Thursday, June 12, 2008

High water

The water's been very high at Lake Monroe, near Bloomington, for the past few weeks. On the first of June, we took our canoe out for a little exploring. It was really strange, paddling around through the trees, where normally we would be walking. At one point the road leading down to a launch site was under water, and as we paddled across it we could see the yellow no-passing line beneath us. Recent heavy rains have made the water even higher. Last weekend, after the storms had stopped, we went back to explore more of the lake.

We saw: several turtles basking on logs, 2 small snakes, 1 eastern box turtle, 2 lizards, a red fox squirrel, a chipmunk, lots of yellow swallowtail butterflies, 2 baltimore orioles, 1 yellow warbler, a great blue heron, 2 families of Canada geese and their goslings, and 1 unlucky catfish. The catfish is a long story--we freed him from a fishing line tied to a tree, and then, realizing that he had been hooked on purpose and not by accident, fled the area for fear of running into the person who had set the line!

Fishing is not a kind sport--and sometimes it is not friendly to other wildlife, either. We untangled quite a bit of fishing line from trees, as it endangers the birds who get caught in it, and collected lead sinkers left behind. We also pulled plastic bobbers out of the trees; these I'm stringing together as a kind of trophy.

Southern Indiana has been hit hard by recent storms and flooding. Homes have been damaged, even destroyed. The full extent of the damage is just now being assessed. We haven't heard much yet about the impact on wildlife; I suppose that will become evident over a longer time.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Saving the Monarchs

Monarch butterflies are one of the most easily recognized and beloved butterflies we see. Everyone knows the bright orange and black markings of the monarch. It's hard to imagine a world without them-- but it could happen. Monarchs, like all butterflies, are threatened by the loss of habitat that happens when development turns meadows and fields into condos and shopping malls. Host plants are mowed down, and pesticides and herbicides are lethal. Monarchs are in particular danger because the plants they depend on, milkweed, are disappearing in the wild.

What can one person do to help?! Last year my mate4life and I planted a new flower bed, a butterfly garden. I did some research and came up with a list of plants that are good sources of nectar. Word must have spread, because we had many beautiful butterfly visitors to the flower beds. The photo above shows a monarch on one of my lantanas, taken last Sept.

This year, I am taking the butterfly bed a step further --planting host plants, where monarchs and perhaps other species can lay their eggs. Milkweed plants support the emerging lavae and adult monarchs.

There is an organization called Monarch Watch that helps people start butterfly gardens and certifies back yard butterfly gardens as Monarch Waystations: I'm preparing our back yard garden to meet the requirements of a Waystation.

Nectar plants in our flower beds:
Lantana (planted as annuals every year, not hardy in Indiana.)
Rudbeckia (perennial variety)
Galliardia (Blanket flower)
Echinacea (purple coneflower)
Bee Balm
Zinnias (important to include single flowers like Pinwheel Zinnias--bees need them, and hummingbirds like them!)
Catmint (purple flowers, looks like salvia)
Joe Pye Weed (native species, very good nectar plant--and besides, I love the name!)

Milkweed host plants: so far, 3 swamp milkweed plants (Asclepias incarnata) and 2 butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). Monarch Watch says 10 plants or more is ideal, so this weekend's task is to add some more plants. You can do this more cheaply with seeds, but it is not so easy, and I think my chances of success are very low.

So far this spring, we've had Tiger Swallowtails, an American Lady, a yellow sulphur, and a small blue butterfly that was too quick for me to identify. We'll keep watching, and planting, for more butterflies.

Further reading:
Brock, Jim, and Kenn Kaufman. Butterflies of North America (Kaufman Focus Guides), 2003.
"Butterfly Blues: Rescuing Rare Beauties," National Wildlife. June/July, 2008.
Marent, Thomas. Butterfly: A Photographic Portrait. Dorling-Kindersley, 2008.