My friend Eric Hutchins sent along this snapshot of his wonderfully lush patch of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). He thought I would like to see how beautifully his milkweed has grown from seeds distributed at our milkweed sale several years ago. Thanks so much to Eric, love, love seeing this!
Two weeks ago today, four tiny Piping Plover chicks hatched at Good Harbor Beach. Nesting got off to a rocky start, with the mated pair first attempting to nest at the beach, then at the parking lot, but then thankfully, returning to their original nest site.
The relative peace on the beach, excellent parenting by Mama and Papa PiPl, cooler than average temperatures, vigilant monitoring by a corps of dedicated volunteers, outpouring of consideration by beach goers, as well as support from the DPW, City administration, and City Councilors has allowed the chicks to attain the two-week-old stage of maturity. With each passing day, we can see the chicks are gaining in strength and fortitude and listening more attentively to their parent’s voice commands. Adhering to Mama and Papa’s piping calls is an important milestone in their development. The parents continuously pipe commands and directions, warning of danger and directing the chicks to come to a stand still. The tiny shorebird’s best defense is its ability to blend with its surroundings when motionless.
The chicks spent the early morning warming up and foraging at the protected area. Afternoon found them camped out at the creek.
Snapshots from the morning
There was a group of young people stationed near the PiPl protected area enjoying the beach on this fine sunny afternoon. All was good though as the chicks were perfectly safe, foraging far down the creek. With gratitude and thanks to everyone who is helping to keep our PiPl family safe.
Snapshots from the afternoon
There has been more interest than anticipated in Monarch eggs. Thank you to everyone for writing!
At present, Jane has over 100 caterpillars in her kitchen terrariums. These will become butterflies within the month, and each female that emerges will lay between 300 to 700 eggs. I’ve compiled a list of everyone who left a comment. We are thrilled and grateful readers are so interested in helping raise Monarchs this summer. I will contact all as soon as Jane has a new batch of freshly laid Monarch eggs.
In the meantime, I am going to type up some FAQs. I also suggest using a glass rectangular fish tank/terrarium, with a fitted screen top, for rearing the caterpillars. If you don’t have one, they are available at our local pet stores. Also, a package of cheese cloth. Along with a plentiful supply of milkweed, that’s all you will need.
Thank you again and we’ll be in touch. ❤
A friend with a lovely garden just loaded with milkweed would like help this summer raising Monarchs. She is located in the Annisquam area. Last year Jane had so many eggs and caterpillars, she had a real time of it trying to take care of all. This year promises to be as good as, if not better than, last year.
If you would like Monarch eggs and information on how to take care of the eggs and caterpillars, please comment in the comment section, and we will provide you with Monarch babies!
A very brief update to let all our Friends know that work is progressing on my documentary Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly. The new footage from this year’s magnificent migration in Mexico has been added. My amazing team, Eric and Kristen, are plugging in the newly recorded voice over.
For the next several weeks, I’ll be planting my client’s pollinator gardens and getting them underway for the summer. After mid-June, we’ll be back in the editing studio with Eric and Kristen finessing the color correction and audio, with plans for a mid-summer release.
Happy Butterfly Days!
Tree top view – standing at the top of the mountain looking down into the valley below. All the orange bits and flakes in the trees are Monarchs.
So many Monarchs this early in the season portends a possibly great summer for butterflies in our meadows and gardens. Monarchs have already arrived to the Great Lakes region. This is the perfect time of year to plant Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) seeds and many of our local nurseries carry Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) plants. These two species are the most productive for Monarch eggs and caterpillars in our region.
Monarch Butterfly on native Buttonbush blossoms
David Rhinelander had one two days in a row at his garden on Pine Street, Heather Hall spotted a Monarch at the Hamilton Library, Jennie Meyer had one in her garden and sent along some photos, Donna Soodalter-Toman had one in her yard, Jen in Rockport has them, and Susan Donelan Burke saw a Monarch in Magnolia. This is very early and thank you so much to Everyone for writing!
Keep your eyes peeled for Red Admirals and Painted Ladies, too.
Red Admirals nectaring at lilacs. The last time we had so many Red Admirals in our garden in May was in 2012 and that was a banner year for butterflies of many species.
In the above photo compare the Monarch to the Painted Lady. If you see a “small” Monarch, it may be a Painted Lady or a Red Admiral.
There are Monarchs on Cape Ann, and they are laying eggs!!! Check your milkweed Friends! This is nearly a month earlier than usual.
Jane Danekis had a female several days ago in her garden on Revere Street and she deposited over 100 eggs on shoots of newly emerging milkweed.
Michele Del Vecchio saw a Monarch at Good Harbor Beach today, too!
Please let us know if you have seen a Monarch recently, and take a snapshot if you can. Thank you 🙂
Morgan Faulds Pike spotted a female Monarch nectaring on her lilacs. Photo courtesy Morgan
Friends often ask, and I cover this topic extensively in my Monarch programs, “What is the best milkweed to plant in our region?” Without a doubt, the two most important and productive are Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).
Marsh Milkweed also goes by the name Swamp Milkweed, but Marsh sounds so much more appealing, don’t you think? Milkweeds already have the suffix weed attached to their names. To some folks, any wildflower that includes the word weed seems invasive, and we don’t want to frighten people from planting our sweet native wildflowers by inferring they are a swamp dweller, too.
Gallery of Marsh Milkweed
When a weed is not a weed – It’s unfortunate that so many of our native beauties end in “weed.” Ironweed, Joe-pye Weed, Sneezeweed, Thimbleweed, Butterfly Weed, and Milkweed are just some examples. Why were these native wildflowers at one time long ago named “weed.” Because the earliest colonists brought from their home countries flowering plants that were beloved and familiar to them, delphiniums and larkspurs, for example. In their new American home gardens, these treasured European plants would have been easily overtaken by our more vigorous American wildflowers.
To return to the topic of milkweed, Common Milkweed spreads both underground and by seed. It’s ideal for dunes, meadows, and fields. Marsh Milkweed is more clump forming and stays relatively close to where you plant it. You can control how much it spreads by deadheading, or not, before the seed heads turn to fluff and sail away. I grow both Marsh Milkweed and Common Milkweed side-by-side. In our garden, the female Monarch does not discern the difference between the two species of milkweeds, she will flit from one to the other, and back again, depositing her eggs all along the way.
Gallery of Common Milkweed
By the way, both A. syriaca and A. incarnata are also the easiest milkweeds to grow in Massachusetts.
A ten-year nation-wide study was recently published. Across the country, Marsh and Common proved to be the most productive, in other words, more eggs were laid on these two species than on any other species of milkweed.
The map provided below is somewhat helpful; I write somewhat with a word of advice. If you click on Massachusetts, for example, not only are Common and Marsh Milkweeds listed but also Purple Milkweed (A. pupurascens), Fourleaf Milkweed (A. quadrifolia), Butterfly Weed (A. tuberosa), Poke Milkweed (A. exaltata), Whorled Milkweed (A. verticillata), and Clasping Milkweed (A. amplexicaulis). We grow a nice patch of Whorled Milkweed and I have never, ever seen a Monarch once visit the foliage or flowers. Purple Milkweed can be very challenging to get started, and Butterfly Weed is not as hardy in our region as are Common and Marsh.
Milkweeds are the only food plant for Monarch caterpillars and also provide nectar to a host of pollinators including many, many species of butterflies, bees, beetles, and even hummingbirds. Plant for the pollinators and they will come.
This is an image from my recent adventure to Cerro Pelon. I am dying to write about the trip, but have had a very full schedule finishing up my film, organizing landscape jobs for the season, and hoping to get the PiPls settled in. The Monarchs in the photo are mud-puddling. Tens of thousands leave the butterfly trees during the heat of the day, sucking up water and much needed nutrients from the mud at nearby mountain streams
PART THREE: SUMMER
The most joyous story about Cape Ann wildlife during the summer months of 2018 is the story of the high number of Monarch butterflies and caterpillars in gardens and meadows, seen not only in strong numbers along the Massachusetts coastline, but throughout the butterfly’s breeding range–all around New England, the Great Lakes region, Midwest, and Southern Canada.
Three days after celebrating the two week milestone of our one remaining Piping Plover chick, Little Pip, he disappeared from Good Harbor Beach. It was clear there had been a bonfire in the Plover’s nesting area, and the area was overrun with dog and human tracks. The chick’s death was heartbreaking to all who had cared so tenderly, and so vigilantly, for all those many weeks.
Our Mama and Papa were driven off the beach and forced to build a nest in the parking lot because of dogs running through the nesting area. Despite these terrible odds, the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover pair hatched four adorable, healthy chicks, in the parking lot. Without the help of Gloucester’s DPW, the Piping Plover volunteer monitors, Ken Whittaker, Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer, and the AAC, the parking lot nest would have been destroyed.
These brave little birds are incredibly resilient, but as we have learned over the past three years, they need our help to survive. It has been shown time and time again throughout the Commonwealth (and wherever chicks are fledging), that when communities come together to monitor the Piping Plovers, educate beach goers, put in place common sense pet ordinances, and reduce trash, the PiPl have at least a fighting chance to survive.
Little Pip at twelve- through seventeen-days-old
All four chicks were killed either by crows, gulls, dogs, or uneducated beach goers, and in each instance, these human-created issues can be remedied. Ignoring, disregarding, dismissing, or diminishing the following Piping Plover volunteer monitor recommendations for the upcoming 2019 shorebird season at Good Harbor Beach will most assuredly result in the deaths of more Piping Plover chicks.
Not one, but at least two, healthy and very hungry North American River Otters families are dwelling at local ponds, with a total of seven kits spotted. We can thank the fact that our waterways are much cleaner, which has led to the re-establishment of Beavers, and they in turn have created ideal habitat in which these beautiful, social mammals can thrive.
Several species of herons are breeding on our fresh water ponds and the smaller islands off the Cape Ann coastline. By midsummer, the adults and juveniles are seen wading and feeding heartily at nearly every body of water of the main island.
In order to better understand and learn how and why other Massachusetts coastal communities are so much more successful at fledging chicks than is Gloucester, I spent many hours studying and following Piping Plover families with chicks at several north of Boston beaches.
In my travels, I watched Least Terns (also a threatened species) mating and courting, then a week later, discovered a singular nest with two Least Tern eggs and began following this little family, too.
Least Tern Family Life Cycle
Maine had a banner year fledging chicks, as did Cranes Beach, locally. Most exciting of all, we learned at the Massachusetts Coastal Waterbird meeting that Massachusetts is at the fore of Piping Plover recovery, and our state has had the greatest success of all in fledging chicks! This is a wonderful testament to Massachusetts Piping Plover conservation programs and the partnerships between volunteers, DCR, Mass Wildlife, the Trustees, Greenbelt, Audubon, and US Fish and Wildlife.
Friends Jan Crandall and Patti Papows allowed me to raid their gardens for caterpillars for our Cape Ann Museum Kids Saturday. The Museum staff was tremendously helpful and we had a wonderfully interested audience of both kids and adults!
In August I was contacted by the BBC and asked to help write the story about Monarchs in New England for the TV show “Autumnwatch: New England,. Through the course of writing, the producers asked if I would like to be interviewed and if footage from my forthcoming film, Beauty on the Wing, could be borrowed for the show. We filmed the episode at my friend Patti’s beautiful habitat garden in East Gloucester on the drizzliest of days, which was also the last day of summer.
We had a super fun morning at the Cape Ann Museum Kids program. Courtney Richardson and her helpers Sarah and Nick set up a long table in the auditorium where the caterpillars, art supplies, plants, and pods were arranged. The kids were wonderfully curious, as were the adults. Many thanks to Jan Crandall for supplying the caterpillars. Thank you to Courtney and to the Museum for the opportunity to share about Cape Ann Monarchs!
Four Monarchs eclosing and nineteen caterpillars becoming chrysalises, all in a day! And we have a new batch of caterpillars, just in time for my program tomorrow morning at the Cape Ann Museum. I hope to see you there!
Many thanks to my friend Jan Crandall for the caterpillars. She has a gorgeous butterfly garden and this morning there were dozens and dozens of caterpillars on her Common Milkweed plants.
Several readers have written to ask how do I manage to have so many Monarch Butterfly caterpillars and chrysalises. The answer is very simple–because we have planted a wonderful little milkweed patch! We grow both Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) side-by-side. Our milkweed patch is planted near our kitchen. When washing the dishes, I can look out the window and watch all the pollinators and fabulous activity that takes place at the milkweed patch.
Several weeks ago, a Mama Monarch arrived and I watched as she gently floated from leaf to leaf, and bud to bud, ovipositing one golden egg at a time. She went back and forth between the Common and Marsh, depositing eggs on both the tender upper foliage as well as the more sturdy lower leaves. I waited for her to leave, but not too long (because the eggs are quickly eaten by spiders) and collected the sprigs with the eggs. I thought I had scooped up about eight eggs and you can imagine our surprise when 19 caterpillars hatched, all within the same day! Female Monarchs like to deposit eggs around the tiny buds of Marsh Milkweed and many of the eggs were hidden within the buds.
Here’s a video of a Mama depositing eggs on Marsh Milkweed buds. Charlotte was with me that day and we were dancing to the song “There She Goes” as the butterfly was depositing her eggs and it was too perfect not to include in the video clip.
Our garden is postage stamp size, but I have managed to fill it with a wide variety of songbird, butterfly, bee, and hummingbird attractants. The great majority of plants are North American native wildflowers and shrubs, and we also include a few nectar-rich, non-native, but non-invasive, flowering plants. Plant, and they will come 🙂
I am super excited to give my children’s program at the Cape Ann Museum on Saturday morning. The program is free and open to the public. I hope to see you there!
Several days ago, while a Mama Monarch was busy ovipositing several dozen eggs on the Marsh Milkweed growing in our garden, facebook friend Amy T shared a photo of three Monarch caterpillars munching on her Marsh Milkweed. It’s been a banner year on Cape Ann for Monarch butterflies and caterpillars – let’s hope they all make to Mexico!
Snowberry Clearwing Moth
Although I was only able to visit for a few hours, it was wonderful to see all that she has planted for the pollinators, and as a result, all the pollinators drawn to her garden. You could spend a week in Patti’s garden and not see everything. The afternoon I was there, the deep magenta red butterfly bush was in full glorious bloom and was the star pollinator attractant of the day. Snowberry Clearwing Moths, Tiger Swallowtails, Monarchs, Catbirds, Robins, Bumble Bees, Honey Bees, and every other winged creature in the neighborhood was enjoying sweet nectar and the fruits from Patti’s blossoms. Bees and butterflies love variety and in a garden as richly planted as Patti’s, everyday is a party for the pollinators!
This morning I went out to my garden to collect more milkweed leaves for our current batch of caterpillars. A female was flitting about and in addition to finding half a dozen newly laid eggs, these two beautiful freshly molted third instar caterpillars were forgaing around on the milkweed foliage. We are having at least a second brood of Monarchs this summer, helped greatly but the current warm stretch of hot humid weather. If you have been raising Monarchs and think you are done for the summer, look again on your milkweed plants because you may very well have a second batch coming along.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
This gorgeous moth was photographed by one of our readers and she wrote to ask what species? We have here a male Polyphemus Moth, a member of the Family Saturnidae (Wild Silk Moths). Polyphemus moths are widely distributed throughout Massachusetts but we rarely see them because they fly at night and because their life as an adult is so brief. This giant beauty is only on the wing for about two weeks, spending most of its life in trees in the caterpillar and cocoon stages. The caterpillars eat a wide variety of trees and shrubs including maple (Acer), and birch (Betula), oak (Quercus), and willow (Salix).
Like nearly all members of our Wild Silk Moth family, they are in sharp decline, mostly because of the pesticides people spray their trees to rid them of non-native invasive moths, and because of the tachnid fly, which was introduced to control Gypsy Moths, a biological control gone terribly wrong.
Sharon M saw one at Wingaersheek, Catherine M at Niles Pond, M.J. in her Gloucester garden and one in Lanesville, Aurelia Nelson is seeing tons at her milkweed patch in Beverly, Beverly M saw one at Riverdale, Whitney C in East Gloucester, Peggy A at Old Garden Beach Rockport, Lisa W at Magnolia Avenue, Ellen A Beverly, Betty L Pasture Road Rockport, Nancy L at her milkweed field in Salem, and Patti Papows adds that hers are coming daily to her milkweed patch not by the ones and twos, but by the threes and fours!
Today at my presentation in Beverly Farms, the North Shore Garden Club ladies report seeing tons in their gardens, and today I saw them in my garden, and while checking on the Piping Plovers, they were in the dunes at Good Harbor and on the beach at Revere. If this warm weather continues, 2108 could prove to be a promising year for the Monarchs. Please keep your Monarch (and other butterflies, too) sightings coming. Thank you! And feel free to email us photos of sightings: email@example.com
My friends Lauren from Manchester, Patti P from East Gloucester, Eric from Rockport, Cheryl from West Gloucester, and DB from Essex have all reported seeing Monarch butterflies and caterpillars in their gardens. Please keep your Monarch sightings coming (and any other beautiful butterfly or moth you may see)!
Patti shares photos from her garden –
Monarch and Eastern Tiger Swallowtail – Patti Papows ever expanding patch of Common Milkweed attracts a bevy of pollinators.
Common Milkweed (Ascleipias syriaca) is the essential food plant for populations of the Northeastern and Atlantic coast Monarchs. During Colonial times, the silky floss found in the dried seed heads was used to stuff quilts and pillows. In the 1860s, in Salem Massachusetts, Common Milkweed silk was used as a mattress filling.
During WWII, Common Milkweed became the substitute for kapok, a soft cottony material from the kapok tree that was the preferred filling for life vests. Japan cut off the supply of kapok from Java, the main source of the material, and part of the wartime effort included children sent to fields to gather millions of pounds of Milkweed seed heads for the armed services.
“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not been discovered.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
An innovative Canadian clothing manufacturer, the Quartz Company and Altitude Sports, has created the first modern insulated jacket using milkweed silk. Hundreds of acres of Common Milkweed have been planted in Vermont and Quebec. Particularly noteworthy is that the fields of Milkweed are not harvested until after the Monarchs have left.
Milkweed Silk and Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis
WWII Common Milkweed photos courtesy Google image search.