Just over a year ago I wrote about my experience of spotting Cardinal Flowers in bloom in the Cedar/Ash wetlands that border the western edge of our largest hay field. I had noticed the stunning red “flags” in the woods as I finished baling our second cutting of hay. This year there are none to be found. However, I was still to be visually rewarded as I cut the outside rounds of hay for the second time. Due to the super-abundance of rain the hay has grown very well, but I had been limited by the rain as to when I could start cutting the hay. One of the results of the delay is that the alfalfa was in full bloom. Nutritionally it means that the hay is past its peak as food for the sheep. Yet it also means that the blossoms’ nectar is a nutritional treat for butterflies.
This year seems to have been either feast or famine for the native butterflies. Swallowtails of any sort have been few in number. We usually plant extra parsley and dill as food for their caterpillars. The only thing that has touched the parsley all summer was a young cottontail rabbit, who quickly reminded me to set up the little electric fence that surrounds the garden.
On the other hand, the Red Admirals have done splendidly. In early summer it was difficult to find any stinging nettle that was not nearly defoliated by masses of their caterpillars. The adults have been with us through out the summer. The Variegated Fritillaries have also done well of late.
However, the most spectacular perform of the summer has to go to the Monarchs. They were noticeable by their earlier than normal arrival this spring. The Milkweed (the primary host for their larva) also thrived. It was difficult to not find a Milkweed without at least one caterpillar.
I was not, however, expecting the explosion of adult Monarchs that I witnessed over the last week. As I cut the alfalfa this last week I was accompanied by a multitude of Monarchs feeding on the blossoms. The western edge of the hay field is bordered by a narrow strip of Goldenrod up against the Ash woodlands. As I drove by with the tractor I would disturb clouds of Monarchs who were on the Goldenrod blossoms. After I finished with the cutting I took a walk along the edge of both the uncut hay and the Goldenrod strip just to watch the show.
I began to count the Monarchs. There was at least one butterfly (and often many more) for every pace I took along the Goldenrod. The strip of Goldenrod is only about 6 to 10 feet wide, but it runs almost a quarter mile. Simple mathematics produced at least 400 Monarchs in that narrow golden patch!
Turning 180 degrees toward the nearly 35 acres of blooming alfalfa, produced equally astounding numbers. In the 27 years that we have owned the farm I have never seen such breathtaking numbers of Monarchs. They have remained with us for the last few days. It is as if they are stocking up on nutrition in preparation for their flight to the mountains of Mexico. The prevailing winds have been out of the south and have been strong enough to limit any successful butterfly flight in that direction. I keep expecting that when the winds die down or switch to the north that they will all be gone. In the meantime it is such a wonderful, visual treat to have thousands of the orange and black butterflies as part of the farm.
When they do leave we wish them a safe journey and look forward to their return next spring.
Spectacular photos – thanks for sharing. I was aware there were lots of monarchs last week while I was on the Pennisula, but didn’t record any with my camera. Maybe I’ll have better luck as they fly through Madison.
There are a large number of monarchs in our yard in Oshkosh as well. I think your swallowtails were in our yard—we had a large number earlier in the summer, including a caterpillar in our parsley and dill!
Wow-such interesting observations of nature –what a treat!
Hello! I just got “caught up” with you after a few months. What a lifetime experience to be in a cloud of Monarch butterflies! You are amazingly blessed. I love the photo of Hope. She looks like someone I know! We still have not made it up to DC this year. Dad has tied us to home, it seems. We have hospice involved now and they are a big help.
Thanks for sharing your life with us.
It was good to hear from you and to learn that you have managed to get “caught up” with the Ewe Turn. We figured when we had not heard from you that life dealing with your Dad may have become complicated. Having dealt with illnesses with both our sets of parents, we can understand the drain on your time and energy!
We hope that you got your fleece back from Blackberry Ridge. Ours came back a month or so ago. As usual they did an excellent job for us.
I love hearing about the farm. I have a picture of one of the lambs on my desktop…people see it and it brings a gentle smile to their face!
It’s great hearing from you…hope a new update will be coming soon. I read your contribution to the latest Black Sheep Newsletter…it always transports me to your farm.
Dear Richard…I have finally learned how to navigate your blog. Having finished your book I find myself up to this Sept. 1, 2010 entry…”Flashes……….” and want to say that your photos are absolutely beautiful. Your narrative is good too and most interesting but these photos are terrific. What is your camera? This post in particular reminded me that a few years back we had an abundant growth of Goldenrod in our part of the Adirondacks (Old Forge on The Fulton Chain of Lakes). I was just getting into dyeing some of my spun yarn and went out and harvested the yellow flowers on a plethera a plants from a hillside nearby. It was great fun and the final product was wonderful…a beautiful bright yellow just like the flowers.
I enjoy reading your posts….thank you for your efforts.
Margo Boylan in Old Forge, NY
It is good to hear that you enjoyed the book and have “joined us” on the blog. The camera in question is a Nikon D200, with which I am still quite happy, (even though the rapid advance of digital technology has severely outdated it). It is good to hear that your natural dyeing experience has been a good one. We feel like we have just “scratched the surface”. It is just one more reason to look forward to spring!