columnist

Thom Smith, NatureWatch columnist.

Monarch butterfly resting on purple cone flowers

Monarch butterflies were recently added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List as an endangered species. 

READER COMMENTS

Ned K., of Pittsfield, wrote, “A few weeks ago when I was helping Kim [my daughter] move into her house; one of her neighbors told us to be careful since snakes are in the area and seeing a snake in his yard, killed it because “it was a snake.” After telling us what it looked like, it was a garter. We explained the goodness of snakes and to let them live. After reading your column, it reminded me that it might be prudent to include in a future column the importance of snakes and to enhance their habitat rather than senselessly killing them.”

Meredith C., of Williamstown, wrote, “Another enemy of the monarch butterfly: abnormal heat and drought caused by climate change. We have at least two big patches of milkweed, which we protect from the mower. Two weeks ago, it all was in full bloom, the scent was heavy and sweet. The blooms were covered with butterflies and all sorts of bees. But gradually, the heat and drought began to make the milkweed plants droop, and then the milkweed blossoms began to wilt and dry. Finally, we had some decent rain on 7/19, and the milkweed plants revived, but the blossoms did not. They are totally dried up, and no milkweed seedpods will emerge.”

Nancy S., of Pittsfield, wrote, “Friends and I are seeing an unusually large number of deer flies this summer in Pittsfield, Adams and Florida. Why has their number increased? On a happy note, there are honeybees in my garden this year! There have always been bumblebees, but this is a first for my Pittsfield garden.

Lisa H. wrote about gray squirrels, “In regard to grey squirrels and water, I'm sure your readers did see muskrats (column from 7/24), but I had to tell you about the time that we were kayaking on Lake Winnipesaukee, in an area of connected coves with several small islands. We saw something small in the water that wasn’t a bird — coming closer, we realized it was a grey squirrel swimming strongly and with great intent toward the shore. It was quite a way from any other land but didn't seem at all distressed — when it arrived on shore, it shook off and hopped away toward a tree!

In other notes, I was delighted to spot two monarch caterpillars in my butterfly weed patch a couple of weeks ago. On Friday (7/22), I saw a monarch in my yard that I hope was one of "mine." I also found another caterpillar on a milkweed plant in the sidewalk strip, which is planted for pollinators.

Yesterday I spotted a toadlet by my front steps — I hope it makes it home there.”

Frances B., of Florida, wrote, “Saw my first monarch a few days ago [Maybe 7-20]. It stayed around for quite a while and enjoyed my echinacea.”

Jimbo D., from Dalton, wrote, “I agree garter snakes seem less common. That is why I was surprised three summers ago when I heard something and looked to see a very fat 3-foot long garter snake struggling to get under my front porch through a latticework opening. His girth may have been increased by a recent meal.

The following spring, I removed the access panel to my hot tub behind the garage so I could drain it and found the recess around the pump full of the remains of tree seeds — and a shed snake skin. I reached in to clear the debris and was startled by the movement of a large garter snake who retreated further into the hot tub cabinet. I left the access panel off for the rest of the day and checked again in the evening. He was gone, as were all the rodents that had made a mess of tunnels in the insulating foam around the hot tub. The snake must have enjoyed the warmth of my hot tub that winter. I had to think it could be the same large garter snake I had seen the summer before.

I appreciated his extermination services, but after removing all the panels, vacuuming out all the seed and foam insulation debris, and spraying foam to fill in all the tunnels the rodents had made, I replaced the thin fiberglass screen the spa manufacturer used to cover the ventilation opening with 1/4-inch hardware cloth. Those buggers were never able to move back into my hot tub cabinet, nor would the garter snake.

Fishing the West Branch of the Westfield River in Becket five years ago, I was stunned to see a large light brown snake swim across the river downstream of me. I watched him ascend a rock in the middle of the stream and sun himself. I believe it was a Northern water snake.

In June, my fishing buddies and I were hiking a trail to a remote pond in Sandwich, N.H. The trail had been partially flooded by beavers. I was startled to see a big black snake. I got a photo of him as he started to swim away on the flooded trail. I'm guessing it was a Northern water snake, too, despite his being black instead of light brown. I'm pretty sure there are no black mambas in the wild in New England!”

Email Thom Smith at Naturewatch41@gmail.com or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 South Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.