Full sun, minimal breeze, and a morning with temps that reached no more than 81 degrees Fahrenheit. Doak field at Raccoon Creek State Park reminded me of a map of the world, with oceans and seas of goldenrod no matter where you looked. This 100-acre gem of a meadow, in southwestern Pennsylvania was a tour de force of yellow, bright, rich yellow.
It was a thrill to see female and male monarchs everywhere. Everywhere! We all spent winter ’15 and spring ’15 fraught with concern. Was Danaus Plexxipus destined to disappear? Would the monarch migration that grade schoolers learn about, become the tale of what used to happen in our cities, towns and counties?
Americans mobilized, and ripped and tore out tired, passion-less gardens, replacing them with new, vibrant beds of milkweeds, zinnias, blazing stars, ironweeds and more. Armies of compassionate gardeners descended on their Audubon Centers, county parks, and native wildflower nurseries, seeking to learn what to plant and how to take in and nurture monarch caterpillars. Facebook swelled with folks sharing suggestions. NABA (North American Butterfly Association) Chat boards lit up with discussions and queries. An Army of lovers of Monarch butterflies materialized.
Well, today in Doak field, I stopped counting Monarchs . . . at 80. Eighty!! Fresh males and females. Skittish to my approach, determined to bulk-up before the anticipated flight to . . . Mexico.
The Monarch Army of Regular and Irregular Volunteers, Triumphant. Virginia, Traci, Barbara Ann, Terry, Kim, Phil, you did it!
Late summer in a 100+ acre field in Southwestern Pennsylvania. I went there almost every day for 2 weeks. This September 5th, 2014 view was in the southeastern margin of the field. Wildflowers grew along the treeline. Nectar? More than enough for the butterflies, flies, wasps, bees, moths and ruby-throated hummingbirds that worked the field.
If. If I would have counted the number of goldenrod blossoms in the entire field, I would say a reasonable count would have approached, 10,000,000. The purple New York ironweed plants were few in number and strategically located, for reasons of their own, no doubt.
Three hours in the field that day, and, not a single other person about. Monarchs flew there that morning. Why weren’t you there?
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.
Isn’t she spectacular? Nectaring furiously on Joe Pye weed flowers, she paid no attention to my close approach. A summer morning at Raccoon Creek State Park in western Pennsylvania.
This native northeastern shrub is a magnet for swallowtails, skippers and many other butterflies. They bloom in sync with ironweed and thistle, so Papilio glaucus is well provided for.
Those blue splashes on her wings just bedazzle me. No two individuals are alike, so I’m always on the prowl for a beauty like this one.
Question. Why do you suppose it’s been named Tiger Swallowtail?
Visit our other Tiger Swallowtail posts. Compare the wings of this female with the others. Amazing, isn’t it.
Soon to be posted: a male Tiger.