Category Archives: Monarch Butterfly

Young Pecan Tree


I am in Far Field this morning. The grass is high and here and there in the field are young pecan trees leafing out. There is a large pecan tree in the field and a unkept grove of pecan trees to the south of me on the Old Bryant place. 

In letting these young pecans thrive, I do so to let things live, grow as they might, and perhaps in the future a nesting place for birds, shade for Angus cattle. And, a few pecan nuts will in the distant future be picked up, pocketed. 

Who might rest in the shade of the young pecan tree?  I do not know, but some living thing will find comfort. I hear birds singing. 

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Filed under Bluestem Field Log, Field Log, Life in Balance, Monarch Butterfly, Pecan

Milkweed for Monarchs at My Place

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Milkweed Clusters

I have located three milkweed clusters since 2003 on my place–central Texas, Erath County. Today I sought the three clusters again, one directly in front of the house, one alongside the road to the barn, and the cluster in the far field, one-quarter of a mile away. I found only the cluster photographed above–the cluster beside the road to the barn.  I found no milkweed in the far field nor in the front yard.  I believe that this spring has been mild so far and some heat is needed to bring out other patches of milkweed. Today, as I walked the fields, I discovered a large Monarch in the grove that soared out of the grass and into the sky above the trees.  A huge Monarch, one the largest I have ever seen.  Then as I finished my field trip, in the front yard, a Monarch flitted above the cut-leaf daisy and lawn grass. Two Monarchs, one patch of milkweed that has ten clusters of blossoms (you can only see seven in the above photograph)–definitely an event to be recorded for 2015. I will continue to monitor the milkweed and Monarchs, posting the field trips I take to far and near fields on my place.

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Monarch Migration Plunges to Lowest Level in Decades – NYTimes.com

Monarch Migration Plunges to Lowest Level in Decades – NYTimes.com.

But an equally alarming source of the decline, both Mr. Taylor and Mr. Vidal said, is the explosive increase in American farmland planted in soybean and corn genetically modified to tolerate herbicides.

The American Midwest’s corn belt is a critical feeding ground for monarchs, which once found a ready source of milkweed growing between the rows of millions of acres of soybean and corn. But the ubiquitous use of herbicide-tolerant crops has enabled farmers to wipe out the milkweed, and with it much of the butterflies’ food supply.

“That habitat is virtually gone. We’ve lost well over 120 million acres, and probably closer to 150 million acres,” Mr. Taylor said.

A rapid expansion of farmland — more than 25 million new acres in the United States since 2007 — has eaten away grasslands and conservation reserves that supplied the monarchs with milkweed, he said.

The monarchs’ migration is seen as a natural marvel and, for Mexico, a huge tourist attraction. But naturalists regard the butterflies as a forward indicator of the health of the food chain. Fewer butterflies probably means there are fewer other insects that are food for birds, and fewer birds for larger predators.

Here on my ranchito I have seen no monarchs this year.  It is a little early for their migration through central Texas (at least here in north Erath County, Texas), and I will hold off making any conclusive statements about their pattern for several more weeks.

I have only a few sprouts of milkweed on my 53 acres.  I know precisely where the milkweed is and seek to keep it flourishing for the butterflies.

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Filed under Life Out of Balance, Monarch Butterfly

Fox and Salt Creek: field log entry 2

12:00 p.m. — 1:08 p.m.:  After thirty minutes communing with a fussy wren, I finished a brief field observation with a walk up Salt Creek about one-tenth of a mile.  I logged tadpoles, frogs, wrens, bluejays, heard the cry of the red-tailed hawk or the Harris hawk, photographed a turkey vulture (not included herein) and saw the owl (unidentified) fly into the grove away from my hike.  Back at the ranch house, I identified the wren that had chattered at me — a Bewick’s Wren (Thryomanes bewickii).    I saw numerous tracks in the mud.

I counted two monarch butterflies within the cool willows of the water cache — see photograph below for the Salt Creek water cache with sky blue.

Salt Creek water cache with sky blue (October 15, 2011).

The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds states that Bewick’s Wren prefers drier conditions to its resemblance, the Carolina Wren.  Bewick’s Wren has certainly enjoyed dry conditions throughout the summer.

I liked this photograph of the prickly-pear cactus with the willow and pecan trees in the background.  It describes in essence what this part of Texas and my ranchito is all about — wet and dry, green and brown, cactus and pecan, things-that-stick-you and things-you-eat.

Fox I did not see.  I did not expect to see any, but one never knows.  My friend, Wild Bill of Wild Ramblings Blog, suggested that I get a animal call tool that sounds like a wounded rabbit to attract the fox.  I think I shall because I want to see fox again.   Cougars and bobcats have been sighted in our area, so I shall be cautious.  I don’t want my day spoiled by predators of that size taking me from behind.  We have a saying out here, “If it doesn’t sting or bite you, it will stick you!”   I’ll take the stinging and sticking anytime over the biting.  Now, where are my field catalogs?

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Filed under Birds, Bluestem Field Log (Live), Field Log, Life in Balance, Monarch Butterfly

Sage blooms in Abilene

Sage blooming in Abilene, Texas, September 20, 2011.

This late summer, thundershowers fall infrequently around Abilene, Texas.  Yet, some showers do fall about this west Texas city that lies close to the Brazos River and Buffalo Gap, a niche in the hills that allowed buffalo to migrate from north to central Texas in the nineteenth century, following the shortgrass and bluestem in their casual browsing.

Two days ago as I worked late at my office at Cisco College, I walked by three large sagebrush by the back entry door.  A monarch butterfly floated by, floating and fluttering as if they are playing, and landed on one of the blossoms.  But before I could draw my iPhone from my coat pocket, it flew away and out of my range to snap a picture.  Alas, I was too slow on the draw.  I followed it to a green clump of slender grasses and lost it, despite my intent search.  The monarch had buried itself from my eyes, thinking me a raptor?

Yesterday, following the blooming sagebrush and my failure to photograph the butterfly, it rained about the city, to the north and west particularly.  A rainbow emerged with the sun setting to the east.  And, this morning, the temperatures were the coolest since May, a 61 degrees before sunup.

I think, if sagebrush blooms, can rain be far behind?  And playing monarchs about the purple sage?  Not far behind either.

Three sagebrush with blossoms at the back door of Cisco College, September 22, 2011. The monarch flew and hid in the bushes to the upper right of the photograph.

 

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Balance — monarchs, milkweed and horses

Leading edge monarch in Spring 2011, north Erath County, Texas.

Earlier this week on the first full day of Spring 2011, I received a communication from Journey North that the monarchs “were pouring out of Mexico” and that the leading edges were entering Oklahoma, about a 100 miles from our place in north Erath County, Texas.  A day before the e-mail, I had seen a monarch in our front field feasting on nectar of wild verbena, but I did not have my camera to take a picture.

The next day, March 23, 2011, I spotted this leading edge monarch in our live oak tree out in front of our house.  Twenty-three live oak trees live on the knoll of our home, a hill really, that is known as Poprock Hill in local folklore.  These trees have been the roosting place for monarchs, I am sure, for several generations.  We have seen monarchs every year since we have moved here and last year I snapped pictures for the blog of a large roost of monarchs in the Fall as they flew to Mexico.

I have known of butterflies all of my life, but only in the last fifteen years have I begun to look deeply into the ecology of where I live in north Erath County, Texas.  This blog I write, Sage to Meadow, has become a platform for me to the rest of the world, a medium of communicating my love of nature, its greens and browns, births and deaths that encompass us all.  Butterflies such as the monarch abound where I live and I did not know milkweed was a prime source of its nutrition.

Milkweed, like many other things, is an example of nature’s complexity and diversity, for although it is a prime source of food for butterflies, its over-indulgence by horses and cattle is toxic and may result in death if untreated.  When I learned of that last year, I quickly researched  the milkweed and its correlation with horses and found that adequate grass and grain prevents the livestock from consuming large quantities of milkweed.

So, the lesson here is balance for farmers and ranchers.  Keep good stands of grass in the field, do not overgraze, and horses and man and butterflies can co-exist.  It’s not the final lesson of life, but it’s one of the best lessons to acquire — for the monarchs can continue to find food to and from Mexico, horses will graze elsewhere and be pacified, and we will be able to look upon all their beauty and grace as we observe from close and far away the interconnectedness of us all.

 

Green-flowered Milkweed (Asclepias asperula), May 2010, north Erath County, Texas.

 

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Monarch Butterfly Roost at Flying Hat Ranch

Monarch Butterflies, Mingus, Texas (Photo by J. Matthews)

North Erath County, Texas, Lat 32.43 N, Long -98.36 W, elev. 1,086 ft. Turkey Creek Quad.

There are only nine Monarch butterflies in this roost, but it is a grouping that I photographed as the sun set this evening.

Five years ago, Brenda was walking Yeller, our Aussie-Lab mix, and as she came back to the house, Yeller kept looking up in the sky.  Brenda, puzzled, looked up and hundreds of Monarch butterflies filled the space above our house.  They probably roosted in the grove, but I was unaware of their habit patterns.  We have not seen such a sight again.

Over the past two weeks, I have noticed Monarchs floating lazily across the interstate between Mingus and Abilene.  Not many.  I’ve counted only, at the most, four monarchs on the way back to my home, a trip of 87.2 miles.

This evening I took these photographs of the Monarchs that are roosting in our live-oak trees in front of the house.  There are nine Monarchs.  (One Monarch is nearby, but out of the photo frame.)  They have settled in for the night.  October is for turning leaves and the Monarch.  It is a small grouping, but a grouping nonetheless.

They seem so fragile, but I have read they migrate for hundreds of miles without injury.  Above our ranch, there also soars Sandhills Crane when the frigid temperatures force them southward.  I shall photograph the Sandhills when they pass this season.  I first hear them, then I see them.  With the Monarch, first I see them and then I gaze on them intently, sensing a unity they have as a cluster, roosting together like birds, like birds.

A Small Roost of Monarch Butterflies

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Notes:

Our house is on a knoll, called Poprock Hill, and in chasing the Monarchs before I saw them roosting, I took several pictures of Monarchs that were out of focus and sailing southward.  Then, Brenda, said, “Look in the front yard!”  I was so anxious to get pictures I couldn’t focus the camera.  But, the Monarchs were patient with me and opened their wings for some reason.  I got the pictures without falling off the terraces.  Other Monarchs are floating above our tree line and probably will roost close by, but these guys are in the big live oak tree in front of our porch.

Update, October 14, 2010.  As I left this morning to go down to the barn to feed and then commute to Abilene, I went back out to the Monarch roost.  I shined a flashlight on the roost and the Monarchs were still resting.  The temperature was between 38 deg. F. and 45 deg. F. about the area — from here to the interstate, about four miles north.  I’ve spotted no Monarchs this afternoon.  I watched closely until dark.

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Filed under Life in Balance, Monarch Butterfly