Are Monarchs Safe?

Monarch Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park. Jeff blogs about the art and science of butterflies at http://www.wingedbeauty.com

We’ve fretted for years, concerned that the numbers of Monarch butterflies was plummeting to crisis numbers. Up and down they went, and all of us kept our eyes and hearts peeled, awaiting credible reports back from the mysterious mountains in central Mexico. Just the realization, so recent for so many of us, that Monarchs had to travel to the east most USA from that far! made us cringe!

So here we are in September 2018. Many of us are sharing rich, beautiful images of Monarchs seen in our gardens, parks and roadsides, just these last weeks. Seeing them as if their numbers are good, strong.

Here in central Georgia, I’ve seen multiple Monarchs flying in my garden at the same time. That’s a whole lot better than I saw in this area in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Females have been laying eggs on my Asclepias (milkweeds) by the dozens. Several dozen have enclosed (safely left chrysalis and flown) these last weeks. Yippee!

This male on Joe Pye in Raccoon Creek State Park in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Can we rest assured that for the meantime, Monarchs are safe? Virginia? Monarchmama? Curt? Phil? Marcie? Jeff (Jamestown, NY)?

Jeff

Miracle at Jamestown NY

Monarch Butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park in Pennsylvania

Hadn’t seen a Monarch any of those several days spent in the Jamestown, New York area. Some east of Erie, New York, these July ’16 days were sunny and comfortably hot. Petra and I were happily housed in a neat cabin in Frewsburg, surrounded by hundreds of blueberry bushes in full, glorious fruit. Horses across the road, farm field abutting us, and birds about, galore.

That week we visited that hidden, basically secret acid bog, and were greeted by a flying squad of rare Bog Copper butterflies, amidst pitcher plants, sundew and native wild cranberry. We went to other wildlife hotspots, but the crown jewel of them all was the reserve at Jamestown Audubon Center. The wildlife greet you there and if that’s not enough, the friendliest , most helpful nature center staff existent, make it a . . . destination.

Working the trails at the Jamestown AC. I saw Baltimore Checkerspot butterflies, Eyed Brown Butterflies, Eastern Tailed-Blue butterflies, Great Spangled Fritillaries and much more, but . . . not a Monarch to be seen.

When I followed a Jamestown AC trail through a wetland, I looked down to the swampy habitat, and set my sights on a Swamp Milkweed plant, looking lush and in full, luxuriant bloom. Then, Battlestations! A Monarch flew in, and went straight, straight to the milkweed. A FEMALE!

I practically dived over the low rail bordering the trail, and fought gravity, which . . . sought to make me tumble over!! Brooklyn boy kept his balance (grad of OCS! too), and that whole ¾ of a second, I was praying internally, don’t fly, don’t fly!!

It was dark there, and I had no time to adjust my manual settings. OMG!!! She was not nectaring . . . . She was fresh, Shmeksy! and she was laying an egg, Ovipositing. Totally excited for a guy who has seen so much in his life, totally. Would she allow me to shoot her out, would she stay, would I have enough light, Oh, so many “would she’s!”

So please, give me a little license here to share, a not exactly perfect shot. Understand how much drama and suspense this image retains for me. Who said doing this is not FuN???

Jeff

I’m Often Asked What I Have . . .

Butterflyweed Wildflowers at Raccoon Creek State Park

Here we are in the middle of Spring 2016, and I’ve been asked over and over again, what I’ve planted and will plant in My Own home garden in Pittsburgh. Established 4 years ago, this once wasteland of a space was renewed, with 3 truckloads of good grade topsoil and 1.5 truckloads of mushroom manure (available here in southwestern Pennsylvania). Distributed, graded and contoured, this was given time to settle in, and then we planted the foundation beds. The front bed is approximately 45 feet by 10 feet, sits behind an iron fence, and on a good sunny weekend day, sees no less than several hundred adults and children pass to and from Frick Park, our next door neighbor. The Park offers the nearby and locally famous ‘Blue Slide Playground’ as well as ball fields, meadows, forest and extraordinary Off Leash Area for dogs. This 900+ acre park is in the city of Pittsburgh. Well maintained, it is heavily used.

Imagine that. Hundreds of people may walk by my front garden on a sunny Saturday or Sunday. I engage some of them in conversation, and I enjoy that alot. Questions are appreciated, and responses are rationed, depending on how much the questioner wants to hear.

So the front garden and the rear side garden share my time and energy.

I’ve gone Native, with much thanks for that to Kathy McGregor of Sylvania Natives and her suggestion, read Doug Tallamy’s book. I did and things changed. I went native, for good reason.

Just a few days ago I was asked to share a photograph of the front garden. I tumbled this over in my mind, and concluded that sharing photographs of gardens somehow seems to not do them justice. Rare the image that produced the beauty of an entire garden.

The front garden, along appropriately named Beechwood Boulevard, features American plum (3), Pagoda dogwood (2), Ice hydrangea (3), False dragonhead (a pleasant surprise), irises (dutch), Milkweed (A. syriaca – Thank you Monarch Watch), Cardinal Flower (Native), Asters (2 different cultivars), Crocosmia (To buck up my Ruby throated visitors), Daffodils, Hyacinths,  Salvia (2-3 types), Giant Zinnia (obtained locally from the greenhouse in Clayton (the Frick mansion)) and Tulips. This year I’ve added: Dense Liatris (Gayfeather ), additional Native Cardinal flower, New Jersey Tea, a Striped Maple (for fun). I have too, 3 painted rocks, created for me by a very talented artist.

The rear side garden is a Big challenge, as I add new plants by day, and Frick Park’s groundhogs, deer and perhaps opossums always remember to leave me a Thank you Note the next morning. Persist I do though, and the garden features 3 Dogwood trees (Cherokee pink), 2 American Hornbeam trees, 2 Chokecherry trees, a Tulip Poplar tree, 2 Hazelnut bushes and 8 bedraggled Pussy Willow bushes (feasted on daily? by deer). In this rear side garden there is the ‘Peanut garden’ with belgian block (AKA cobblestones in native Brooklyn) with Cutleaf Coneflower, Monkeyflower, Milkweed (A. syriaca), Dwarf Balloonflower, Daffodils, Pipevine (Thanks Curt), Tithonia (Mexican sunflower), Liatris, Dill, Mint (Chocolate?) and . . . Anise Hyssop, which No One told me is terribly invasive!! The seeds of anise hyssop have what seems to be 110% success. I also have a side small bed with Senna (Native). This year I’ve added: Shrubby St. John’s Wort, Buttonbush and Native Butterfly Weed ( Asclepias tuberosa, acquired at the Adkins Arboretum in Maryland’s Shore area). I hope my new Butterfly weed grows to be as lush and healthy as the one shown in this image, seen in Raccoon Creek State Park.

Yesterday I watched a very buff looking garter snake (3 feet) happily moving through the front garden. A pleasing sight to anyone who loves their garden and welcomes any and all visitors. So there it is, the sign is out for Butterflies, Bees, Wasps, Moths, Hummingbirds, Birds, Snakes, Earthworms, Fox and yes, Groundhogs, Deer, Opossum, Raccoons and whomever else shows up. Ain’t the Pittsburgh your Grandma remembers.

Jeff

Why Share This One?

Queen Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in Big Bend Wildlife Management Area, Florida's Panhandle

The four hour drive from Eatonton, Georgia south to Perry, Florida was a thrill for me. More comfortable with traveling familiar roads, I pushed myself for many months, ‘Go the roads less travelled.’ But alone? ‘Go the roads less, traveled, Yes, alone.’ Then there I was, with a Google map, and a Tundra truck, headed through the deep south to Florida. Most of my friends go to Florida alot. I’ve not been there since I hitchhiked there with John Reed in . . . 1962. What’s the big deal? Florida has butterflies, Ma’am. Florida has butterflies we northerners never get to see.

That 7-mile drive the first morning, Hampton Inn, Perry Florida to Big Bend Wildlife Management Area, at the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, was simple and I was electrified. I had the film, OFF!, a ready camera, and a back-up spare, knee pad. I had packed everything. Butterflies & Blooms in the Briar Patch, Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge and Hard Labor Creek State Park were all life-memorable experiences. Would Big Bend rock?

Big Bend, thanks to an article in NABA’s magazine and its trail maps and helpful charts, was all I had hoped it would be. Butterflies and wildflowers All new to me. Butterflies that were mostly fresh, and butterflies that thwarted macro- close approach. It was so like my field work in Israel, with most of them exercising a 20-foot rule, come within 20 and I’m gone!

During my several days hiking those Big Bend, Spring Unit trails. I saw several Queens (Danaus Gilippus). All were fresh, flying fast, and nectaring was on their minds. Any closer than those 20 feet, and they fled. They fled leaving sweet, attractive nectar in place.

My snap decision, as with Compton Tortoiseshell butterflies, was shoot, shoot, shoot. I don’t get down here much (understatement). This image is one of 2 that I did not cull. I like some of the elements and angles in it, and the color , well I like that too. The flowers are interesting too, Asclepias LanceolataFewflower milkweed (Thanks Barbara Ann).

I, then share this one, of a Milkweed butterfly, 885 miles from home, a victorious trip for the boy from Brooklyn. No Doubt.

Next time you’ll join me, and we’ll see if You are a butterfly whisperer!

Jeff

The Monarch Army Triumphant

Monarch Butterfly on Goldenrod Blooms photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park in Pennsylvania, 9/5/14

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!

Jeff