Monday, May 20, 2013
Grey Birch and one of the Apples of our 'Gateway' in the blueberry fields.
Our oldest Apple above and below.
A Shag-bark Hickory stands in the upper garden.
Tree Swallow calls, songs and duets fill the early spring sky with grace and gurgling as females wrangle.
Looking up from the blueberry field, where within the heath this day . . . I eyed an Eastern Pine Elfin.
To the left before the 'Star' Magnolia, one of the Apples of the 'Gateway' stands and the other is featured below with stellata blossoms in the background.
A one-hundred year old Apple is dwarfed by the two-hundred year old Rock Maples.
Another Apple in the rock garden near a smaller stellata seems diminished by the giants.
Crown of Apple, Rock Maple and stellata merge into pink weeping cherry.
Tree Swallow couple's favorite cherry branch perch.
When the Magnolia stellata is fully blown open . . . other buds begin bursting too.
Still needing more pruning, the 'bonsai' Apple spreads over the large boulders of the old rock garden.
Spring is filled with song and alarm calls from hundreds of birds. I noted this robin's frightful clamor and took camera and self out to see what was the matter.
Going towards the direction it was eyeing I found the reason for its piercing notes. It is always good to listen and watch what goes on in our gardens.
A Broad-winged Hawk perching high up in one of the Rock Maples.
A buteo who fancies small mammals (most welcome to our voles and rabbits!) and birds is a just cause for fright from a robin.
Times seems to fly by so quickly these days . . . spring is in full dress here now and next I will share the Apples all abloom.
I took a break from my gardens and went to the ocean for a week repose and when I returned hundreds of birds had returned too . . . only instead of my being here to greet their return they wondered at mine. I felt lost for a bit but back on track and will not make the same mistake of going away at such a magical time again. I must learn how to simply relax here in my own realm. Sound familiar?
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Twenty twelve was really an amazing butterfly year here at Flower Hill Farm in Western Massachusetts. In the early spring there was an influx of Red Admirals filling the apples trees and lilac bushes. Then later on Painted Ladies were sighted here in large numbers during the summer months feeding on a diversity of blooms. Normally the Painted Ladies are more 'irregular emigrants' in Massachusetts but last year there were record numbers reported all over the northeast.
At times there were over fifty flitting about the gardens and fields . . . particularly striking when back lit by the sun.
Pearl Crescents are in the same subfamily of 'True Brushfoots' (Nymphalinae), as the larger Painted Ladies and they too are often enjoyed here on our farm in numbers of over fifty during the summer. Tiny Pearl Crescents are utterly enchanting flying about the middle meadow garden and fields . . . especially when their brown-orange colors are enriched by the light of the sun.
Last year was a great year for first sightings too.
Some butterflies are so tiny that they are easily missed.
|Eastern Tailed-Blue and American Copper|
Little treasures fill our eyes when we take the time to look.
|Painted Lady (folded wings), Eastern Tailed-Blue, Painted Lady (open wings),|
Common Ringlet, American Copper, Giant Swallowtail,
Little Wood Satyr, Common Wood Nymph, Question Mark
All of the butterflies above were added to my list for the first time last year.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are always a delight in flight.
The most spectacular in size and drama of my new sightings was this Giant Swallowtail. Our warmer climate is expanding the territory of these magnificent butterflies, as again record counts were reported throughout the northeast last year. This was the only giant that I was lucky enough to see in the gardens and I did worry for its safety as the Cat Bird's beak opened in awe, as did my mouth, at the strangeness and size of this swallowtail. I literally chased the Cat Bird away but that would have only been a temporary deterrent. I did not chance to see the butterfly again.
|Eastern Tiger Swallowtail|
The smaller Eastern Tiger Swallowtail not only differs in size but also has a very different pattern on its wings . . . the only time it might be confused with its cousin the giant is when the wings are folded.
|Flower Hill Farm Butterflies of 2012|
Other than a couple of skippers, this is the collection of butterflies I was able to catch sight of throughout last year in our gardens and fields. Twenty-two or so species is only a small amount of the one hundred three butterfly species known to inhabit Massachusetts. I will continue to work with my land and gardens to provide a more diverse habitat that hopefully will attract many new butterflies to Flower Hill Farm.
Learning to identify the caterpillars, their host plants and the overwintering habits of various butterflies, will go a long way to securing their success in our gardens. I am especially indebted to the Massachusetts Butterfly Club for their highly educational and beautiful website along with the invaluable Mass Audubon's Butterfly Atlas. I have been able to identify and learn about all the butterflies in this series by visiting the two websites above. I am thrilled to now be a member of the Massachusetts Butterfly Club which is a chapter of the North American Butterfly Association.
Connecting with other butterfly enthusiasts is a wonderful way to learn more about butterflies and how we can all help preserve habitat for these remarkable creatures.
Mourning Cloaks are not among the list above as I did not see one last year. This April did, however, bring at least six from their overwinter hiding places, but not one was close enough to capture with my camera. It is exciting to begin a new season of butterfly watching and I hope my list will grow along with my unbridled enthusiasm for these spirited gifts of nature.
Wishing all a happy May and a bountiful butterfly season!
Saturday, April 27, 2013
The Monarch Butterfly Danaus plexippus, is perhaps one of the most widely known and beloved butterflies. We know that climate change, threats to the fragile overwintering sites, pesticides and loss of essential host plants, Milkweed, is causing concern for the survival of these amazing navigators. Yet Monarch butterflies have survived for millions of years and somehow I must believe they will adapt to our environmental disasters and continue to do so. It is too heartbreaking to imagine otherwise.
Female Monarch butterflies have now flown from their over wintering sites in Mexico towards Texas fastening their eggs to Milkweed plants and then dying . . . passing the torch, as it were, to their offspring to continue further north and east until the fourth or fifth generation of the Monarchs, who took flight from Flower Hill Farm last fall, will arrive here to begin the Monarch butterfly metamorphosis anew.
I have been so blessed for over thirty years by being able to share parts of the summer months with these remarkable butterflies. I cannot imagine life without this renewal . . . observing a unique transformation close up. Inspirational and joyous moments abound through the discovery of a small creature's struggle to grow, change and then take off on a momentous journey.
It is remarkable to consider that the intelligence, consciousness or genetic code is already set within this tiny form that will one day transform into another form supporting wings and then take flight to faraway lands.
The cream colored Monarch caterpillar chomps through its clear, finely-etched egg casing and gobbles it up for its first nutritious meal. It will continue to munch milkweed leaves, flowers and stems growing and shedding its tight skin four times, not to waste a good meal the Monarch caterpillar will eat each pile of molted skin then pick up munching milkweed again . . . growing more until the fifth time when it unveils the chrysalis it has been creating inside the later clear black striped caterpillar skin. The yellow and white colors are the caterpillar body inside the skin.
A part of the butterfly that it will become is already tucked inside the little Monarch caterpillar and it will nurture that part of itself during the two weeks it munches milkweed, sheds its skin and becomes bigger and bigger till suddenly it feels the urge to weave a silk node and let go of its caterpillar self.
Note the small silk ball or node the Monarch caterpillar carefully weaves and forms from the thin silk threads it pulls out of its spinneret. This is an important creation for the caterpillar, for its very life depends on its strength to hold the caterpillar, while it pulls up its skin to reveal its jade green chrysalis hidden inside of the black, yellow and white striped caterpillar.
The Monarch caterpillar has also been building a 'cremaster' or pole just about where its hind feet are now. The 'cremaster' has hundreds of tiny hooks to hold fast to the silk button it is creating. This important part of the chrysalis will pull out from under the pile of skin to find the essential silk node and latch onto it, then thrashes around to be sure its hold is secure.
One day a Monarch caterpillar whispered to me . . .
"Please raise me with dignity . . . give me space and fresh air as I find out in the garden and fields . . . do not toss me into a box or jar or fish tank with dozens of others of my kind. You will never really get to know me that way. I may get sick and die from overcrowding. I play a very vital role in the making of what I become . . . thank you for honoring that and my journey as a caterpillar."
And now the curtain is about to rise! What do we see? A caterpillar or chrysalis?
The caterpillar trachea is no longer needed so it lifts off with the old skin. The shape of the caterpillar is not quite gone yet. The chrysalis will shrink and a clear casing will harden enclosing and protecting the reshaping life.
A Monarch butterfly template is revealed within the forming chrysalis.
Tiny jewels hang for about two weeks while the Monarch metamorphosis takes place.
When it is time, a fresh new butterfly flips out of its protective chrysalis casing. The butterfly abdomen is bloated being filled with the fluids that will blow up the wings. Once they are fully blown out the butterfly hangs to dry like a fine dress on a clothesline . . . this can be a dangerous time for a butterfly. It must hold on tight and not fall or it will surely die.
When the Monarch butterfly's wings are dry and the butterfly is familiar with its new body and has discovered how all the parts work, it will begin pumping its wings preparing to fly.
Releasing Monarch butterflies is especially thrilling.
Whispering 'Best of Luck!' We watch in amazement and joy as each butterfly takes its first flight.
For weeks during late summer enchantment fills our days.
The native plants and others in the fall gardens are more alive with Monarch butterflies readying for their long voyage to Mexico. Native Ironweed and Rudbeckia are particular favorites. Buddleia (below) or butterfly bush can become invasive in warmer climates. Here in my climate of today I can barely keep one alive. A Painted Lady sips nearby a newly released Monarch butterfly.
Sedum 'Autumn Joy' is a magnet for the Monarchs.
The wild asters in 2011 were covered with Monarchs where Autumn Joy was the main attraction in September 2012.
We can all help these beautiful butterflies and others by never using poisons and by calling congress and the EPA demanding an end to the use of harmful chemicals that kill insects good and 'bad' and cause cancer and other diseases within human organs. We can also plant milkweed that is native to our areas to guarantee the monarchs will always have host plants.