Thom Smith | Naturewatch: More monarchs spotted in the Berkshires

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There is much excitement about monarch butterflies this summer:



Q We have been trying to lure the monarchs back to the area by growing as many milkweed plants as we can. This year it finally paid off as we had a few of the butterflies and then finally over 12 caterpillars on the leaves just recently. My wife is very excited about this as she has been the one really pushing hard to get them to return.

— Tony and Nat B., Peru



A Well, I, too, planted milkweed last autumn and again this past spring, with only one common milkweed seeing the return of monarchs. I also have three very successful swamp milkweeds growing a minimum of 2 to 3 feet in height and bushy, unlike the single stalk common milkweed. I also planted from stock, a butterfly weed that is now a low, shrubby bush. All three have flowers worthy of a flower garden, especially the butterfly weed with the common milkweed a close second, followed by the swamp. All three are important pollinator plants, and regardless of what species of milkweed, it is necessary to the monarch, as it is the only plant family monarch caterpillars will eat. As is obvious, the swamp milkweed prefers damper soil. On the other hand, the butterfly weed needs sandy, dry soil. Common isn't as fussy, except like the other milkweeds it needs plenty of sun. Not seeing a single monarch the summer before last, I am certainly excited the past month here atop Crane Avenue in Pittsfield with the monarch activity. Apparently, the numbers are down, even though in the Northeast at least, we are seeing far more. Inhospitable weather on their wintering grounds in Mexico is a primary reason. And, for sure, few, if any, migrating monarchs survived Hurricane Harvey, and at the time of this writing, we can only hope Irma dissipates quickly.



WANT TO BE A CITIZEN SCIENTIST?

Report your monarch sightings at journeynorth.org/monarch when you begin seeing them migrating south or when they begin arriving in the spring. Visit the Monarch Joint Venture for even more details about what you can do at monarchjointventure.org/get-involved/create-habitat-for-monarchs. For the 2017 plans to help monarchs, go to monarchjointventure.org/images/uploads/documents/2017_MJV_Implemenation_Plan_FINAL.pdf/ and learn about this year's plans to save the monarch butterfly!



LATE HUMMINGBIRD VISITORS:

Q Hi Thom, I read your article [last Sunday] about feeding late hummers. Up here in Florida [Mass.], I have recorded a bird as late as Oct. 9. We always leave the feeders up until Oct. 15 to help late arrivals from up north get through our area. I got that info about leaving the feeders up from the same source that I got all my hummingbird info from, the late Bob Sargent. That guy was a wealth of knowledge and really got me going on hummers. I don't think anyone can doubt his word.

— Chuck A., Florida, Mass.



A With changes in climate, hummingbirds are arriving earlier by a few days than averaged when I began birding, some 60 years ago, with later records being recorded. So it makes sense to get your hummingbird feeders out by the last week of April, to be on the safe side, and leave them out to mid-October, just in case. Hoffmann Bird Club records, according to the late David St. James (1948-2014) indicate Oct. 8 and 12 for "late" records with a very late record of Nov. 20, 2006. Most hummers have departed by mid-September, just not all of them.

I had breakfast with Bob Sargent and his lovely wife at Paul Brennan's place with his friend, Holly, the winter before last. Bob was not well then, but eager to share his thoughts about birds. I always very much enjoyed reading Bob's column about birds and sightings in Windsor and I certainly never doubted his word. A reminder to our readers in Southern Vermont and Western Massachusetts to keep a lookout for hummers and email me the latest sightings. Do not forget to include your town in the email.

Questions and comments: Email Thom Smith at Naturewatch@live.com or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.






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