Monarch butterfly

The Xerces Society — an international conservation group — 24th annual winter butterfly count found the population of monarchs that winters along the California coast hit a low of less than 2,000 butterflies.

Tim Z. of the town of Florida sent this:

"On Jan. 17, 2021, the Xerces Society — an international conservation group — announced the results of its 24th annual winter butterfly count, and the news isn't good for butterfly lovers. The group reported that the population of monarchs that winters along the California coast hit a low of less than 2,000 butterflies, a 99.9 percent decline since the 1980s, when up to 10 million butterflies overwintered in California."

It is never too early to resume or begin to be concerned over the plight of the monarch butterfly. I belong to Xerces, but somehow missed this announcement. I would say that the news is not good for butterfly lovers, and the discovery is drastic for the monarch butterflies.

Through a little research, I learned that the previous winter, they recorded 29,000, and the year before that, 27,000.

This enormous decline from the tens of thousands tallied in recent years, and millions that clustered in trees from northern California's Marin County to San Diego County in the south in the 1980s is more than depressing. Imagine seeing not a single monarch!

The reason for the decline is widespread: the critical decline of milkweed along their migratory route; destruction of habitat for housing and other construction; and farming associated with increased or continued use of herbicides and pesticides. The tremendous extent of the wildfires throughout the western U.S. has negatively influenced their migration and breeding. And according to researchers, climate change is another driver toward their extinction.

Here in the East, the monarch population has fallen about 80 percent since the mid-1990s.

NO STATE, FEDERAL PROTECTION 

Monarch butterflies lack state and federal legal protection. The Xerces Society will keep pursuing protection for the monarch, although, it may be too late for the western population without immediate help.

We can help the eastern population and those in the West can do the same by planting early-blooming flowers and milkweed to fuel migrating monarchs on their paths.

POLLINATORS ALSO AT RISK

According to Xerces: "Pollinators are essential to our environment. The ecological service they provide is necessary for the reproduction of over 85 percent of the world's flowering plants, including more than two-thirds of the world's crop species. The United States alone grows more than 100 crops that either need or benefit from pollinators, and the economic value of these native pollinators is estimated at $3 billion per year in the U.S.

Beyond agriculture, pollinators are keystone species in most terrestrial ecosystems. Fruits and seeds derived from insect pollination are a major part of the diet of approximately 25 percent of all birds, and of mammals ranging from red-backed voles to grizzly bears.

Unfortunately, in many places, pollination's essential service providers are at risk from habitat loss, pesticide use, and introduced diseases. Follow the links below to learn more about these vital insects, the Xerces Society's pollinator conservation work, and how you can help."

MONARCH JOURNEY NORTH IN THE EAST

Our monarchs will begin their journey north soon, and some may have started already. We will have to give these time to get here, as those leaving the winter resting grounds in pine and fir forests west of Mexico's capital will take time to reach the southern states and breed, providing another generation to continue the journey north.

Last year, only one person (West Stockbridge) reported a monarch sighting from Berkshire County to Journey North, a site that I have been following for many years to track the progress monarchs make. I must admit that I have not reported first sightings recently, considering it late when I see our first monarch in June. However, I realized just recently that Journey North records all monarch sightings. It would be nice to see reports from The Berkshires, however.

And while I will be mentioning monarch migration as the season progresses, I hope friends in Florida (Naples, for instance) will let me know the first sightings of migrants, as well as our northern readers.

And if you want to report them to Journey North, go to: journeynorth.org/sightings. You can also report the first ruby-throated hummingbird, Baltimore oriole, or an assortment of different observations from first frog heard singing, first tulip blossom, milkweed sprout, first red-wing blackbird all at Journey North. 

READER'S COMMENT

On Tuesday, cross-country skiing in a marshy area with a good 16 inches of soft snow on the ground, I came across what I thought were very big bear tracks. I had seen similar smaller tracks before that. It appeared that the bear's body pushed up the snow as it went along, furrowing the snow! It presented as if 16-inch-diameter pipe had been pressed on the ground, with the bear's tracks puncturing the bottom of the imprint. Given the nature of the snow, there was no clearly defined paw prints. I skied on and neglected to take a picture. 

— James S., Lenox