Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Air Traffic Control

We need air traffic control on the County Line these days.
A walk through trees stirs up butterflies swooping on air currents while they dodge darting dragon flies. With the wind blowing the past two days, the migrating Monarchs look for a respite in the shelterbelts and tree lines.
At a hay auction last week, I spotted a woolly bear caterpillar. A retired farmer saw me taking photos and told me I could start my own meme. (Who knew he'd know about memes!?) And I asked him, "Aren't they supposed to be a sign that winter is coming?"

He confirmed my recollection of folklore, and a Google search when I got home brought me a little more information. Here’s the legend: The woolly bear caterpillar has 13 distinct segments of either rusty brown or black. The wider the rusty brown sections (or the more brown segments there are), the milder the coming winter will be. The more black there is, the more severe the winter.

It appears we could be in trouble. But since it's been 80-degrees-plus the past two days, winter seems eons away. And who has time to worry about that when another sign of fall is moving through my backyard? With several of my friends posting congregations of Monarchs hanging out in their trees, I know I'm not alone in having an "air bnb" in the backyard.
Monarch butterflies are not cold hardy and cannot survive our freezing winters. However, they are one of very few insect species that can feed on milkweed.
This milkweed bloomed in our pastures this summer.
Milkweed is cold hardy, with milkweed species growing all the way into Canada. The monarch butterflies fly north each year to take advantage of this milkweed food source. But they must migrate back to Mexico each winter.
Each spring, the adult butterflies that have overwintered begin flying north and laying eggs on milkweed. These generations of monarchs stairstep their way until some reach Canada.
Butterflies are truly miraculous.

If nothing ever changed, there'd be no butterflies.
- Author Unknown

That's quite a reminder for this change-challenged person. They are the ultimate symbol of transformation. As George Carlin once quipped, "The caterpillar does all the work but the butterfly gets all the publicity."
I'm not sure that's true of monarch butterflies. It sounds like a lot of work to me to travel for two months, across thousands of miles, bucking wind and rain and predators. And it's all to get to a destination they've never visited before.
They begin the journey in their summer home in Canada and the northern regions of the U.S. They are headed for a mountain range 70 miles west of Mexico City in central Mexico, where they find the perfect habitat to survive November through March in the Oyamel forests. As many as 300 million spend the winter there. Wouldn't that be a sight to see?
They aren't like ducks and geese which migrate year after year. They will only make this journey one time. So how do they know where to go?
It is just another miracle of God's creation. Researchers say that it appears to be a combination of directional aids such as the magnetic pull of the earth, the position of the sun and the availability of milkweed. No matter the reason, they are a beautiful signal of fall.
As I was mowing on Friday, I almost had a mid-air collision with this beauty taking a breather in a pear tree.
"I'll just back up and let you hang out," I told my visitor. 
Mowing isn't my favorite job. But it does have its perks during Monarch migration.


  1. Wow, amazing. We have monarchs. I must google and see if they migrate.

    1. How interesting that you have monarchs, too!

    2. https://www.backyardbuddies.org.au/backyard-buddies/monarch-butterflies

    3. Thank you, Helen! I enjoyed reading the article!

  2. I’ve had monarchs migrating from Canada stop in my garden in Michigan. And the hummingbirds passed through a couple of weeks ago.

    1. There are Kansans who have hummingbirds. Though we have lots of birds, we have never had any hummingbirds here. My grandparents who lived in western Kansas had hummingbirds in their backyard on occasion. They were able to view them from the dining room window, and it always fascinated me. When I see hummingbird decor or cards, I always think of my grandma. You don't think of western Kansas as a place for hummingbirds, but they were wonderful gardeners. (Not a trait I inherited, unfortunately!)