Blame it on the Monarchs

Some days I head out the door with eyes as big as those of a fly and then I try to stand in one place and watch what might pass by.

Unfortunately, I’m not always as patient as a robberfly and soon find myself pacing in search of the next great sight.

Even when it turns out to be a Japanese Beetle munching on a leaf, I’m not totally disappointed. After all, it does have such an incredible sense of color and fashion.

But what I really hoped to see I suddenly became aware of as first one, then two, three, four and even more Monarchs fluttered in their butterfly way, seeming to glide for a bit and then make an almost apparent decision to land before a change of mind until at last . . . upon the Milkweed it did pause.

Curious thing. So did another Japanese Beetle. That led me to wonder: how will these two get along and negotiate the territory?

The Monarch poked its straw-like proboscis into the heavenly-scented flowers as it sought sweetness while the beetle continued to move toward it.

But the beetle was on a mission of its own and the two seemed to co-exist side by side.

In fact, they were practically oblivious of each other. Unlike when a Common Yellowthroat tried to land and the Monarch chased it away.

Finally the butterfly crossed over to another flower on the tall stem and left the beetle behind.

I moved on as well, in search of others to focus on like the female Ruby Meadowhawk Dragonfly. How can it be that it’s already Meadowhawk season, the late bloomers in my book of dragonflies?

And yet, the colors of summer today included not only the pinks of Steeplebush, but also the yellows of goldenrods beginning to blossom.

Mixed into those colors and because of their movement and then moments of pausing, the Monarchs kept tugging at the strings of my heart and pulling me back into the moment.

And in that real time moment, I had the pleasure of spying couples in their canoodling fashion, though they tended to be much more elusive than some insects. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought the female was dead as the male flew along with her dangling below until he landed on a stem of choice. From what I’ve read, their mating can take up to sixteen hours. Oh my.

As it turned out, I soon discovered that at least one mating had resulted in at least one caterpillar. I suspect there will be more soon, but this one will have a head start on munching its way through the Milkweed kingdom.

All the while that I stalked the Monarchs, a Common Yellowthroat did its own stalking, constantly announcing its location with chirps. And then I realized it had a caterpillar in its mouth as it moved among the stems of the Spreading Dogbane. Oh dear. Fortunately it wasn’t a Monarch caterpillar, but will it be only a matter of time?

A few more steps and I noticed a Katydid on a Milkweed leaf. Oh yikes. So many visitors who like to munch.

For the moment all bets are placed on only one Monarch caterpillar to continue the life cycle.

Blame it on the Monarchs for calling me back to the same spot I’ve been stalking for a few weeks and giving me the opportunity to notice them mating and the results of such actions and other insects as well.

Want to learn more? The Greater Lovell Land Trust will offer these two programs:

July 31, 7:00 pm, Monarchs at Risk with Don Bennett 

Recent censuses show the smallest Monarch butterfly populations in Mexico and the west coast hibernacula in recorded history. Why is this happening? Is there anything we can do?  Are drastic declines in the Monarch populations a sign of something more insidious? Come listen to Naturalist Don Bennett, PhD, and discover why this is such an important message for all of us. 

Location: Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library, Route 5, Lovell

August 1, 9:30 am – noon: Monarchs in the field: Monarch butterflies need milkweed plants to survive — as caterpillars they only eat milkweed and Monarch moms lay their eggs on the milkweed plant. We’ll take a walk along a dirt road that abuts a farm field and river, where milkweed grows in abundance and search for Monarchs and other butterflies. 

Location: Meet behind the Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library to carpool.

Degree of Difficulty: Easy

Because of the Monarchs

There’s a place here in western Maine that I frequent on hot summer days. Oh heck, there are many places I frequent, but this one is extra special and it doesn’t involve a hike. In fact, from my perspective, there’s only a short distance of a road that consumes hour after hour of my time. But always, it’s time well spent.

The road is dirt and crosses through a hay field that has yet to be cut. Smack dab in the center stands a beautiful Elm and though I’m not sure the Bluebirds nest there, I do know that they at least rest upon its mighty branches for I watched them fly down and disappear into the wildflowers and grasses below and then zoom back up into the tree a few minutes later, their wings of iridescent blue mesmerizing me during flight.

As the Bluebirds flew back and forth to the tree, so I walked back and forth below it. And back and forth again. And again. I have no idea how many times I turned or how often I muttered, “One more time and then I’ll leave.”

But . . . because I stayed I had the good fortune to spend some time admiring a Twelve-spotted Skimmer Dragonfly. In true character, it paused for long periods of time, flew off for a moment or two, and then returned to the same perch. And I gave thanks.

The only other dragonfly I saw was also a skimmer, but about half the size of the Twelve-spotted. At about one inch in length, the female White-faced Meadowhawk also paused for long breaks. And I was equally grateful.

With each step, grasshoppers did what they do–scattered from the dirt road to nearby stems. By the dozens. Providing constant motion and sound.

But then . . . I found two who chose a different activity to entertain themselves and ensure that there will be future generations of grasshoppers in the field.

Aren’t they amazing? And I don’t mean in their canoodling, but rather their design.

My pacing included frequent stops to check out the visitors upon the flowers as well. The Steeplebush appeared to offer a feast to any who chose to stop by.

Because the grass was so high beyond the flowers at the edge of the road, I didn’t realize at first that I wasn’t alone. Twice I was startled because I’d startled another. Both times it was a deer that I didn’t see until they ran off. Do you see the white flag of the tail as one bounded toward the woods?

There was more movement in the grasses and among the flowers. It was accompanied by sound. Looking for stalks moving at odds with the slight breeze, I finally spied the creator of the “Cheap” that resounded almost constantly. A Common Yellowthroat Warbler hopped from one plant to another, possibly seeking a meal to share with youngsters relaxing in a distant tree.

Curiously, a different sound could be heard from the other side of the road, where a male and female frequently took flight before settling down for a bit.

The Bobolink’s song hit notes both low and high, offering a serenade that bubbled forth in a rather bouncy and most pleasant warble.

Every which way I looked, something different presented itself. Some I knew, but others I met for perhaps the first time, such as this large bee fly. I’ve since learned that they are also commonly known as humbleflies, and I found that curious given that with the banded abdomen and patterned wings and overall large size, it hardly seemed humble.

What I’d really gone to check on, however, were the Milkweed plants and their visitors. I wasn’t disappointed for there were both big and little Milkweed beetles.

And Tiger Swallowtails seeking nourishment. This one needed all the nourishment it could get to continue its flight and avoid the birds and other predators. Do you see its tattered wing?

Some, like the Fritillary, chose the road for nutrition and did what butterflies often do.

It puddled. To puddle means to extend your mouthparts and probe the dusty road in search of nutrients. There is no actual puddle involved, but there may be raindrops or in this case, morning dew that help the butterflies extract minerals to share with their gals.

What I’d really gone to see, however, were the Monarchs. And I wasn’t disappointed for a few fluttered about and occasionally landed, much to my delight.

At last, my “One more time and then I’ll leave” utterance became reality and I drove off. And then . . . there was one more sight to behold. I stopped the truck and watched as a fawn bounded in its awkward fawn manner.

Because of the Monarchs . . . I experienced a wonder-filled morning.

Power-filled Mondate

It may not have been a hurricane, but the storm that began as Philippe, left its mark as it whooshed through New England. Along its path, the world darkened. We lost power about 1am, but it was restored by the time we awoke this morning. And yet, many may be without electricity for days.

Our tentative plan had been to hike, but we realized last night that we’d need to consider Plan B. And when the sun shone this morning, we were rather oblivious to the havoc caused by downed trees and flooding. We did check the weather report, however, and saw that there would be a few showers and the wind would continue to blow. So, Plan B it was–yard work between rain drops.

For my guy, that began with work on the back screen door for a bang we’d heard in the night turned out not to be the grill or furniture sliding off the deck, but rather the door banging against a bench. And after that, it wouldn’t shut properly.

o2-bee on lavendar

While he worked on the door, I headed into the kitchen/cottage garden, which had become quite overgrown due to my lack of a green thumb. While my intention was to put the garden to bed, some flowers like the lavender needed to remain for they still invited visitors.

o3-spring tails

As I poked about, cutting some plants back, I made a few discoveries, including the sight of snow fleas or spring tails climbing a stalk.

o1-bird nest fungi 1

And buried beneath, I unearthed bird’s nest fungus, which look like such for which they were named, only in miniature form for they are no more than a quarter inch in height or diameter. Nestled inside the nests, like a bunch of eggs in a basket, are the fruiting bodies that await drops of water in order for their spores to spring out and find their own substrate on which to grow.

o5-beebalms last bloom

And then I approached the beebalm, where a few blossoms still bloomed on this late date.

o4-meadowhawk 1 on bee balm

Most of the beebalm had long since gone to seed, and today one structure became a resting spot as the wind blew. A male autumn meadowhawk seemed to hold on for dear life.

o6-meadowhawk 2

Of course, I took advantage of his moments of rest to take a closer look at the divine body structure . . .

o7-meadowhawk 3

from a variety of viewpoints.

o8-meadowhawk 4

Gender determination is based on the terminal appendages. Male dragonflies have three, known as claspers, which they use to grasp and hold a female during mating. The upper or from this view, outer appendages, are called cerci, while the lower, or middle appendage, is the epiproct–meaning its the appendage situated above the anus. Females have only a pair of cerci, and I’m not sure of their purpose. That beebalm still stands–in hopes he’ll return again.

o9-quaking aspen buds and leaf scars

As I continued to work and observe the world around me, my guy found one project after another to complete–each of which required a trip to the hardware store. Hmmmm. And so, I too, decided to go for a trip–into the woods. Donning my blaze orange vest and hat, and knowing that I wasn’t going far, I took off. My first stop was at a branch below the quaking aspen that had fallen in the night. Though it had reached its end of life, the waxy bud scales and leaf scars were a sight to behold. The smiley-face leaf scar showed where the stem or petiole of this past year’s leaf broke from the branch. As the leaf pulled away, it severed the vessels through which water and food moved. The dots within the scar indicate where those vessels had been connected and are known as bundle scars.
o10-pathway in woodlot

In our woodlot, my trail was littered with pine cones and branches, but that was the extent of tree damage.

o13-selfie

I found puddles that invited me in.

o11-jelly ears

Some branches, decorated with a variety of lichens and jelly ear fungi also found their way to the puddles.

o12a-vernal pool

At last, I reached the vernal pool and was surprised to find it only partially filled.

o12-vernal pool leaves

Atop and within it, the mosaic of broad leaves and needles formed a tapestry of shape and color–in the moment.

014-goldenrod bunch gall 1

Nearby, I paused by a goldenrod that sported a bunch, rosette, or flower gall, for really, it resembles all three.

o15-goldenrod bunch gall 2

The Goldenrod Gall Midge, which is a tiny fly, laid an egg in a leaf bud, hatched into grub form, and prevented the stem from growing, though the plant continued to produce leaves that formed a tight cluster.

o16-maple samara between milkweed pods

I finally made my way home, and turned to other gardens on the eastern side of the house, where milkweed pods also needed to remain standing. I even left the sugar maple samara because I thought it was a fun place to land.

o-17-aphids on milkweed

Also at home on the milkweed were a hundred aphids all clustered together.

020-monarch chrisalys

But the best find of all–the delicate remains of a monarch butterfly chrysalis. I had no idea it was there, but presume it housed one of the monarchs that consumed my attention a few weeks ago.

Just after we headed in, my sister-in-law called to say her sump pump had conked out. Off my guy went again.

It wasn’t the hike date we’d hoped for, but our day was filled with power tools and powerful insects and power-filled love.