One? Two? As many as 3?

Monarch butterfly chrysalis photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Robert Michael Pyle’s Chasing Monarchs (this morning’s breakfast read has me on page 91) tells his overland route, as he followed Monarchs on the west coast (US). That journey began in British Columbia, and he’s on his way south, following the Yakima, Columbia and other rivers, following the Monarchs as they leave their summer homes and work their way south to . . . Even then, in the late 1990’s, the numbers of Monarchs in Washington and Oregon was way down.

We have been sharing our dread, that the Monarch population on the east coast (we get quite a few visitors from 83 other countries) may or may not recover. That Monarchs in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and north will not be seen every 10 minutes in May through September. We worry that we may not see a single monarch on a windless, blue-skied day in July. We will look at our roadside milkweed, at the orange butterfly weed in our fields, even at the cultivated milkweeds that we are being urged to plant in our perennial beds and grow increasingly suspect of them. Have they succumbed somehow to pollution, pollution internally, pollution that came from the chemical tinkering that the giant chemical combines have been creating, creating to increase the crop yields on those humongous corporate farms out there.

Me? I’m still skeptical. I want to believe that those monarchs in those giant cedars in Mexico will surprise us again, that all this is cyclical, and that 2014 will be a good year for Danaus plexippus. But, I too am concerned. iPhones, iPads, XBoxes, Clouds. With the constant tsunami of technology that we are in awe of, the flights of winged beauties from Mexico to Maine, from Toronto back to Mexico is sooo comforting. Part of me so wants things to take a breather, slowwww down some. The incredible flight of a monarch female, from Stockbridge, Massachusetts to Mexico gives me comfort, that much is and will remain familiar, even if mysterious.

So, when you work those trails this summer, and search out monarch chrysalises, like this gem-like one, will you find just one? Will you spot as many as 2? Because of your visual acuity, will you be the blessed one and find 3?


In My Top 5

Monarch butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

I’m now on page 40 of Chasing Monarchs – Migrating with the Butterflies of Passage (1999, Houghton Mifflin Company). Robert Michael Pyle chronicles his months spent chasing monarchs on the west coast of the U.S., an effort to learn exactly what route they take in early autumn, from western Canada down to southern California, and perhaps for some, even further down to … Mexico. I’ve now read several books by Pyle, including Mariposa Road, Walking the High Ridge, and a book that he co-edited, Nabokov’s Butterflies. When you read a gifted writer, who shares your joy of butterflies, and who enjoys getting out THERE, as you do. What a treat!

So, Bob Pyle has me on the edge of my chair, and has me focused on … Monarchs. Danaus plexippus. Here he reintroduced me to a word that I have only seen once or twice before, aposematic. Monarchs are aposematic because they are insects that have a very bad taste, and, who are brightly colored to signal their bad taste to all who might otherwise attack and eat them. We have discussed this idea in earlier posts of Monarch butterflies, but now the correct term, which is useful.

This image of a Monarch female I rank among my Top 5 of the more than 65,000 that I have taken during my happy hunt for butterflies. She is spectacular. She reveals a tear in her right hindwing, but that indignity, cause never to be known, she still bears with much dignity. As with only certain royalty, she endures my approach (macro- to within 18″) with patience and aplomb.

Oh, I hope that her descendants return to the Asclepias wildflowers of the eastern U.S. this 2014. Whenever I am out, in the field, and the corner of my eye catches a glimpse of a flying monarch, even at this point in my life… that same excitement erupts. I begin to think, why are you getting so excited, haven’t you shot hundred of images of monarchs, it’s no use, no matter what, I swing around, ready to pursue. Why, because it might be the most beautiful monarch I have ever seen, or simply because it is a Monarch. Special. Extraordinary. Unique. Gorgeous!


Will 2014 Deliver Monarchs?

Monarch Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

It’s February 3rd, and your blogger has shoveled his home for the 2nd time today. Snow. It is beautiful and evokes such beautiful memories when we see a fresh coat cover all that we can see, everywhere. It also dings our memories in another way. February snow reminds us that changes will soon come. The 8 new pussy willows planted outside our window are now sporting yummy, fat leaf buds. We hope that they will open, and that their lush green leaves will bring Mourning cloak butterflies. Trudge back into the house, take off your boots, and daydream of the time when the snow is Gone, and mourning cloak eggs are (Please!) laid on the undersides of those sweet green leaves.

That leads me to my related daydream. Will 2014 deliver? Will it be one of those years that defies all of the nervous tension that has spread among naturalists of the U.S. and the rest of the world. Will 2014 return goodly number of Monarch butterflies to the northeastern U.S.? Will the fantastic migration of Danaus plexippus butterflies launch millions from Mexico, up through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, up to Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, New Jersey, Virginia, Rhode Island?

Will we enjoy that great puzzle, that never gets completely answered, How do the Monarchs do it. No other North American butterfly does it so well.

I see a great initiative amongst home gardeners to plant Ascelpias, the genus that hosts Monarchs. Let us hope that that alone is telepethied by the Monarchs in those Mexican redwoods, and that they fulfill the dreams of millions of their human admirers.