It was the very end of September, the 28th, in the year 2014. Millions of folks east of the Mississippi were bemoaning the near total absence of Monarch butterflies (Danaus Plexippus). They went online asking who has seen them here or there? The mood from June to the end of August was anxious. Could this actually happen, on our watch? Was the migration of Monarchs doomed? Would the time soon come when no one under the age of 30 would remember seeing a Monarch in their garden, town, county?
I spent alot of mornings in Doak field this past September. No Monarchs, then 1 or 2 of them. Then that morning when I counted 11 males and females. Those eleven represented a very good count for this locale.
This morning shown here, I was elated. I was seeing Monarch butterflies on Goldenrod, Ironweed, and Joe Pye Weed. Daddah! There was also this substantial stand of flowerheads with white flowers. Butterflies, 17 or more years of fieldwork has taught, spend little or no time on white flowers. Native white-flowering plants are serviced by . . . moths. I spent some minutes stationed at these 80 or so plants, this little sea of white blooms. An occasional fly, bee, but no more. I moved on, came back, left, returned, nothing.
Learned to never say never, so I returned again. Field guides add weight to my LLBean backpack, so without one, I decided that these plants were Boneset (Eupatorium Perfoliatum) and as I began to once again count it as a no-go flower for butterflies . . . this Monarch flew in. Life’s lesson, learned so many times in my life, and drilled into my head in basic training at Ft. Dix (by a cadre as rough as those guys in Brooklyn who were my neighbors) confirmed.
End of story: Monarch butterflies rebounded, and they partake of a variety of nectars, yes, including the minimally imbibed Boneset cocktail. A Good Morning, that.
You should have seen it. Thousands of Bergamot blooms carpeting Doak field, Raccoon Creek State Park, Southwestern Pennsylvania. I’d been there several mornings that week. Bergamot in bloom means summer butterflies. Lots of them. Bergamot and Bee Balm are true nectar pumps (my own term) and their aroma must really travel, because they are a serious butterfly destination.
And that’s the way it was that July 31st day, 2014. Tiger swallowtails, Great Spangled Fritillaries, Spicebush Swallowtails, Hawkmoths, a Monarch, some Skippers, legions of Bumblebees and other fliers mobbed the Bergamot. I moved from the center of the 100+ acre field to a spot I knew along its margin. I chose a robust looking Bergamot plant and remained there for many minutes.
A large blackish Swallowtail Butterfly flew in. Wait, this was different. Can it be? Turn, turn pretty lady, let me be sure. She was nectaring and moving her wings violently, as she hovered over each bloom. The field guide in my brain was working at super-high speed until . . . Yes! Pipevine Swallowtail. OMG! it is! It is! She was fresh, Very shmeksy . . . . That iridescent blue field extending forward from those coral orange spots, all flashy bright. I shot slides on my traditional film camera: Pop, pop, pop . . .
I know my scream of Joy! could be heard in Pittsburgh. Maybe even in Cleveland. Did y’all hear it at Madison and East 57th Street in Manhattan?
Just months ago I stood there, very taken with this fine example of an Eastern Strawberry Tree, the host plant for the Two-tailed Pasha butterfly. That trail was near the peak of Mt. Meron, at the tipped tippy top of Israel, the Upper Galillee region. The tree, well you see it here, OMG! beautiful. The butterflies? Saw several, had to be there before 6:50 AM, but they refused to allow me within 30′ of them, each seen on the trail floor.
Why this post today? From this trail you look down upon Israel’s border with Lebanon, and well beyond that, into Lebanon. Hours ago, an IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) patrol was ambushed on a road along the border, with two IDF soldiers killed and several wounded. Hezbollah terrorists killing Israelis, on the land given to the Hebrews by . . . . Within sight of this trail.
I have a daughter, son-in-law and two grandsons living in Israel.
Oh, how I hope that some of you support this tiny nation, the refuge of the bony skeletons dragged from their European homes and thrown into the ovens.
MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, Cal Tech, Berkeley together could not have designed a more efficient killer model. This Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa) was busily cleaning its forelimbs on that hot August day. Another animal that I cannot resist, another siren calling me onto the rocks (I should have been seeking butterflies, and this was a distraction, so to speak). The challenge? Secure images that provide good views of head and those awesome forelimbs. Once, as a kid, I went to grasp such a mantis, and OWWWWW! it instead pincered me with impressive power. Didn’t ever try that again.
Do these efficient stalkers decimate insects in our fields and gardens? Nope. Better view them as players in the natural process of population adjustment.
With more than 8″ of snow down here in Pittsburgh (northeastern USA), remembering these mantids, seen here and there from late August into September, guides our thinking to a much warmer place, sans layered clothing, boots, gloves and the rest.
Hey, with immigration a much argued issue here, it should be recalled that Mantis religiosa came over on a boat, aliens some still call the European mantid. They are now all-American, work hard, and play totally by the rules.