Category Archives: Monarch Butterfly Migration in crisis

WHERE HAVE ALL THE BUTTERFLIES GONE?

In thinking about where have all the butterflies gone, I am reminded of the poignant song written by Pete Seeger “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” which although a song about the futility of war, sums up much about the environmental impact of habitat loss. Without wildflower habitat, there will be no pollinators of any sort.

Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago.

Buckeye and Seaside Goldenrod

Where have all the butterflies gone? Different species of butterfly populations fluctuate from year to year. For example, some years you may see far greater numbers of Buckeyes, the next year not so much. That same year you may hardly see any Tiger Swallowtails but will the following.

That being said, everyone must realize that every year there are fewer butterflies than the year before. Butterflies thrive in meadows, the very same topography that is the easiest to build upon. Every time a new house or shopping mall is built on a meadow, we decrease not just butterfly habitat, but a whole community of wildlife habitat.

In the above photo you can see a Monarch with a Black Swallowtail flying overhead. This stunning patch of wildflowers and nectar plants was sited in Gloucester at a prime spot for Monarchs to rest and refuel after migrating across Massachusetts Bay. The new home owners ripped out most of the wildflowers and planted the site in a more formal style, with non-native perennials and shrubs. At this location, I would often see Monarchs, Tiger Swallowtails, Black Swallowtails, Painted and American Ladies, Sulphurs, and many other species. That is no longer true.

Tiger Swallowtail drinking nectar from Joe Pye-weed at the same wildflower patch, no longer in existence.

Butterfly and bee populations are declining overall, not only because of habitat loss, but because of the unbridled use of herbicides and pesticides in agriculture and home lawn care.

Butterflies are especially sensitive to fluctuations in weather, and also to overall climate change. This year we had a long, cold wet spring. The inclement weather is continuing, too, from a butterflies perspective, because although we are seeing some warmer temperatures the past few days, it has mostly been rainy, foggy, or overcast. Butterflies thrive during long stretches of sunny, hot weather. Their wings don’t work very well in the damp and cold. Because of global climate change, we have seen a seven percent increase in precipitation worldwide.

One of the best years I have ever seen for dozens and dozens of species of butterflies, including Monarchs, in the Northeast, was the summer and fall of 2012. That year, we had a warm winter followed by a warm spring, then a warm, dry summer, and a long, warm Indian summer. It was butterfly bonanza that summer and autumn!

Adding to people’s concern is the fact that last year, there was an abundance of spring rain that in turn created an extraordinary wildflower bloom in Texas, which got all the butterflies off to a good start. In 2019, we were seeing Monarchs as early as early June, which was very unusual for Cape Ann. Folks are comparing this year to that of 2019, however, 2019 was not an average year.

Monarchs are a case unto themselves. Their spring and summer numbers largely depend upon an additional variety of conditions, including how successful was the previous year’s autumn migration, whether or not there were nectar providing wildflowers on their northward and southward  migrations, and wind and weather conditions all along their route, from Canada to Mexico.

Note the bar graph in that the eastern population of the Monarchs plummeted by half, according to this year’s spring count by the World Wildlife Fund Mexico.

Particularly in the northeast, the wind patterns during the Monarchs spring northward migration matter tremendously. My friend Charmaine at Point Pelee, in southern Ontario, which is 49 degrees latitude (we are 43 degrees latitude) has been raising and releasing Monarchs for over a month now, while most of us on Cape Ann have only seen a smattering. The Monarchs moved this year in a straight northward trajectory. If the wind does not blow from west to east during some part of their northward migration, far fewer will end up along the eastern shores.

Monarchs and Seaside Goldenrod

All is not lost. I am 90 percent certain we will soon be seeing some of our migratory and non-migratory local populations, we just need some good weather. They are later than usual, but not gone entirely.

For so many more reasons, I am hopeful for the future of wildlife and their habitats and see such tremendous, positive change. Despite the current administration’ s extremely harmful stance against the environment, many, many individuals and organizations are gaining a deeper appreciation about the importance of habitats and taking positive action. Many have made it their life’s work. These individuals and organizations are creating wildlife sanctuaries and conserving existing habitats. If the Monarch is declared an endangered species, that will surely bring an added awarenesses and increased federal spending for protecting and creating habitats.

How can you help species such as the Monarchs, which in turn will help myriad species of other butterflies and pollinators)? Plant wildflowers! Both Marsh and Common Milkweed for their northward migration, and lots of nectar-rich later summer blooming wildflowers for their southward migration, including New England Aster, Smooth Aster, Purple-stemmed Aster, Seaside Goldenrod, and Canada Goldenrod.

Monarchs and New England Aster

BEAUTY ON THE WING ACCEPTED TO THE NEW HAVEN DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL!

Overjoyed Beauty on the Wing has been accepted to the New Haven Documentary Film Festival!

2019 Honors Filmmaker

THE LATE GREAT MONARCH MIGRATION CONTINUES

Too cold for the last of our intrepid Monarchs to fly away today.

Our last little Monarch to emerge struggled to gain the warmth needed for takeoff. What is the minimum air temperature needed to allow Monarchs to fly? When at Cape May several weeks ago and witnessing a large overnight roost of butterflies, the air temperature the following morning was the same as Gloucester’s temperature this morning–low forties–but the sun was shining. No sunshine today, combined with the low temperature, made flying impossible. Monarchs cluster together in overnight roosts for warmth. Our little guy was all alone on an isolated branch and with temperatures expected to dip into the mid thirties, I brought him indoors for the night.

Why the late season stragglers? Warmer than usual fall temperatures allowed eggs and caterpillars to reach maturity when in colder years, freezing temperatures would have prevented development

Some Monarchs begin migrating southward as early as August. And as we have seen, during the warm fall season of 2017 in particular, as late as November. The Monarch migration continues until halted by freezing temperatures. This staggered migration is yet another chapter in the survival strategy of the Monarch’s life story. If all Monarchs began migrating at exactly the same time, a powerful storm or hurricane, such as Harvey or Irma, could have devastating consequences on a great many Monarchs.

Will This Monarch Survive?

Today, November 13th, a Monarch will emerge from its chrysalis in a garden 2,800 miles north of its winter sanctuary. The thing is, Monarchs typically arrive in Mexico at harvest time and around Day of the Dead celebrations, or when Americans celebrate Halloween. In the language of the indigenous Purépecha peoples, the name for the Monarch is “Harvester” butterfly. Under the most ideal conditions, this Monarch won’t arrive until Christmastime.

Along the northern leg of his journey, he will find little or no nectar plants as we have had several nights of freezing temperatures. All the wildflowers and garden plants have finished blooming for the season. With little fortification, is it possible for Monarchs to fly great distances? Biologists look for this type of climate change mismatch to track how global warming is affecting wildlife. Butterflies can survive rain. The water beads up and drips off its wings, but snow and below freezing temperatures are fatal to Monarchs.

With a hope and a prayer, fair winds and good weather, perhaps our little intrepid Monarch will make it to sunny Mexico, or possibly, shorten his journey, and at least make Florida his home for the winter. Here’s hoping.

 *   *   *

WITH THE GREATEST APPRECIATION FOR OUR COMMUNITY OF FRIENDS AND SPONSORS, I AM OVERJOYED TO SHARE THAT TO DATE WE HAVE RAISED $23,960.00 FOR THE DOCUMENTARY FILM “BEAUTY ON THE WING” ONLINE FUNDRAISER! 

Friends of the Monarch Butterfly: If you would like to help towards the completion of the documentary film Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly, please consider making a tax deductible donation here:

DONATE HERE

Donors contributing over $5,000. will be listed in the credits as a film producer.

For more information, visit the film’s website here: Monarch Butterfly Film

For an overview of the film’s budget, please go here: Budget

Thank you so very much for your help.

With gratitude,

Kim

Hello From Cape May and Stone Harbor!

Whirlwind trip to Cape May to check on the late, great Monarch migration of 2017. Leaving at 5am, from Gloucester, it is an eight to nine hour drive. I spent the afternoon and evening there and then left the following day at noon. Although brief, I found all that I was looking for and much, much more. There are vast areas of wildlife habitat along the southern New Jersey coastline and so many beautiful connections between Cape Ann and Cape May; I would love to return again soon!

The Monarchs are in trouble. I am hoping with all my heart that the tens of thousands that are currently held back by winds blowing from the wrong direction, along with intermittent inclement weather, will be able to cross the Delaware Bay as soon as possible. Will write much more this weekend after catching up with work and after I am able to sort through photos.

Cape May Lighthouse

$20,450.00!!! RAISED FOR “BEAUTY ON THE WING” DOCUMENTARY! THANK YOU KIND DONORS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

WITH THE GREATEST JOY AND APPRECIATION FOR OUR COMMUNITY OF FRIENDS AND SPONSORS, I AM OVERJOYED TO SHARE THAT TO DATE WE HAVE RAISED $20,450.00 FOR THE DOCUMENTARY FILM “BEAUTY ON THE WING” ONLINE FUNDRAISER!!!

MY DEEPEST THANKS AND GRATITUDE TO LAUREN MERCADANTE (PRODUCER), SUSAN FREY (PRODUCER), NEW ENGLAND BIOLABS FOUNDATION, LAUREN M., MARION F., ELAINE M., DONNA STOMAN, PEGGY O’MALLEY, JOEY C., CATHERINE RYAN, JOEANN HART, JANE PAZNIK BONDARIN AND ROBERT REDIS (BOTH FROM NEW YORK), NUBAR ALEXANIAN, PETER VAN DEMARK, PATRICIA VAN DERPOOL, FRED FREDERICKS (CHELMSFORD), LESLIE HEFFRON, JIM MASCIARELLI, DAVE MOORE (KOREA), LILIAN AND CRAIG OLMSTEAD, JOHN STEIGER, PAT DALPIAZ, AMY KERR, BARBARA T. (JEWETT, NY), ROBERTA C. ((NY), MARIANNE G. (WINDHAM, NY), PAULA O’BRIEN (WALTON, NY), TOM HAUCK, AND ANONYMOUS PERSONS FOR THEIR GENEROUS HELP. 

We are approximately one third towards the online fundraising goal of $62,000.00. If you would like to help towards the completion of my documentary film Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly, filmed in the wilds of Cape Ann and Angangueo, Mexico, please consider making a tax deductible donation here:

DONATE HERE

Donors contributing over $5,000. will be listed in the credits as a film producer.

For more information, visit the film’s website here: Monarch Butterfly Film

For an overview of the film’s budget, please go here: Budget

Thank you so very much for your help.

With gratitude,

Kim
Monarch Silhouettes at Twilight 

MONARCH MIGRATION UPDATE AND THANK YOU KIND DONORS FOR CONTRIBUTING TO MY DOCUMENTARY “BEAUTY ON THE WING!”

I AM OVERJOYED TO SHARE THAT WE HAVE RAISED OVER $2,500.00 IN THE FIRST WEEK OF “BEAUTY ON THE WING” ONLINE FUNDRAISER!!! MY DEEPEST THANKS AND GRATITUDE  TO NEW ENGLAND BIOLABS, LAUREN M., MARION F., ELAINE M., DONNA STOMAN, PEGGY O’MALLEY, JOEY C., CATHERINE RYAN, JOEANN HART, JANE PAZNIK BONDARIN AND ROBERT REDIS (BOTH FROM NEW YORK), NUBAR ALEXANIAN, PETER VAN DEMARK, PATRICIA VAN DERPOOL, FRED FREDERICKS, LESLIE HEFFRON, JIM MASCIARELLI, DAVE MOORE (KOREA), LILIAN AND CRAIG OLMSTEAD, TOM HAUCK, AND ANONYMOUS PERSONS FOR THEIR GENEROUS HELP.  
If you would like to help towards the completion of my documentary film Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly, filmed in the wilds of Cape Ann and Angangueo, Mexico, please consider making a tax deductible donation here:

DONATE HERE

Donors contributing over $5,000. will be listed in the credits as a film producer.

For more information, visit the film’s website here: Monarch Butterfly Film

For an overview of the film’s budget, please go here: Budget

Thank you so very much for your help.

With gratitude,

Kim Smith

 

Cape Ann Monarch Migration Update October 16, 2017

Monarchs roosting overnight in the old chokecherry tree.

We have had four beautiful waves of Monarchs pouring into Cape Ann. The first arrived on September 23rd and the fourth departed last Wednesday morning, on the eleventh of October. As there are reports of Monarchs still further north, we should be expecting at least one more wave, quite possibly this week. And, too, my friend Patti found several Monarch caterpillars in her garden only several days ago. These caterpillars won’t be ready to fly to Mexico for another week to ten days at least. If this warm weather continues, we may still yet have more batches coming through in the coming weeks.

What can you do to help the Monarchs, Painted Ladies, bees, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and all pollinators at this time of year? Don’t tidy up the garden just yet!  When you cut back remaining flowering stalks and sprigs, you are depriving winged creatures of much needed, and less readily available, nourishment. Bees, and migrating butterflies on the wing, especially Monarchs, need nectar throughout their journey to Mexico. Songbirds eat the seeds of expiring flowering stalks.

I keep my client’s gardens neat and tidy at this time of year by pulling out the occasional dead plant and trimming away dried out foliage. In deference to the pollinators, the very best time of year to plant bulbs and organize the garden for the following year is after November 1st, at the very earliest. And even then, if for example my Korean Daisies are still blooming, I work around the plant. Usually in November and up until the first frost, it is covered in bees. I’ve had many a Monarch pass through my garden in November and the Korean Daisies were there at the ready to provide nectar for weary travelers.

Patti’s Caterpillar, found in her garden on October 14th. He’s now at our home in a terrarium, happily munching away on Common Milkweed leaves. I leave him outdoors in a sunny location during the day but bring him indoors late in the afternoon because the air temperature is dropping considerably at night. Patti Papow Photo

LOOK WHAT PATTI PAPOWS MADE FOR SUNDAY’S MILKWEED SEED DISTRIBUTION EVENT!!

Thank you to Patti Papows for putting together these utterly charming pouches of milkweed seeds for our event tomorrow. We also have loads of milkweed pods and Joe-Pye seeds to distribute so come on down to Captain Joe’s dock Sunday morning from 10:30 to noon. We hope to see you there!

Captain Joes is located at 95 East Main Street, Gloucester.

To donate toward the completion of my documentary film Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly, please visit the film’s website at www.monarchbutterflyfilm.com

COMMUNITY MILKWEED SEED POD PROJECT FOR THE POLLINATORS!

MILKWEED SEED COLLECTION AND DISTRIBUTION PROJECT SUNDAY OCTOBER 15TH

Collect ripe milkweed seed pods (only Common Milkweed and Marsh Milkweed please). Place in a paper bag, not plastic, as plastic can cause the seed pods to become damp and moldy.

Bring seedpods to Captain Joe and Sons on Sunday morning between 10:30 and noon. Captain Joes is located at 95 East Main Street, East Gloucester.

If you’d like to distribute seeds, meet at the dock between 10:30 and noon and I will show you what to do.

NOTE: It is easy to tell when milkweed seedpods are ripe. The seeds inside turn brown. Do not collect the pods when the seeds are white or green. If you pick them too soon, they will never be viable. You can check the seed pods by slitting the pod a tiny bit and peeking inside.

Any questions, please comment in the comment section or email me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. Thank you and I hope to see you Sunday morning!

To learn more about how you can help fund the documentary Beauty on the Wing and the Monarch Butterfly Film Online Fundraising event, please visit the film’s website at monarchbutterflyfilm.com.