as such because they have a unique-to-their species method of foraging. Their lower mandible is longer than the upper, which allows them to skim the surface for small fish.
Southern Massachusetts is at the very northern range of the Black Skimmers breeding range. I imagine they have been blown off course by Humberto’s wildy winds.
Black Skimmers are not all that Hurricane Humberto delivered to our shores. The surf was tremendous Friday afternoon, with long lovely rolling waves that towered and crashed ashore. The late day softening light and a fine mist from the heavy amounts of moisture in the air lent an atmospheric light to all.
Here are some photos I took of Black Skimmers two years ago at Cape May while documenting the Monarch migration along the southern New Jersey coast. Just as do Monarchs, Skimmers gather in great numbers at Cape May in late summer and early autumn, waiting for the right conditions to cross the Delaware Bay.
Unlike the UK’s BBC, where Autumnwatch New England aired four consecutive evenings, the series is only running three nights in the U.S., and the Monarch episode is not included in tonight’s PBS version of the show.
The good news though is that the Monarch episode aired last night on the BBC, the final night of the UK series, and you can watch it right now, on youtube!
The series is not yet available on the BBC’s website but has been posted here [https://youtu.be/RB5FkrvuVzU].
A friend shared an email from her sister last night. Her sister lives in the UK and here is what she wrote about Gloucester –
So exciting! We were idly watching a programme called Autumn watch which this year has been filmed in New England. It has been based in New Hampshire (Lake Squam). They began to talk about the migration of the monarch butterflies when suddenly they are in Gloucester! We had very good pictures of Gloucester which looked beautiful! Lovely pictures of good harbour beach etc….. They’ve now gone to Boston and are talking about wild turkeys! What a programme! Love M.
This has been a stunning week for loss of life, with the suicide of Anthony Bourdain coming on the heels of Kate Spade’s suicide. Please dear hearts, no matter how depressed and overwhelmed, suicide is never, ever the answer. I learned several days ago that a friend passed away. I had the great fortune to travel with Tom Emmel in 2014 to the Monarch butterfly sanctuaries and we developed a lasting friendship. He shared information generously–it was his 44th trip to Angangueo–and he was one of the first scientists to study the Monarchs in their winter home. Tom leaves behind a lifetime of friendships as well as his legacy in research and conservation.
Tom loved the people and town of Angangueo; here he is in his element at the Sierra Chinqua Monarch Butterfly Reserve.
It is with great sadness that the family of Dr. Thomas C. Emmel announce his passing on Saturday, May 26, 2018, while traveling abroad in Brazil. He was 77 years old.
Tom is lovingly remembered by his brother, John Emmel (Phyllis), his nephew, Travis, and his niece, Alexis. In addition, a multitude of friends, colleagues and former students will forever honor Tom – a noted conservationist, naturalist, prolific author and visionary – for his kindness, humor, encyclopedic knowledge and wide-ranging interests. He epitomized the ideal of the professor as educator, mentor, supporter and inspiration.
Born on May 08, 1941, Tom grew up in Los Angeles, California. His parents, Edward and Ardyce Emmel, met on an outing sponsored by the Sierra Club and encouraged an interest in nature, including taking Tom and his brother on many camping trips to all the national parks in the western U.S. Around age eight, at the suggestion of his father, Tom, then younger brother John, began collecting butterflies on all their family trips. This began a lifelong passion they shared. Their mother further encouraged their interest by driving them to entomological society meetings at Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. His parents, a den mother and scout master, respectively, were very much involved with the scouting program, and the brothers were Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Explorer Scouts, and became Eagle Scouts as well.
When Tom was a high school senior, he was one of 40 winners of the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, for which he won a trip to Washington, D.C. Upon graduating from high school, Tom went with ornithologist L. Irby Davis, for a three month trip to southern Mexico. Tom assisted Mr. Davis in recording bird songs in the early morning and evening, then collected butterflies during the mid-day. He returned to southern California with several thousand specimens – and his lifetime interest in tropical entomology was secured. As it would turn out, some of those specimens were representative of a new species – which in April 2018 was named Cyllopsis tomemmeli in his honor.
Tom earned his B.A. at Reed College in 1963. During the summer breaks from college, Tom was a nature counselor at Sanborn Western Camps for Kids, in Colorado. He earned his Ph.D. in Population Biology at Stanford University in 1967, and was a Post-doctoral Fellow in Genetics at the University of Texas from 1967-1968. His unbridled commitment to and support of the University of Florida began in 1968 when he joined its faculty as Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences & Zoology. In 1973, he became an Associate Professor of Zoology and three years later, in 1976, he became a Professor of Zoology. He served as department chairman for Zoology, directed the Department of Zoology Division of Lepidoptera Research from 1980-2003, and directed the UF Boender Endangered Species Laboratory since its inception in 1995.
In 2004, Tom was chosen to be the Founding Director of the Florida Museum’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the University of Florida. The McGuire Center was Tom’s vision and concept: A state-of-the-art research and teaching center that focused on Lepidoptera and the biodiversity they represent, and by extension a facility that engaged the public and created awareness of nature’s beauty and relevance to our lives. The Center was brought to fruition by the generous support of Dr. and Mrs. William McGuire, lifelong friends and admirers of Tom and his efforts. Under Dr. Emmel’s leadership, The McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity has become world-renowned for research on biodiversity, habitat loss, and Lepidoptera; a major publisher of related scientific studies; a force in public education about our environment and its biodiversity; and the repository for the largest collection of Lepidoptera specimens in the world
Tom authored more than 400 scientific publications, including 35 books. His many personal research interests included the endangered Schaus Swallowtail population in the Florida Keys; the effects of mosquito control pesticides on non-target wildlife and humans living in south Florida; microevolution, population biology, and ecological genetics of Cercyonis butterflies; chromosome evolution and macroevolution in the Lepidoptera; mimicry complexes in Mechanitis and Melinaea ithomiine butterflies in the Neotropics; biology, life histories, ecology, and conservation of the California butterfly fauna; fossil butterflies; and butterfly diversity in many areas of the world. He worked tirelessly to encourage efforts to promote conservation and natural habitat preservation, such as through the Miami Blue–Save Wild Florida license plate initiative and conservation biology efforts for the overwintering Monarch butterfly sites in southern Mexico. Throughout his lifetime, Tom mentored countless students – fostering and encouraging their careers in entomology, taxonomy, the study of tropical rainforests, and conservation biology.
Dr. Tom Emmel leaves behind a tremendous and unparalleled legacy. His vision, imagination, and energy in the service of conservation and Lepidoptera will continue to inspire and inform future generations of scientists, as well as the public in general. His life work contributed to making a better world, and the impact will be enduring.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in memory of Tom can be made to the Thomas C. Emmel Founding Director’s Endowment, which supports collections and research at the Florida Museum’s McGuire Center.
Funeral services and a celebration of life for Tom are to be announced in the near future.
Arrangements are under the care of MILAM FUNERAL AND CREMATION SERVICES 311 South Main Street Gainesville, FL (352) 376-5361 www.milamfh.com
PLease join me Tuesday evening at 7:00pm at the Wellesley Free Library for the Wellesley Conservation Council Meeting. I am giving my newly updated Beauty on the Wing lecture. This program is free and open to the public. I hope to see you there!
Monarch Butterflies–Beauty on the Wing
How can Wellesley help Monarchs throughout Their Life Cycle?
WHAT: Wellesley Conservation Council Spring Lecture
WHO: Kim Smith, Naturalist and Award-winning Photographer
WHEN: Tuesday, April 24, 2018 – 7:00pm
WHERE: Wakelin Room, Wellesley Free Library
The Monarch’s life story is one of nature’s most incredible examples of adaptation and survival. But the Monarch migration is in great peril. Learn how you can help. Through photographs and discussion, Beauty on the Wing tells the life story of the Monarch Butterfly, the state of the butterflies’ migration and why they are in sharp decline, and the positive steps we can take as individuals and collectively to help the Monarchs recover from devastating effects of habitat loss, climate change, and pesticides.
Kim Smith is an award winning nature author, documentary filmmaker, native plant landscape designer, and naturalist. She specializes in creating pollinator habitat gardens utilizing primarily North American native wildflowers, trees, shrubs, and vines.
The Wellesley Conservation Council Annual Meeting for the election of officers and board members will precede the program at 6:30pm. This event is free and co-sponsored by Wellesley Free Library. For more information go to http://www.wellesleyconservationcouncil.org.
Please join us on Thursday evening at Salem State University for Earth Days Week celebrations and awards ceremony. I am giving the keynote address.
This event is entirely free and open to the public. I hope to see you there!I have been pouring through photos from this year’s past late great Monarch migration to create the new “Beauty on the Wing” program that I am giving Thursday evening at Salem State.My favorite thing to do photographing butterflies is to capture them mid-flight. Working on landscape design projects and film projects back to back I only had time to upload and didn’t have a chance to look through the film footage and photos daily. I discovered a bunch of photos that are worthy of adding to the presentation–a photographer’s idea of finding buried treasure–and these are two of my favorites.
Whether on the wings of a butterfly or the seat of a ferris wheel, the souls of loved ones return to earth to be remembered by their families and friends.
In late October millions of Monarchs begin to arrive to the magnificent oyamel fir and pine tree forests of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, located in the heart of Mexico in the eastern regions of Michoacán. Their return coincides with the annual celebration of Díade los Muertos, the Day of the Dead fiesta. Native peoples and their descendants today believe butterflies are the souls of departed loved ones, returning to Earth to be remembered by their ancestors. An even older tradition connects the Monarchs with the corn harvest, as their return signified that the corn was ripe. In the language of the native Purpécha Indians, the name for the Monarch is “harvester.”Ofrenda de Muertos Gloucester
Pilar has started a new fashion trend, Monarchs as hair accessory.
Enchanted by Monarchs! We had a fantastic day filmmaking, thanks to Emma, Pilar, Frieda, Annie Kate, Lotus, April, Elijah, Esme, Charlie, Atticus, and last but not least, Meadow. And an extra huge thank you to all the moms and dads for not minding the early morning wake up calls and texts to let the kids know the butterflies were emerging! I was tied up filming and so wish I’d taken more stills.
A patch of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) in bloom has a wonderfully sweet honey-hay scent. Look for it growing along the sand dunes, roadside edges, fields, meadows, and where ever there is a neglected patch. And keep your eyes peeled for Monarchs; the earliest arrivals (for the most part) are synchronized to the flowering of Common Milkweed.
Monarchs usually arrive in our region by the first week in July and go through several brood cycles. This year, barely any arrived. The Monarch’s sensitivity to temperature and dependence on milkweed make it vulnerable to environmental changes. Since 1994, U.S. and Mexican researchers have recorded a steady decline in the Monarch population in their overwintering grounds, with 2012-2013 being the lowest recorded to date.
Temperature change and habitat loss affect breeding success and longevity. Dr. Chip Taylor, a leading Monarch researcher at the University of Kansas reports that the widespread adoption of GMO corn and soybean crops resistant to herbicides, along with with intensive herbicide use, coupled with the federal government’s incentivized expansion of corn and soy acreage for the production of biofuels have caused a significant drop in milkweed throughout the heart of the Monarch’s range. Lack of milkweed equals no Monarchs. “Monarch/milkweed habitat has declined significantly in parallel with the rapid adoption of glyphosate-tolerant corn and soybeans and, since 2006, the rapid expansion of corn and soy acreage to accommodate the production of biofuels,” Taylor wrote on May 29.
Monarchs Nectaring at Seaside Goldenrod
What can we do? Encourage conservation organizations that conserve Monarch habitat, plant milkweed, plant nectar plants, and raise caterpillars. Hopefully the weather next spring and early summer will be more conducive to the Monarch’s northward migration and breeding success, and if and when the Monarchs arrive, they will find our milkweed plants.
Monarch Butterflies Nectaring at New England Asters
If anyone sees a Monarch, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment in the comment section.
Update: For more information, see previous GMG posts on Monarchs and Milkweed:
The above photo of a male (right) and female (left) Monarch Butterflies on Marsh Milkweed is part of the GMG/Cape Ann Giclee Photography show, opening tonight, Friday. Hope to see you there!
I am often asked the following question at my butterfly and pollinator garden design lectures. How exactly are Monsanto’s products ravaging the Monarch Butterfly population?
First, it is important to understand that all butterfly caterpillars rely on plant foods specific to each species of butterfly. For example, Monarch caterpillars only eat members of the milkweed family, Black Swallowtail caterpillars eat plants in the carrot family, and Heliconian butterflies eat plants in the passionflower family. Some caterpillars, like the larvae of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail eat plants from a wide range of plant families. That being said, it is worth repeating that Monarch caterpillars only survive on members of the milkweed family.
Imagine a farm with row upon row of corn. Growing amongst and around the edges of the cornfields are wildflowers of all sorts, including milkweed. The wildflowers draw to the fields myriad pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and birds.
Monsanto has genetically modified the seed of corn and soybeans so that it will withstand extremely heavy doses of its herbicide, called Roundup. Monsanto’s corn and soybean seed is actually called Roundup Ready. Roundup Ready plants can withstand massive doses of the herbicide Roundup, but the milkweed and other wildflowers growing in the corn and soybean fields cannot.
Each year massive amounts of Roundup are sprayed on the corn and soybean fields, killing everything in sight, except the Roundup Ready corn and soybean. Additionally, Monsanto’s Roundup contains the active ingredient glyphosate, which has been tied to more health and environmental problems than you can possibly imagine.
Now imagine you are a Monarch Butterfly, having flown hundreds of miles northward towards breeding grounds of milkweed. But there is no milkweed to deposit your eggs. The circle in the chain of life is broken.
Since the use of genetically modified Roundup Ready began, milkweed has disappeared from over 100 million acres of row crops, or a roughly 58 percent decrease. Milkweed is not only the Monarch caterpillar host (or food) plant, the nectar-rich florets provide nourishment for hundreds of species of bees and other Lepidoptera.
The Monarch Butterfly migration is one of the great migrations of the world. Climate change and the loss of habitat are also factors in the decrease of butterflies. The Mexican government and the people of Mexico have enacted policies to help protect from logging the remaining oyamel fur trees in the Monarchs winter habitat.
There are several steps that we in the United States can undertake. 1) Avoid as much as possible genetically modified food, especially corn and soybean products. 2) If you own shares of Monsanto stock, get rid of it (Monsanto also developed Agent Orange). Thirdly, we need to start a national movement to cultivate milkweed and to create awareness about the important role wildflowers play in our ecosystem.
Calling Everyone: Plant Milkweed! No matter how small or large your garden, give a spot over to milkweed and watch your garden come to life!
I wrote this post several days ago. Westport was hit very hard by Sandy.
Let’s hope Westport is spared coastal flooding from Hurricane Sandy
The upcoming planting week for my newest project, The Mary Prentiss Inn, a beautiful inn in the heart of Cambridge (more about The Mary Prentiss Inn later) has been disrupted by Sandy. One of the nurseries I work with cancelled delivery and wanted to reschedule, but not until after the 5th of November. By that time I’ll be knee-deep planting Willowdale for the spring of 2013. I didn’t want to disappoint my clients and postpone work until later in November. What to do? Have Prius, will travel.
Much has been written about the super fuel efficiency of the Prius (saving me much, much $$$ over the eight years I have owned a Prius), but rarely do I see mention of it’s fantastic carrying capacity when the back seat is made flat. People look at me in disbelief when I tell them I have transported trees and (smallish) sofas in the back of my Prius so I thought you’d like to see.
125 Boxwood plants, with room to spare in the front passenger seat
Friends often tell me I need a truck or a van. Perhaps when an auto manufacturer designs a 22k truck or van that gets 45 miles to the gallon (when loaded to the max), I’ll consider. In the meantime-have Prius, can do!
Westport is one of the most exquisite New England towns you will ever see. The topography is such that the farmland runs to the ocean’s edge. Through community and conservation groups, Westport is earnestly endeavoring, and succeeding, in preserving its historic and agricultural heritage–as we know in Gloucester, it is very intelligent when communities work together to help protect and preserve their farmers and fishermen.
The Bayside Restaurant ~ Charming little spot to eat in Westport, across the road from Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary. The Bayside offers a complete menu, including many delicious seafood entrees and Homemade Pies!
Super Fresh Rhode Island Calamari
You can see why Sylvan is one of my top five nurseries, not only for their exquisite plant stock, but because they are located about a hundred yards down the road from Allens Pond Wildlife Santuary. In autumn, after the coastal Monarchs depart Cape Ann, they fly south and next congregate in the Westport area, in and around Allen’s Pond and Horseneck Beach.
Allens Pond ~ Hurry Monarchs and Get Going! October 26, 2012
From the Trustees of Reservations website, “In many towns throughout Massachusetts The Trustees of Reservations have worked in partnership with the state’s Department of Agricultural Resources to help preserve family farms. Nowhere has that work been more successful than in Westport, where the partnership includes the Westport Land Conservation Trust and the town. Together, the groups have protected 13 farms in Westport over the past five years, including two dairy farms, two Christmas tree farms, an organic fruit and vegetable farm, a beef cattle operation, and even a piggery. There are now a total of 28 preserved farms in Westport, encompassing over 2,100 acres.”