Tuesday, April 26, 2011

April Earth Day Activities Help Monarch Butterflies

The monarch butterflies in Phoenix are finding more habitats around town thanks to many dedicated people in the Valley of the Sun. Last Saturday Girl Scout Troop #665 from Ahwatukee planted Desert Milkweed (Asclepias subulata) and Pine-needle Milkweed (Asclepias linaria) at Tres Rios. The butterfly garden suffered significant freeze damage this past winter so Laura Miller, Joyce Peters, and Christopher Boren, joined Bob and me to remove piles of debris, then the Girl Scouts transformed the area to a butterfly's delight! What a fun morning!

We planned to finish by noon, Easter was the next day, and it was a good thing we met our goal. After everyone left, Bob and I were talking to Ranger Brian Miller and watering the plants. I stepped out of the butterfly area to get something from my car - and found this rattler scooting right towards me! I understand this was a "First Sighting" of a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake at Tres Rios. Some "firsts" I can do without. But the snake curled into a ball next to the Ocotillo fence around the butterfly habitat and waited for us to leave before he slipped inside. Definitely time to go home.

On April 16th I was the lunch speaker for the 2011 Pacific Region of the National Garden Club Conference, "Desert Splendor." Gardeners are such special people, so caring and compassionate towards helping all things nature-related. I loved their table centerpieces accenting my talk, "Saving the Monarch Migration." Everyone was eager to help and they left with information of how to create Monarch Waystations in their own gardens. They were excited to help to spread the word, too.

I love meeting with the docents at the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson. Very special people in my eyes. This time they decided to drive up to Phoenix for a training on tagging monarch butterflies (usually I drive down to Tucson for the day.) We started with a tour of the Desert Botanical Garden led by docent Tom Gatz and visited the Butterfly Pavilion followed by lunch. Nancy White, Assistant Director of Education, treated our guests to freshly baked agave from our recent agave roast. Then we had a lovely time together talking about monarch butterflies. Can't think of a better way to spend the day - just love their joy and excitement! (These are the very same ladies who went tagging monarchs with me in the rain....really. We tagged 11 in the rain. Never did that before.)

The monarchs at Rio Salado saw a boost in habitat thanks to Christoper Boren and Joyce Peters. Together they planted 14 one-gallon Arizona Milkweed, Asclepias angustifolia (also known as Narrowleaf Milkweed) along the creek by the monarch habitat. Christopher started the plants from seed about a year ago. It is people like these, giving their time and care, that is making the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration such a monarch friendly place.

The Migration Celebration at the new Audubon Center downtown was a big monarch hit - even though it was a very cold and windy day laced with rain. Still, families braved the chilly weather and learned about the monarch butterflies right across the river at Rio Salado. Our craft creating monarch caterpillars with white/yellow/black pipe-cleaners is always a big hit. (I think Bob enjoys making them as much as the kids - especially when he tries to make the different instars.)

No doubt it's been a very busy month, but a very good one. Can't sign off without sharing one last bit, though. After a cold winter, the butterflies are returning. It's so good to see them again. This male Monarch has been flying around my yard patrolling the milkweeds for the last three days. His favorite nectar plants surprise me - the Wooly Butterfly Bush, Buddleia marrubifolia, is by far his number one choice, but also Pine-needle Milkweed, Asclepias linaria,  Desert Milkweed, Asclepias subulata, and sunflowers. Even though the Tropical Milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, is blooming well, he ignores them as well as the Arizona Milkweed, Asclepias angustifolia - yet the Gulf Fritillaries and Swallowtails are all over them for nectar. The Monarch is totally ignoring lantana. Today I saw the Gulf's and Swallowtails visit it for the first time, though. Yes, its been a very good month. Enjoy the butterflies! More soon.