This new short, titled Resplendent Monarch Migration, features Monarchs during the late summer southward migration. Also highlighted are some of the more commonly seen butterflies of late summer, including the American Lady, the spectacular Common Buckeye (2:53), Pearl Crescent, Yellow Sulphur, and American Copper. The flora seen includes New England Asters, Seaside Goldenrod, Tall Goldenrod, Smooth Aster (pale lavender), and Common Milkweed. When you plant for the butterflies, they will come!
At 3:30 you can see a small overnight roost beginning to form. As the sun sets, particularly on chilly or windy evenings, Monarchs head for the trees. One by one they fly in, some settling quickly, others restless and shifting to a more preferable spot. By nightfall, all are tucked into the sheltering boughs of the Black Cherry tree. (4:15).
With the warming rays of Sun’s first light, the Monarchs begin to awaken (4:20). If it’s cold and windy they”ll stay a bit longer but typically, the butterflies either float down to the wildflowers in the marsh below, or in the case of this particular roost at Eastern Point, the Monarchs wasted no time and quickly departed. They flew directly south towards Boston by first traveling along the length of the Dogbar Breakwater before heading out to sea (4:30).
It took patience (and a lot of luck) to capture the butterfly heading up into the clouds (5:44). I wanted to share the imagery of the scale of a tiny speck of a creature juxtaposed against the vastness of sea and sky. Imagine, a butterfly that weighs less than a paper clip, journeys 2500 miles to the trans Mexican volcanic mountaintops.
Safe travels oh resilient one!
I have received a number of requests for Monarch footage. I cannot lend the footage from my documentary, Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly, currently airing on PBS however, this past summer, I spent time shooting butterflies in my garden, butterflies in pollinator gardens that I have designed for clients, and at our local marshes and meadows. All the footage was shot in beautiful 4k, which is what organizations are requesting.
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
My friend Patti Papows shares that she heard a promo on PBS for the Autumnwatch Cape Ann Monarch migration episode, which we believe airs Friday night at 8pm. The BBC team is still editing the segment so if anything changes, we will let you know.
The Monarch migration interview was filmed at Patti’s beautiful garden in Gloucester, at Good Harbor Beach, and the episode includes footage from my forthcoming film Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly.
Patti is a fantastic hostess and the producer Sophie, cameraman Bobby, and his wife Gina were thrilled with her warm hospitality and the refreshments she provided. It was cold and damp and drizzly, yet despite that, half a dozen Monarchs emerged from the chrysalises I had brought to the interview. Everyone was excited to see this and I think it was all meant to be.
The three night series airs Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at 8pm (October 17th-19th).
Photos from an October passel of Monarchs migrating along our shores and nectaring at the late blooming asters.
Please join me Wednesday morning for my lecture and slide program “Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly” at 10am for the North Shore Garden Club at St. John’s Church in Beverly. I hope to see you there!
Monarchs and native New England wildflower Smooth Aster
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.
The recent winter storms of 2018 have provided empirical evidence of how global climate change and the consequential rising sea level is impacting the Massachusetts coastline. Whether broken barriers between the ocean and small bodies of fresh water, the tremendous erosion along beaches, or the loss of plant life at the edge of the sea, these disturbances are profoundly impacting wildlife habitats.
The following photos were taken after the March nor’easter of 2018 along with photos of the same areas, before the storm, and identify several specific species of wildlife that are affected by the tremendous loss of habitat.
Barrier Beach Erosion
Nesting species of shorebirds such as Piping Plovers require flat or gently sloping areas above the wrack line for chick rearing. Notice how the March nor’easter created bluffs with steep sides, making safe areas for tiny chicks nonexistent.
You can see in the photos of Good Harbor Beach (top photo and photos 3 and 4 in the gallery) that the metal fence posts are completely exposed. In 2016, the posts were half buried and in 2017, the posts were nearly completely buried. After the recent storms, the posts are fully exposed and the dune has eroded half a dozen feet behind the posts.
In the photo of the male Piping Plover sitting on his nest from 2016 the metal posts are half buried.
Although scrubby growth shrubs and sea grass help prevent erosion, the plants have been ripped out by the roots and swept away due to the rise in sea level.
Plants draw tiny insects, which is food for tiny chicks, and also provide cover from predators, as well as shelter from weather conditions. If the Piping Plovers return, will they find suitable nesting areas, and will plant life recover in time for this year’s brood?
Other species of shorebirds that nest on Massachusetts’s beaches include the Common Tern, Least Tern, Roseate Tern, American Oyster Catcher, Killdeer, and Black Skimmer.
Common Tern parent feeding fledgling
Where Have All the Wildflowers Gone?
Female Monarch Depositing Egg on Common Milkweed Leaf
Wildflowers are the main source of food for myriad species of beneficial insects such as native bees and butterflies.
Monarch Butterflies arriving on our shores not only depend upon milkweed for the survival of the species, but the fall migrants rely heavily on wildflowers that bloom in late summer and early fall. Eastern Point is a major point of entry, and stopover, for the southward migrating butterflies. We have already lost much of the wildflower habitat that formerly graced the Lighthouse landscape.
Masses of sea debris from the storm surge washed over the wildflower patches and are covering much of the pollinator habitat at the Lighthouse.
American Wigeon Migrating at Henry’s Pond
Barriers that divide small bodies of fresh water from the open sea have been especially hard hit. The fresh bodies of water adjacent to the sea provide habitat, food, and drinking water for hundreds of species of wildlife and tens of thousands of migrating song and shorebirds that travel through our region.
The recently rebuilt causeway (2014) between Niles Pond and Brace Cove was breached many times during the nor’easter. The causeway is littered in rocks and debris from the sea.
The causeway being rebuilt in 2014.
The road that runs along Pebble Beach, separating the sea from Henry’s Pond has been washed out.
The footsteps in the sand are where the road ran prior to the storm.
Mallards, North American Beavers, Muskrats, North American River Otters, and Painted Turtles are only a few examples of species that breed in Massachusetts fresh water ponds and wetlands. All the wildlife photos and videos were shot on Cape Ann.
Migrating Black-bellied Plover
Cape Ann is hardly alone in coping with the impact of our warming planet and of rising sea level. These photos are meant to show examples of what is happening locally. Regions like Plymouth County, which include Scituate and Hingham, have been equally as hard hit. Plum Island is famously heading for disaster and similar Massachusetts barrier beaches, like Cranes Beach, have all been dramatically altered by the cumulative effects of sea level rising, and recently accelerated by the devastating winter storms of 2018.
Covering storms back to back, I didn’t have time to post on both Good Morning Gloucester and on my blog. The following are links to storm posts from the region’s three March nor’easters, beginning on March 2nd.
Update: Monarch Butterfly Migration Late Summer 2010
Magical Seaside Goldenrod Meadow
Dear Gardening Friends,
So many have telephoned or emailed inquiring about the status of the annual Monarch butterfly migration through our region. This past summer I have observed umpteen Monarch butterflies and caterpillars in cultivated gardens, wildflower meadows, and along the shoreline; however, I did not see the great numbers in great heaps roosting in any one particular place that I have in some years past. Rather I would find a small passel here and a small passel there—perhaps several dozen at a time—roosting in the wild black cherry trees (Prunus serotina) at Eastern Point, awakening in the early morning and nectaring at the Seaside Goldenrod in the meadow below.
Monarchs Mimic Withering Foliage of Black Cherry Tree
Although the Monarchs are guided genetically, using their internal sun-compass navigation and circadian clock, each year the annual southward migration takes a different form that depends on many variables, primarily the weather conditions in their overwintering site in Michoacán, Mexicoas well as weather patterns in their US and Canadian breeding grounds. Because Cape Ann is located at approximately 43 degrees latitude north, our peak migration pattern is estimated at around September 11, but I modify this pattern because of the strong winds and storms we often experience in the late summer living along the coastline.
I have read reports of fantastic migrations that are taking place this year, from Long Island, south to Cape May, and west to Virginia—some saying it is the best they have seen in decades! I continue to remain on the look out because the air temperatures were atypically warmer this summer, creating a longer breeding season than usual, which would indicate that there may be newly emerging Monarchs on the scene. While photographing during this year’s migration, I encountered a pair of Monarchs mating, a very unusual occurrence at this time of year. The “Methuselah” Monarchs that we see in late summer and early autumn are generally speaking sexually immature and do not mate until next year, after they journey south and after they overwinter and awaken in Mexico.
Monarchs Mating Amidst the Goldenrod
Monarchs observed in late summer and early autumn are intent on nectaring and not easily distracted. This later generation of Methuselah Monarchs is feeding aggressively to increase and store their lipid reserves for the long journey south. We provide plenty of nectar-rich blossoms to help the Monarchs in their exhaustive migration, taking cues from marsh and meadow. Blooming freely at this time of year are copious members of the Composite family—goldenrods, asters, pearly everlasting, zinnias, ironweed, Mexican sunflowers, and Korean daisies. If one diligently deadheads the butterfly bushes and Verbena bonariences, they too will be available for the migrating Monarchs.
My favorite goldenrod isSeaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens), which blooms from August to November. Seaside Goldenrod is the gorgeous brilliant golden wildflower we see growing and glowing along the edge of the sea. It is easily differentiated from other New England goldenrods in that the flowerheads are comparatively larger and the leaves are thicker and fleshier, with a waxy feel, an adaptation to the drying effect of salty sea spray. Seaside Goldenrod grows prolifically in rich, moisture retentive soil, less so in drier conditions.
Although I strongly discourage digging plants from local marsh and meadow, perfectly acceptable is the practice of collecting ripened seed stalks and shaking them about. That is just how we obtained our Smooth Asters (Aster laevis). With cheery one-inch button-shaped flowers borne along the lengths of the stalks, the pale-hued lavender-blue ray flowers and yellow disk florets of Smooth Asters are attractive to bees and butterflies. We have observed Common Sulphers, Pink-fringed Sulphurs, Monarchs, American Ladies, Red Admirals, and Cabbage Whites nectaring simultaneously on a clump growing in the sheltered border along our fragrant path. Pinch back the developing growth tips during the early part of the growing season (until roughly July fourth) to encourage a bushier and more compact plant. Asters provides nourishing sustenance for transitory butterflies when many nectar-rich plants have finished blooming for the season. Not particularly fussy in regard to soil conditions, Smooth Aster grows and flowers profusely in full sun to light shade. Smooth Aster and Purple-stemmed Aster (Aster puniceus) are the asters we see blooming along the backshore at this time of year. With golden yellow florets at the center of their ray flowers, asters and goldenrods create a convenient landing pad for nectaring Lepidoptera. Flowering alongside ripening red berries and surrounded by changing autumnal leaf color, goldenrods and asters transform the seasonal tapestry.
Pollen-dusted Male Monarch
While photographing the Monarchs, I couldn’t help but notice two noisy Mockingbird fledglings, who were going at each other for over a half hour.
This female Monarch emerged from her chrysalis late yesterday afternoon. She stayed hidden under foliage overnight. Mid-morning she alighted onto my hand and I placed her on a fresh blossom of the butterfly bush ‘Nanho Blue.’ She is easily recognized as female because her wing venation is thicker and smokier than that of a males wings, and because she does not have the two small black pockets of pheromones on each hind wing.
Female Monarch Butterfly
Male Monarch Butterfly (left) and Female Monarch Butterfly (right).