Friday, July 19, 2013

The Mystery of the Missing Monarchs

By this week last year not only did our drought tolerant  Monarch Waystation have monarch eggs, we had already hatched caterpillars. I took this photo to the right of a male monarch on our swamp milkweed last July 4th. So far this year we have absolutely nothing: no eggs, no adults.

This past winter scientists recorded the lowest number ever of overwintering monarchs in Mexico.  The World Wildlife Fund reports a 59% decline in just the past year. This is due to a number of factors including winter habitat loss, fewer milkweed plants, pesticide and herbicide use. Unfortunately there's no one quick fix (of course planting milkweed in your garden is a big help). What I am afraid of is that we're seeing the impact of these record low numbers here in the Northeast. I'm hoping the butterflies are just late due to the colder than usual spring, I'm keeping my fingers crossed. If anyone has seen monarchs please leave me a comment on when and where. 

While I am awaiting the return of the monarchs I have been busy maintaining the riverside native gardens I installed last year with the help of the Slow the Flow Grant from US Fish and Wildlife.  Our certified Monarch Waystation has exploded with returning swamp milkweed, butterflyweed, joe-pye weed, echinacea, ox-eye sunflowers, New Jersey tea, yarrow and white snakeroot. I even pruned back some of the larger perennials to expose the swamp milkweed hoping the monarchs could see it better.

Plants around the other areas of the garden are doing well. My one giant sunflower from last year even self-seeded and its offspring are towering over the beesbalm by kitchen window. The good news is the hummingbirds are back, they must have remembered the buffet I planted for them in the front yard. They've been devouring nectar from the beesbalm and liatris and often hover impatiently over the cardinalflower which is just starting to open.

Despite the record heat wave of the past week I've been slowly tearing out a patch of ancient non-native vinca that doesn't even flower. In its place I'm planting a blueberry hedge, and if I'm lucky my kids will even let my husband and me eat some.

Once the heat breaks I'll start dealing with some of the run-off issues that have been bothering me. The mini rain garden has been doing an amazing job of trapping all the water from the rear roof. But the heavy rains of June and early July have been washing right down the side and back yards and into the river. With some leveling, terracing and ditches in the side yard I plan to force as much rain water as I can back into the ground before it washes straight out to the Atlantic. The whole point of the Slow the Flow grant is to encourage property owners to direct storm water into the ground and not straight out to sea thereby preventing large floods and later droughts. My 0.3 acres might be small, but every little drop helps.

Lizzie releasing one of our raised monarchs last August.
And in the meantime, while awaiting the temps to drop, I'm keeping a close eye on my milkweed. And this is one of two little girls who are getting a little impatient to raise their caterpillars.

UPDATE July 20th: This morning I found our first monarch egg, and had another three by the end of the day. In the late afternoon I finally spotted an actual monarch flying through the yard! So they're here!


  1. This year I've only seen two monarch butterflies, and none at my property. I saw tons of fireflies this year that lasted for almost 5 weeks! Most hydrangeas never flowered, and this year I barely got any tomatoes. I just hope this winter will be milder...

    1. It was a good year for fireflies! Thanks for your comments Javi, I saw you speak at the Slow the Flow workshop that got me the grant (and garden re-do) that this blog covers. My tomatoes are doing great, I hope that continues with late blight being around. So far a slightly better year for monarchs but there's still work to be done. I've actually launched a monarch garden business and education outreach programs to encourage people to plant milkweed. So far I've encouraged a lot of people to add it to their gardens! yay!! Keep up your good work encouraging organic lawn care, I love that you do that!


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