WILDLY BEAUTIFUL AND HISTORIC MONARCH MIGRATION OF 2019

Multitudes of silently beautiful brilliant orange flakes swirl overhead. Ontario, Chicago, the Great Lakes, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Texas–the list goes on and on–reports of record numbers of Eastern Monarchs are being shared throughout the country.

Monarchs are building their fat reserves by drinking nectar from wildflowers and garden flowers all along their migratory route. These migration pathways occur in urban areas such as Toronto, Chicago, Atlanta, and Kansas City; the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia and Virginia; the fields and prairies of Minnesota, Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska; and along the coastlines of the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Great Lakes.

The Atlantic Coast travelers are typically a week or two behind the Monarchs that migrate through the central part of the U.S. There are still large numbers of Monarchs in the Northeast waiting for the right conditions to journey on.

Here on Cape Ann I have been following the migration and checking hotspots several times daily. Beginning September 8th, the migration along our shores really began to pick up steam. We have had a steady stream with many overnight roosts. The last wave that came through migrated during the morning hours, but rather than staying overnight, continued on their journey, helped by a strong northeasterly wind.

Many thousands of photos were taken this past month and I will share them in upcoming posts, along with helpful answers to some Monarch questions that I am frequently asked. In addition to the photos, I have of course been filming. While my Monarch documentary, Beauty on the Wing, is in the final stages of post production, some of the footage from this year’s historic migration will make it into the film.

Please join me this coming Saturday, October 5th, at 10:30am at The Stevens Coolidge Place in Andover where I will be giving a talk and slide presentation on Monarch Butterfly conservation. A whole wonderful day of activities is planned for the kids and adults.

MONARCH MIGRATION CELEBRATION

You spent the summer watching them flit about your gardens, now it’s time to wish them well on their trip down to Mexico – it’s the Monarch Migration Celebration at Stevens-Coolidge Place!

This celebration will kick off with a children’s pollinator parade around the property (costumes encouraged!) bringing all visitors to an afternoon of demos, crafts & stories, seed bomb making and gardening tips to bring these orange friends to your yard in the spring. Want to join in the butterfly tagging? Bring your flying friends with you and we’ll be happy to show you how! Butterfly release at 2:30PM

Trustees Member: $3
Trustees Member Child: $5
Trustees Family: $15

Nonmember: $6
Nonmember Child: $10
Nonmember Family: $25
Please help us plan for the day. Pre-registration is encouraged.

The STEVENS COOLIDGE PLACE

137 ANDOVER STREET

Monarchs, Common Buckeye, and Painted Lady

VIBRANT HUES OF LATE SUMMER

My son and I are laughing because as I was posting this, Charlotte was drawing at her little desk across the room, looked up at what I was doing and stated, “That’s a Painted Lady on a sunflower.” It’s amazing what little sponges are two year olds

Painted Lady and Bee

BUTTERFLIES THAT WE SEE ON THE WING WITH MONARCHS

Monarch Butterfly and Tithonia rotundifolia

You may have noticed that the late summer of 2019 has so far been a banner year for migrating Monarchs, as well as other species of butterflies. Not only are reports of good numbers of butterflies being shared all around Boston’s North Shore, but numbers are high across states east of the Rocky Mountains and the southern Canadian provinces. Let’s keep our hopes up that these current high counts will translate to strong numbers at the Monarch’s overwintering sites in Mexico.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) and Seaside Goldenrod

I am very often asked, “what is that small Monarch?” Actually, it’s not a small Monarch but a butterfly of an entirely different species, the Painted Lady Butterfly (Vanessa cardui). Every year we see Painted Ladies migrating at the seam time of year as do the Monarchs. Additionally, we are currently in the midst of a Painted Lady irruption. An irruption is a word used to describe a burst in the population numbers of a species.

Keep your eyes open for the beautiful floaty Sulphurs, also on the wing during the Monarch and Painted Lady migrations.

Mourning Cloak, underside of wings

Here is a butterfly I don’t always see during the late summer migration, a Mourning Cloak. The generation that emerges at the end of the summer spends the winter not as a chrysalis or a caterpillar, but as an adult. They hibernate in the cracks and crevices of trees and buildings.

Mourning Cloaks are one of the first butterflies on the wing in earliest of spring and are a true harbinger of warmer days to come.

Mourning Cloak, upper, or dorsal side of wings showing

In the British Isles, the name for the Mourning Cloak is Camberwell Beauty. I much prefer that name, don’t you 🙂

Notice how when the Mourning Cloak’s wings are folded, the butterfly will be well camouflaged when hibernating in the cracks of tree bark.

THE DANCE OF COLOR AND LIGHT – MONARCHS ON THE MOVE!

Monarchs were on the move over the weekend, not only on Cape Ann, but all over northern and northeastern regions of the country* very solid numbers of migrating Monarchs are being shared, from Ontario, to upstate New York, Michigan, and Maine.

Lets keep our hopes up for good weather for the Monarchs on the next leg of their journey southward!

*Ninety percent of the Monarch Butterfly migration takes place east of the Rocky Mountains.

If you would like to help support the Monarchs, think about creating a milkweed patch in your garden. The best and most highly productive milkweed for Monarch caterpillars is Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), the milkweed we see growing in our local marshes and dunes. The seed heads are ripe for plucking when they have split open and you can see the brown seeds and beautiful floss.

For several of my readers who have expressed difficulty in germinating milkweed seeds, the following is a foolproof method from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

How to Germinate Milkweeds

MILKWEEDS (ASCLEPIAS SPP.) ARE NOTORIOUSLY DIFFICULT TO GERMINATE. But don’t despair. The Wildflower Center has developed and tested a protocol that results in good germination rates for a number of our native milkweed species. Follow this process and you’ll soon be on your way to supporting monarchs, bumblebees and tons of other insects that depend on milkweed plants. READ the complete article here.

MORE MONARCH BUTTERFLIES SPIED AROUND CAPE ANN!

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.

Painted Ladies

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.

 

PIPING PLOVERS – PARKING LOT NEST OR BEACH NEST?

Our Good Harbor Beach PiPls are waffling between the parking lot and the beach.

Tuesday at daybreak I found them mating and sitting in the nest in the parking lot.

Standing at the crossroads- parking lot nest or beach nest?

Papa and Mama courting at the parking lot nest scrape Tuesday.

Mama (left) and Papa( right) in the parking lot nest scrape.

The painted white lines provide camouflage.

Late Wednesday afternoon, the two were this time mating at their beach nest scrape. Throughout most of the day they were seen on the beach!

Mama and Papa mating on the beach Wednesday afternoon.

Aside from some pre- and early dawn scofflaws, along with the occasional visits by dogs off and on leash during the day, the beach appears to becoming less frequented by pets. Perhaps the beach will become the safer of the two locations and our little pair will decide to return for the duration of the season.

HEADS UP – This Sunday is Easter. If the weather is nice there is the strong possibility we will get people from out of town, as well as some locals, who are not yet aware of the ordinance change. The monitors will be on the beach, but we need help from the community in letting people know about the  new policy, no dogs on the beach at any time of day or night from April 1st to October 1st. Thank you for any help given!

Thank you again to dog Officers Jamie and Teagan for their continued stepped up presence, and to Mayor Sefatia, Mike Hale and the DPW for the fantastic, clear simple signs. The past few days, the signs appear to really be having an effect!

Banded Piping Plover ETM was observed again Wednesday. You can see his ETM leg band in the photo on the left, but not when he is standing with his left leg tucked up under his belly.

Painted Lady flying in off the water into the dunes.

Massive Wave of Painted Lady Butterflies Lights up Denver Weather Radar

Thank you to Meg and Donna Stoman for sharing this fantastic story of a 70 mile wide “butterfly cloud!”

DENVER STAR

DENVER—A lacy, cloudlike pattern drifting across a Denver-area radar screen turned out to be a 110-kilometre-wide wave of butterflies, forecasters say.

Paul Schlatter of the National Weather Service said he first thought flocks of birds were making the pattern he saw on the radar Tuesday, but the cloud was headed northwest with the wind, and migrating birds would be southbound in October.

He asked birdwatchers on social media what it might be, and by Wednesday had his answer: People reported seeing a loosely spaced net of painted lady butterflies drifting with the wind across the area.

Schlatter said the colours on the radar image are a result of the butterflies’ shape and direction, not their own colours.

Midwestern radar stations occasionally pick up butterflies, but Schlatter believes it’s a first for Denver.

An unusually large number of painted ladies, which are sometimes mistaken for monarch butterflies, has descended on Colorado’s Front Range in recent weeks, feeding on flowers and sometimes flying together in what seem like clouds.

Sarah Garrett, a lepidopterist at the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, Colorado, said people from as far away as the Dakotas have called to report seeing the butterflies, whose population typically surges with plentiful flowers.

Research on the painted ladies in North America is limited, but scientists believe they migrate to the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico in the fall. In Europe, studies using radio tracking have shown they migrate south from Europe to Africa in the fall and return in the spring. Studies also show that monarch butterflies often use wind to their advantage and glide on currents for periods of time, Garrett said.

An irruption of Painted Ladies is occurring in the northeast and throughout the U.S. Painted Ladies drinking nectar at Seaside Goldenrod.

Compare the larger Monarch (top) to the smaller and richly patterned Painted Lady.

A SPECTACULAR PAINTED LADY BUTTERFLY IRRUPTION HAPPENING RIGHT NOW!

The sheer number of Painted Ladies migrating are stealing some of the Monarchs thunder!

Many readers have written inquiring about the beautiful butterflies with wings in a tapestry of brilliant orange, brown, black, cream, and blue. Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui) are often confused with Monarch butterflies, especially during the late summer. Both are currently migrating and you will often see the two species drinking nectar side-by-side.

As do Monarchs, Painted Ladies depart from Mexico to begin their northward migration in springtime. Both Monarchs and Painted Ladies belong to the brush-foot family (Nymphalidae) and can only survive in warm climates.Monarch Butterfly, top, and Painted Lady bottom. Note that the Painted Lady is about half the size of the Monarch

Sightings from the midwest recorded large numbers early in the season, and 2017 has proven to be an outstanding year for this most successful of butterflies. The Painted Lady is also nicknamed the “Cosmopolitan” butterfly because it is the most widespread butterfly in the world.

Painted Lady drinking nectar from the Seaside Goldenrod at the Gloucester HarborWalk

One reason we may possibly be experiencing a Painted Lady irruption in North America is because a rainy spring in the south was followed by a fabulous bloom of dessert annuals that provided abundant food plants for the caterpillars. Unlike Monarch butterflies, which will only deposit their eggs on members of the milkweed family (Asclepias), Painted Lady caterpillars eat a wide range of plants. More than 300 host plants have been noted; favorites include thistles, yarrow, Pearly Everlasting, Common Sunflower (Asteraceae), Hollyhock and many mallows (Malvaceae), various legumes (Fabaceae) along with members of Boraginaceae, Plantaginaceae, and Urticaceae.

Common Buckeye and Painted Lady Nectaring at the Seaside Goldenrod at the Gloucester HarborWalk  

Much, much more remains to be discovered about the beautiful Painted Lady, its habits and how their behavior and seasonal distribution varies by geographic location.

Read More about Painted Ladies here:

DANCE OF COLOR AND LIGHT

Painted Lady Drinking Nectar from the Purple-stemmed Aster

Three Fragrant Beauties

Painted Lady Butterfly Nanho Purple Butterfly Bush © Kim Smith 2013

Last night I gave a talk on Fragrant Gardening at a sportmen’s club in Plymouth. In looking through images to update my presentation, I found two photos that had previously been overlooked. The first photo is of a Painted Lady nectaring at the sweetly scented butterfly bush ‘Nanho Purple,’ which blooms continuously throughout the summer. You can see she is a Painted Lady because of the four concentric circles, or “eyespots,” on the underside of her hindwing.

Monarch Butterfly Alma Potchke New England aster ©Kim Smith 2013

The second photo is of a Monarch nectaring at New England Aster ‘Alma Potchke,’ taken at a friend’s garden on Eastern Point. Our native New England asters have a wonderful spicy sweet earthy fragrance and are one the most potently fragrant asters found. New England asters bloom typically from late August through September.

American Lady Butterfly Korean Daisy gKim Smith 2013

The third photo I’ve posted before and it is of an American Lady nectaring at Korean Daisies. You can tell she is an American Lady by her two comparatively larger eyespots. Unlike hybridized chrysanthemums, which are usually bred for color, Korean Daisies are the straight species and are fabulously fragrant. Their period of florescence is from September through October, oftentimes into early November; only a hard frost stops their bloom power.

With just these three beauties, one could have a staggered and continuously fragrant garden in bloom from July through November–and create Mecca for butterflies on the wing.

Painted Lady or American Lady?

In response to Marty’s question ~

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) ~ Note the two large eyespots on the underside of the hindwing, close to the outer margin.

Marty your photo is that of the Painted Lady. Typically in our region we would most often see the American Lady however, this is an irruptive year for the Painted Lady. There has been a population explosion of Painted Ladies reported throughout New England and beyond, which is especially unusual and interesting because this past spring (2012) was also an irruptive year for the closely related Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta).

The easiest way to tell the difference: Painted Ladies have four large spots on the underside of their hindwings, close to the outer margins, which you can easily see in your lovely photo. American Ladies have two “eyespots” on each hindwing, and the spots are considerably larger.

Painted Lady  (Vanessa cardui) ~ Note the four large spots on the hindwing.

I am calling the summer of 2012 the “summer of ten thousand butterflies.” Just incredible! I would have answered this is in the comment section, but I don’t know if it is possible to add a photo and will post more in a future post about the two species but am in the middle of making dinner. Did you take this shot with your new camera?

Painted Lady

Painted Lady–never a more aptly named butterfly! Although ubiquitous, the sheer number of Painted Ladies found in gardens this summer is simply astonishing.

Painted Lady (Dorsal)

This morning in our postage-stamp-of-a-lot, there were quite possibly over one hundred newly emerged Painted Ladies nectaring from the Joe-pye, Baby Joe, zinnias, butterfly bushes, phlox, and Rudbeckia.