Monarch Threats and Winter Birds

You may have heard of the disappearance of the well-known conservationist that has been protecting the monarch butterflies that migrate to Mexico and winter there.  Homero Gomez was last seen on January 13th.  Monarchs have a number of threats including illegal logging that reduces the size of their winter habitat in Michoacán.

I recently finished reading a book by conservation biologist Nick Haddad called The Last Butterflies.


This book took me a while to read, but I enjoyed it.  It was interesting if you like reading about scientific experiments in the wild and that sort of thing.  One of the last chapters was about the migrating eastern North American monarch.  Much like the passenger pigeon, there are still millions of monarchs, but they face a number of threats that could wipe them out, including threats to their wintering grounds in Mexico.  Here in the United States there is a loss of habitat as well as threats from pesticides.  Why does this matter?  Monarch caterpillars and butterflies are the most well known and loved insects.  They are like the canary in the coal mine.  When they decline, despite efforts to assist them, we can guess that many other insects that we care less about but that are very important are also facing numerous threats.

I am looking forward to getting some milkweed plants from an acquaintance at the Palos forest preserve restoration project who has promised me some plants in April.  I have had no luck planting milkweed from seeds.  I have swamp milkweed and butterfly weed, but am eager to plant some asclepias syriaca (common milkweed), too.

Another important thing gardeners can focus on is nectar plants in the autumn when monarch are migrating south.  Below are a few pictures from my garden.


Monarchs on sedum in September.  One day this past year I looked out and saw six monarch feasting on the sedum nectar.


That same day the monarchs were sipping on the Agastache ‘Blue Fortune.’


Monarch on zinnia

But we are still in the very middle of winter, so I will post some winter bird pictures as well.


Male red-bellied woodpecker snacking on suet.


Two downy woodpeckers wait for the red-bellied woodpecker to leave.  The feeder is hanging by a string so it swings around when birds peck on it.  Notice that we just pruned off a few lower branches on the chinquapin oak tree.


I have enjoyed having the downy woodpeckers visit the yard more frequently this week.


The house sparrows look for bits of suet that may have landed below the feeder.


The mourning doves arrived to check out the action.


The European staring gives it a try.


Looks like the squirrel managed to get a chunk of it.


White-breasted nuthatch


When we pruned the trees I brought in some serviceberry branches to see if they would open inside.  I have no idea if that will work.


Sunrise on our street.  The days are getting longer!


Beauty and the Beasts

OK, no real pictures of beasts in this post, but when you step into a nature preserve the animals you meet are wild, not domesticated, and that can be an adventure.  The beauty part is the gorgeous, snowy landscape we encountered on our Saturday morning walk!


The snow outlined every tiny branch as we started our walk this morning in a nearby forest preserve in Cook County.


The trail had an interesting pattern, as the snow covered each twig and leaf on the ground, but melted when it met the clay path.


We noticed animal tracks climbing a tree.


A closer look at raccoon tracks


With snow covering everything we made our way carefully down the hill to the stream.


The water was flowing in the stream.  We found some large stones where we could step and cross over without getting wet.


We followed a horse / animal trail so that we would not get lost, as everything looks the same with the snow cover.  Up ahead, through the shrubs, we glimpsed two white-tailed deer run through the forest.


When we stopped to listen we could hear an emergency vehicle, an airplane, and also a bird.  Looking around I spotted a male red-bellied woodpecker.


A little further down the path we stopped to listen and heard some howling and yipping coyotes, maybe chasing those deer we saw or something else.  We could not see them, but they were somewhere off to our left.  We both picked up pointy branches and decided to head back out to the main trail.  Coyotes don’t see people as potential prey, but when there are a group of them and it is not our backyard we wanted to be ready to stand our ground and scare them if they were nearby.  After that we did not hear them again.  Sorry, no pictures of deer or coyotes!


Back at home, there was just a thin layer of snow that was mostly melted by the afternoon.


The male northern cardinal, a frequent visitor, is a beauty!

January 1, 2020

Happy New Year!


Snow Crocus emerges.

I first noticed this snow crocus on Christmas Day, which is the earliest I have seen it appear.


Daytime moon


Dark-eyed junco on liatris.  It looks like it got a seed to nourish it on a winter day.


We had about an inch of snow yesterday morning, which should melt today and tomorrow.  It has been a mild winter.


The cyclamen is blooming for the fifteenth year!  This autumn I refinished the wood counter in my greenhouse window.


We started the new year with a wonderful hike at Cranberry Slough in the forest preserve.  The trail was icy, but not slippery, and the only person we met was riding a bike.


One last shot to say goodbye to 2019. Mute swans flying over Lake Katherine last weekend.