Tag Archives: New England aster

THE HISTORIC BUTTERFLY MIGRATION OF 2019 CONTINUES MOVING THROUGH CAPE ANN

Another banner weekend for butterflies on Cape Ann with Yellow Sulphurs, Painted Ladies, and American Ladies joining the streams of Monarchs migrating along our shores.

Butterflies struggle at this time of year to find sources of nectar. Whatever you do, please do not cut back your garden until mid-November or so. Best NOT to cut back at all and to leave the drying seed heads for the songbirds and leaf litter and plant stalks for hibernating bees and caterpillars, but if one really must cut back, wait as long as possible.

If you click on the photos in the gallery, each picture is labeled with the name of the butterfly and the names of the late-blooming plants on which they are drinking nectar and building their fat reserves for the journey ahead . Butterflies will even fight over a Dandelion to try to get nectar when nothing much else is available (the best reason of all not to use Roundup on the Dandelions in a lawn).

 

HIGHER NUMBERS GIVE HOPE FOR MONARCHS

By Kim Smith

January 31, 2019

The World Wildlife Fund Mexico and Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR) announced on January 30th that this year the Monarch Butterfly population has increased significantly.

Each year the orange and black winged beauties return to the oyamel fir and pine tree forests, which are located in the heart of Mexico’s trans volcanic mountain belt. In December and January, Lepidoptera population specialists and citizen scientists measure the area the Monarch colonies cover at their over wintering sites. This year (2018-2019) the butterflies are blanketing 6.05 hectares (approximately 15 acres), up from an all-time low of only 0.67 hectares (1.65 acres) during the winter of 2013-2014.

Not since 2006-2007 has this great an area been covered by the butterflies, although the numbers are still quite low when compared to the numbers recorded in the late 1970s when the butterfly’s winter roosts were first discovered by Dr. Fred Urquhart.

I have been following the butterfly counts around the US as they were reported. The Monarch population has been decimated in California. This year only about 30,000 butterflies were counted, down from several million just two decades ago. There is the very real possibility that the Monarch butterfly will become extirpated (extinct from an area) on the West coast. The winter count is down drastically in Florida as well.

It was clear though that east of the Rockies–the Midwest and Northeast regions of the US, as well as southern provinces of Canada–there were many more Monarchs in gardens and on the wing than in recent previous summers.

Leading Monarch scientists are reluctant to become excited about the increase, and justifiably so. Last spring the weather was slightly cooler in Texas, which allowed more Monarch eggs to hatch, which in turn allowed more caterpillars to mature. A greater number of butterflies emerged and set the stage for a strong breeding season throughout the summer. That scenario, along with the overall good weather during the summer of 2018, also helped create ideal conditions. It was a true “goldilocks” summer, not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

In autumn of 2018, the Monarchs arrived to Mexico about a week later than usual, but once they began to arrive, a kaleidoscope of butterflies poured into their winter roosting grounds.

The 2018-2019 Eastern population count is a reprieve from the past ten years of heartbreaking news, but one good year does not change what the butterflies need most, which is protection for the Monarchs under the Endangered Species Act.

Monarch and Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia)

There is disagreement among scientists whether planting milkweed has any bearing on the health of the Monarch butterfly population. Does creating corridors of Monarch habitat help mitigate the death and destruction caused by climate change, modern agricultural practices, the devastating use of pesticides and herbicides, and the planting of GMO crops (corn, sorghum, and soybeans, for example) that were engineered to withstand the deadly poisons, but which wildflowers and caterpillars cannot?

Monarch Butterflies and New England Aster, Gloucester, 2018

I think the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Monarchs are a bellwether species. The love for this one butterfly has helped to shape a consciousness towards all species at risk. An uncomplicated stand of milkweed and asters can make every public walkway, park, community center, church, school, and backyard a haven for Monarchs and together we can bring about a conservation victory for the pollinators.

HOW TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A FEMALE AND MALE MONARCH BUTTERFLY

A question often asked, “how can you tell if it’s a male or female Monarch Butterfly?”

Female (left) and male Monarch (right)

The difference is easy to see when you are looking at the upper side of the butterfly’s wings. On the hind wings of the male Monarch are two black dots, one dot on each hind wing. These dots are actually pockets filled with pheromones, or “love dust.” When the male and female meet, he sprinkles his love dust, and if she is receptive, the pair will join abdomen to abdomen, where they stayed coupled together for several hours.

You can also see the difference by comparing wing veination. The females wing veins are thicker and smokier, the male’s wing veins are thinner.

During the summer breeding months, you can often tell the difference by behavior, especially when near a patch of milkweed. The males vigorously fly about looking for females, whereas the females are more slowly flitting and hovering around the foliage, looking for places on which to oviposit her eggs. Their behavior during the fall migration is such that both male and female are intently drinking nectar, building their lipid reserves for the long journey south.

Next time you see a Monarch in your garden, have a look and see if you can tell whether male or female.

Male and female Monarchs mating and ascending to a Maple Tree from “Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly” illustrated book (unpublished).

PBS AND BBC ANNOUNCE AUTUMNWATCH – NEW ENGLAND

Some press for the show that I have been working on with the BBC! The shows air October 17-19th, at 8pm. I don’t know yet which night the Cape Ann Monarchs episode will play, but will let you know.

– Travel journalist Samantha Brown, wildlife cinematographer Bob Poole and BBC presenter Chris Packham host the live nature show celebrating fall in New England –

PBS announced, as part of its co-production partnership with the BBC, that a new three-part live event, AUTUMNWATCH – NEW ENGLAND, will air Wednesday-Friday, October 17-19, 2018, at 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET (check local listings).

Travel journalist Samantha Brown, BBC presenter Chris Packham and wildlife cinematographer Bob Poole will host the multi-platform television experience from alongside Squam Lake, New Hampshire. Similar in format to PBS’ previous summer spectacles BIG BLUE LIVE and WILD ALASKA LIVE, the new series will include a mix of live feeds and pre-taped footage from across New England.

Unique to AUTUMNWATCH – NEW ENGLAND, the live event will focus on cultural traditions and historical sites in addition to local wildlife and the colorful gold and red landscapes in the region that’s best known for them.

To accomplish this, local experts in food, wildlife, music, literature, and history will join the trio of hosts each night to showcase characteristics special to New England.

“In AUTUMNWATCH – NEW ENGLAND, audiences will experience exquisite outdoor adventures while surrounded by nature’s most picturesque imagery,” said Bill Gardner, Vice President, Programming & Development, PBS. “We look forward to partnering with the BBC once again to present this ambitious live production and share this American experience with PBS and BBC viewers.”

AUTUMNWATCH – NEW ENGLAND cameras will be there to capture time-lapse changes of fall foliage; a quest for majestic moose in Maine; the Monarch butterfly migration through Cape Ann, key wildlife species like squirrels, chipmunks and turkey gangs as they invade backyards in preparation for the winter months; and the critters like owls, bats and bears that make the most of nighttime.

Audiences can expect to see segments that highlight Native American history and traditions, Halloween traditions, regional fairs and the many farms that provide the region with its rich varieties of apples, pumpkins, cranberries and maple syrups.

“I’m thrilled that AUTUMNWATCH is moving to New England for this very special week of live programming,” Tom McDonald, BBC Head of Commissioning, Natural History and Specialist Factual, said. “The teams are heading to one of the most iconic locations in the USA to experience the great American ‘fall’ for what promises to be an unforgettable chapter in the Watches’ history.”

Female (left) and male (right) Monarch Butterfly. These two beauties (warming their wings on native wildflower New England Aster) eclosed (emerged) during the BBC filming of the Monarch migration through Cape Ann.

FILMING WITH THE BBC FOR THE MONARCHS!

Good news for my Monarch Butterfly documentary!

Dear Friends of Beauty on the Wing,

The past two summers we have seen a mini boom of Monarchs in gardens and meadows. Hopefully this will translate to a greater number of butterflies overwintering in Mexico, but we’ll only know after the annual count that takes place during December of 2018. I have been able to capture some wonderful footage and carve out good chunks of time time for editing.

I have some exciting news to share and that is over the past month I have been in discussion with producers from a BBC nature program. They found the trailer for Beauty on the Wing and contacted me for help writing the story about the Monarch migration through New England. Yesterday, I spent the day with the BBC film crew for my interview, and then showed them all around Cape Ann’s beautiful Monarch habitat. It was a very rewarding day and we covered much ground. The show is being produced in conjunction with PBS and will air in the US sometime in October. For myriad reasons, this is fantastic news for my film!

That’s all for now but I’ll keep you posted when I know more details.

Thank you Friends for your continued support and interest in Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly!

Warmest wishes,

Kim

The interview took place at the lovely home and garden of my friend and East Gloucester resident Patti Pappows. When I met Patti, she already had a gorgeous established garden however, over the past few years, she has been adding great patches of milkweed and many species of native New England wildflowers. Just ask her how many butterflies (and hummingbirds) visit her garden daily! Patti’s garden made the most beautiful setting to showcase Cape Ann’s butterflies and wildflowers, despite the clouds and drizzle.The cameraman Bobby and producer Sophie were absolutely delighted and amazed to see half a dozen Monarchs emerging yesterday during shooting! 

SAVE THE DATE AND SUPER EXCITING NEWS!

Save the Date! On April 12th from 5 to 7pm I am going to be the guest speaker at Salem State University as part of their Earth Day celebration. I will be giving my Monarch Butterfly lecture program.

A series of interesting, thoughtful speakers and exciting events are scheduled and I will post the flyer and more information as soon as is available. This program is open to the public. I hope to see you there!

 Dandelions for the Pollinators! 

I think Dandelions growing in a lawn are lovely and they also provide nectar early in the season for bees and butterflies, as well as late in the season, especially for migrating Monarchs. It’s lamentable that the lawn care industry has convinced consumers that Dandelions are unwelcome in the lawn.

One morning in mid-fall I watched as hundreds of migrating Monarch poured in from over the water. They were tired and hungry but as it was late in the season, there were few wildflowers and garden flowers still blooming. Nearly every Monarch made a beeline for the Dandelions and even got into little tussles over who would drink first. The lawn was simply covered with bright yellow blossoms and orange and black flakes. Unfortunately, a maintenance crew arrived to mow the lawn. No matter how hard I tried to convince the guys that perhaps they could come back the next day, after the butterflies had departed our shores, they would have none of it. The lawn was mowed and the weary butterflies dispersed and did not return.

Next time you reach for a spray bottle of poisonous pesticide, such as Monsanto’s Round-up, think instead about the bees and butterflies. And, too, the strong taproots of Taraxacum officinale will aerate your soil and the tender, young greens are delicious in salads.

Down the Garden Path

monarch-new-england-aster-coneflower-copyright-kim-smithThe New England Asters and Quilled Coneflowers blooming in our garden during the months of September and October were planted to provide sustenance for migrating Monarchs. Although both are native wildflowers, the bees and butterflies visiting gardens at this time of year are much more interested in nectaring at the New England Asters.

Plant the following four native beauties and I guarantee, the pollinators will come!

New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae)

Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens)

Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

monarch-butterfly-depositing-egg-milkweed-copyright-kim-smithFemale Monarch curling her abdomen to the underside and depositing eggs on Marsh Milkweed foliage.