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Posts Tagged ‘Monarch butterflies’

“Often a butterfly stopped to rest there.

Then Laura watched the velvety wings…”

On the Banks of Plum Creek – Laura Ingalls Wilder

 

Like the young Laura Ingalls of the Little House books, I watch the “velvety wings” of butterflies. I squeal with girlish glee when a Monarch flits by, dipping around as if by the mere breath of the breeze, partaking of the abundance of native flowers flourishing in our prairie garden.

The plight of the Monarch butterfly has been well documented and its migratory flight has been monitored for more than a decade. I have often shared photos and thoughts about the Monarchs and bees in the journey of this little blog, from travels afar to what is right under my nose here along the Cutoff.

Last summer was alarming, especially here when I saw but one Monarch. One. This year, I have spotted at least a dozen and have found Monarch eggs and caterpillar on the milkweed – enough times to have perfected my happy dance. Butterflies have been flitting about and stopping to sip on the Joe Pye Weed, the Monarda (bee balm), and Echinacea (cone flowers) which are all a bloom in these dog days of summer. There are bees and moths and other pollinators that also show up on sunshiny days, sipping sweet nectar from the cups of flowers. It is a regular insects’ tea party, if ever there was one, here among the native plants and some of their distant relatives.

This increased activity is encouraging for those of us who have worried about the changes in nature that have occurred in these past decades; we counters of bees, planters of pollinators and taggers of “velvety wings” who have become a small army of citizen scientists. I am cautiously optimistic.

As I brandished my watering wand, I reflected on how much is yet to be done and how much has already been accomplished on our little acreage . I watered some newly introduced cone flowers and pulled that rascal, Creeping Charlie, who was cavorting  among the feverfew and indigo, and I imagined Laura’s life along Plum Creek.

How our little prairie has grown! Established in August, 2013, it is now a crowded confusion of exuberance and joy that will need dividing and some expansion of plots come Autumn. For now, I’m enjoying watching those velvety wings of nature as the plants reach for the sun and spread their arms in a blowzy embrace of prairie life.

I remain appreciative of all the green thumbs who shared their plants in our little adventure, and I am optimistic with this glimmer of hope for the Monarchs and the bees.

Here are a few photos of the prairie garden being developed in 2013

and recent photos of the garden today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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IMG_9731I find that I need to get out to stretch my legs and ease my back on long car rides, especially if I am driving alone. The urge to move a bit and take biology breaks add extra time to the journey, but also afford an opportunity for exploring. The Wisconsin rest stops along the usual route to our Up North family are safe, clean, and often quite scenic and most have historical markers or honors to veterans. The scenery becomes more breathtaking, the terrain more varied, as the road wends northward. The trip remains just as interesting on the return route.

The weather could not have been better Tuesday as I headed south toward home. Finding myself in need of a walk, I decided to exit the interstate in Janesville and visit the Rotary Botanical Gardens there. It is a mile or so from the exit and a little piece of paradise, much of which is maintained by volunteers.

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So . . . I took a little walkabout down the paths and through the gardens, working the kinks out of my muscles and shaking the cobwebs from my brain.

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The flowers were in full form with a riot of color and texture and scents – and the pollinators were busy feeding from the many garden hosts.

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Moths and bees and butterflies flitted as if on their last fling before school starts.

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The gardens were just what my heart and soul needed, along with my muscles and bones. Being in nature always renews my spirit and calms my everyday worries, while giving me a chance to exhale.

I walked and sat and walked some more, wondering how the Antler Man was getting along on the Cutoff. I was thinking how encouraging it was to see so many bees and moths and butterflies when a Monarch floated by, looking for a place to rest.

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There has been fretting over the Monarchs again this year. Last year brought some hope that their numbers were on the upswing, but, this summer their numbers seem to be down and I have spotted only one on our little acreage on the Cutoff. There is an abundance of milkweed and butterfly weed and other host plants, but nary a Monarch egg nor caterpillar to be found.

The Monarch danced on the breeze and the landed on the big, green chair which is seen in the background of the photo above on the left, basking in the sun and casting shadows in the most magical of ways.

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Renewed and revitalized, I walked back to the car and set to navigating the last leg of my journey home with a sense of wonder that always befalls me in among flowers and trees and God’s good earth. As I drove back toward the concrete lanes of the interstate highway, the shadows of the Monarch cast a wee bit of wonder in my mind at how this one regal member of butterfly royalty happened to find me miles and miles from home.

 

 

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Hanging by a thread

It was a downpour at high noon. It was raining so hard that I needed to pull my car into a parking lot to wait out the gale, glad I had brought a book along.

 I always bring a book with me. Who knows when you’ll be stuck in the car in a downpour, a snowstorm, waiting for two freight trains to pass, picking up someone who is delayed? One must always have a back-up plan. Mine is a book – and a chocolate bar.

I digress. Again.

Home again, I put this and that away, checked phone messages and then went out to check our little acreage. The downside of so many tall grasses and prairie plants is that they can look mighty forlorn after a storm. To survive, they must be able to bend in a heavy wind or hard rain. Lessons we learn from plants, are they not? We all need to bend at times, lest we break.

I tossed some vegetable peelings and a wilted bouquet of flowers into the half-hazaard compost pile, set the bowl down and went to straighten some grasses. Just as I reached out to pull a mass of sagging stems, something caught my eye. It was hanging by a thread.  It was something I’ve been waiting for all summer long.

A Monarch butterfly chrysalis.

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Today?

Still raining, still hanging by a thread – and I am still monitoring my Monarch.

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I was fretting, bending and stretching and gazing onto every petal and leaf, careful not to disturb a bumblebee, so drunk on pollen she was stuck in a milkweed blossom.  Where there had been, just an hour before, a very large caterpillar munching away on a leaf, there was now no caterpillar and the leaf quite severed.  A few steps away, another caterpillar, much younger in his leafy transactions, was also missing in action.

Where had they gone?

Tom came out to help me search, with nary a caterpillar in sight.

We moved about, picking up sticks and pulling up weeds in that haphazard way gardening folks have of impulsively tidying up, then, standing like honor guards of the milkweed, something flitted about, cast its shadow, dusted the daisies and other blooms before finding its target, where it sat for a spell, sunning its wings in the sunshine.

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Oh, and I finally found the caterpillars late in the afternoon.

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IMG_1243 - Version 2The sweet scent of milkweed was calling me as I wandered around at dawn, tea cup in hand, wearing a sweatshirt against the unseasonal chill in the air. I could see a few deer in the weeds, nursing their young in the lot next door and there was a conversation between two cardinals I overheard as I strolled out front toward nature’s incense.

I had been checking the milkweed each day, looking for eggs, hoping. I had noticed several holes in the leaves; a sign that something was eating the leaves, then I saw it!

I rushed back in for my camera;  monarchical paparazzi that I am.

DSCN8952There on a leaf was a Monarch caterpillar, munching and inching its way along a milkweed plant. I must have gone back to check on it five or six times yesterday, and repeatedly today. Under a leaf, up and down the stem, even half hidden in between the flowers of the plant, there was this very hungry caterpillar, marching his way on the host plant.

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A lone Monarch caterpillar sharing the gifts of a milkweed plant with bumblebees and ants is not going to alter the precarious plight of the Monarch butterfly, but, to me, this black and yellow striped insect brings the tiniest bit of hope that perhaps, just perhaps,  there will be a few more Monarchs this summer and that they will go forth and multiply.

Be sure to click on the photos for a better look.

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After the misty morning fogs, the recent rains, and the August heat, the weeds have been advancing aggressively  into the flower beds, chasing me around the garden like a snake slinking in search of supper.  My nails are split and my ankles are ringed in mosquito bites. A sense of accomplishment reigns, however, each time I bring order to the jungle of overgrowth here.

I found refuge in the tall  grasses, camouflaged.  Can you find me hiding? I top 5’3″. These tall grasses, divisions from my friend Jan, are twice as tall as me – and they have not as yet showed their plumes!

It has been a most pleasant summer here on the  Cutoff.  We have had more nights than not with the windows opened., breezes wafting in; the tree toads and crickets crooning and strumming in late night chorus along with it.  The daisies have been resplendent, showing off from before the Fourth of DSCN5409July, just now starting to fade. The Echinacea and Rudbeckia have been proudly wearing their seasonal crowns of glory and the finch are finding their seeds; a sign of summer’s long farewell at hand.

Just a few feet away from the grasses, Joe Pye Weed,  divisions from the Wilder herb garden last year, have been prolific, with a host of flitting and buzzing visitors enjoying their sweet, sweet nectar.

I am encouraged by the emergence of more bees this summer, and the return of monarchs. While their numbers are low, there is marked resurgence in our winged friends, and I choose to take hope from their presence, especially since I only saw one Monarch on our property last summer.  I was not quick enough, nor was my camera, at capturing the Monarchs on the Joe Pye Weed, but, did catch in the lens a few other butterflies, just before I posed again for Sports Illustrated. DSCN5484

 

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Can you see it?

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Closer?

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Now can you see it? Click on the photo.

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This is one of five caterpillars I could see, ferociously eating a leaf of the milkweed plant. It was eating in a circle, munching and lunching and doing it’s “thing”. I was so excited to see them, a mature Monarch flitting nearby, stopping to sip on the nectar of the flowers atop the milkweed.

Last year, I counted one. One Monarch butterfly. Only one Monarch all summer long in my garden. To see these beautiful insects eating away on their host plant in front of my eyes was exciting. It gave me hope – and it gave me courage. Maybe, just maybe, one by one, little steps, like planting milkweed, that citizen scientists like you and like me can do will help save the Monarch.

Let’s at least try. Okay?

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