Ol' Blue Eyes.
What a treat to see. No, not an old movie starring Ol' Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra (1915-1998), but the blue-eyed darner, the Rhionaeschna multicolor blue-eyed darner, Aeshna multicolor.
Like a spinning helicopter struggling in a brisk breeze, the dragonfly circled our Spanish lavender patch in our bee friendly (and dragonfly friendly) garden in Vacaville, Calif. for just the right spot. It finally landed its 2.6-inch frame on one of the outside blossoms.
Hey, here I am! Take my picture!
So, I did.
Then it flew over the fish pond and it was over and out.
The blue-eyed darner is one of California's earliest emerging spring dragonflies and what a beauty. Its distribution, according to Odonatocentral.org: "Central and western North America from southern Alberta and British Columbia to Texas and California southward to Morelos, Mexico."
"This is a common, predominately blue western species," according to Odonatocentral.org. "The face, eyes and pale spots are all brilliant blue...There are the usual pale blue spots throughout its length. The male cerci are forked. Females may have blue or yellow-green thoracic stripes and abdominal spots."
This is our first dragonfly sighting of the season.
The welcome mat is out.
What amazing journeys!
For the last two months, migratory monarch butterflies have regularly stopped for flight fuel in our 600-square-foot pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. to nectar on Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), butterfly bush (Buddleia) and Lantana.
At any given time--morning and afternoon throughout September and October--we'd see four and five in the garden. A veritable migratory corridor! A veritable visual feast!
Now it's November, and we haven't seen any for a week. They've probably already reached their destination--overwintering sites in the area, including Santa Cruz and Pacific Grove.
On Labor Day, we photographed a tagged one, part of the research project of David James, entomologist at Washington State University. (See Bug Squad blog; WSU News story by Linda Seiford; and a Daily Evergreen piece by reporter Haley Donwerth on the Vacaville find. ABC, Channel 10, Sacramento, also covered "Why does this butterfly have a sticker on it?", interviewing butterfly expert Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology.
It's exciting to read the reports on the Monarchs in the Pacific Northwest Facebook page, as the tagged monarchs are photographed and recorded. Several recent entries:
- Nov. 7: "Two new tag recoveries from California! Both are currently in the Lighthouse Field, Santa Cruz overwintering colony (currently numbering about 7000) and both were found by John Dayton. The tagged Monarch (shown on the page) has flown at least 750 miles from Redmond, WA where it was reared and released on September 20 by Connie Grandberg. This is the first recovery of a Seattle-area Monarch in our program! There are now 4 PNW-tagged Monarchs residing at Lighthouse Field! We will provide information on the second new recovery once we get all the associated details."
- Nov. 7: Our second new tag recovery from Santa Cruz! This one is remarkable in that it is almost obscured from view among the other butterflies. As luck would have it, the only bit of the tag showing for John Dayton's camera is the bit with the serial number! A6935, is a female, and she was reared in Brookings in southern Oregon by Andrea Christensen and released by her at nearby Redwood Bar along the Chetco River on August 25. Santa Cruz will be Ms A6935's winter home and who knows where she will go next spring? Many thanks to Andrea and John for making this recovery possible!"
- Nov. 2: "Today we proudly announce the 9th long distance tagged Monarch recovery of this season so far! A female Monarch tag B2174 was found on November 1 at Morro Bay State Beach by Regena Orr a biologist with CA State Parks. B2174 was among about 350 clustering Monarchs and has travelled an estimated 792 miles since September 8 when it was released in Yakima, Washington! This Monarch was reared by Cindy Dunbar as part of a rearing program between PNW Monarchs and Cowiche Canyon Conservancy. 152 monarchs were reared by the 14 members of this group in 2016 and this is the first recovery for the group Congratulations! This Monarch now holds the record of the longest distance traveled by a Yakima-released Monarch. The photo shows a silhouetted group of Monarchs at Morro Bay in 2015."
Stay tuned. And stay focused with your camera! You might see a tagged one at an overwintering site.
But at least we know he hails from Ashland.
That's what we learned about the male monarch that fluttered into our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. on Monday, Sept. 5 (Labor Day) on his way to an overwintering site along the California coast.
The tag read "firstname.lastname@example.org," and serial number "A6093," which ties the butterfly to a research project led by Washington State University entomologist David James. He maintains a network of Pacific Northwest citizen scientists who rear, tag and release monarchs.
When I wrote a Bug Squad blog on Oct. 17, 2014 about James' work, encouraging folks to be on the lookout for WSU-tagged monarchs, I figured I'd never see one. Not me. Not ever. And then it happened. A6093 dropped down for some flight fuel.
His presence was pure serendipity for several reasons: (1) I had earlier written about James' work; (2) I'm a WSU grad--"Go Cougars!" and (3) I rear monarchs for conservation purposes (40 so far this season).
So, on Labor Day, I happened to be hanging out in our 600-square-foot pollinator garden, the ever-present camera strapped around my neck, when I spotted a white-tagged monarch 15 feet away. I edged closer (three feet and 10 inches, to be exact), and photographed serendipity.
It was a good day to hang out with a marvelous, magnificent monarch linked to my alma mater and an insect that matters. And I did.
The fellow that reared him was Steve Johnson of Ashland, Ore., a member of the Southern Oregon Monarchs Advocates (SOMA). He tagged him and released him on Sunday, Aug. 28. "So, assuming it didn't travel much on the day you saw it, it flew 285 miles in 7 days or about 40.7 miles per day," WSU entomologist David James told me on Sept. 6. "Pretty amazing. So, I doubt he broke his journey for much more than the five hours you watched him--he could be 100 miles further south by now. Clearly, this male is on his way to an overwintering colony and it's possible we may sight him again during the winter in Santa Cruz or Pacific Grove!”
What a traveler! Let's see, by car it's 410 miles from Ashland to the overwintering site of Santa Cruz. It's 451 miles from Ashland to Pacific Grove. And it's about 113 miles from Vacaville to Santa Cruz. I can get lost in a five-mile range.
After posting a Bug Squad blog on the migrating monarch, I received a delightful email from Steve Johnson, with the subject line “I am the tagger!”
Omigosh! The tagger!
“I am so glad that my progeny, A6093, made it to Vacaville,” he began. “I have released about 80 monarchs thus far this season and have tagged about 30." This is his first year to tag. Some were raised from eggs while others were collected as caterpillars from native milkweed on a five-acre parcel outside of Ashland (a parcel that includes 2.5 acres of vineyards). Some were reared at his home in Ashland.
"Since that time, the population has exploded on the property. That fall, we found a large caterpillar in the vineyard and just put a fire pit screen over it to protect it. Well, it made its chrysalis on the screen and we moved it to our greenhouse since it was starting to get cool in October. After 21 days it eclosed and we released it at the very end of October. We seriously considered driving it to Redding because of the pending forecast for an early winter-type storm!”
Yes, "monarch parents" are dedicated!
So last year Steve and Laurel began collecting caterpillars from the five acres and rearing them in commercially available cages. And, with the seed they collected in her vineyards and gardens, they also planted showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) in large pots at his house in town. They released 85 monarchs last year.
This spring, he and Laurel planted more seed at his house in town, both in pots and in the ground. The old adage, "plant it and they will come," rang true. The monarchs came!
“Although the butterflies were not numerous, a few females loved to lay their eggs in the potted milkweed and we probably collected as many caterpillars/eggs on the 1/3 acre in town as we did on the five acres in the vineyard," Johnson related. "For some reason there are far fewer butterflies and caterpillars on the five acres this year as compared to last year. In fact, right now, we are only seeing occasional migrants nectaring on our butterfly wall. We had days where we would see 8-10 monarchs skittering about the vineyard and gardens but not close to what we had last year. In town, in addition, we planted heartleaf milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) and despite its small size in the first year we collected a few caterpillars from this beautiful species.”
Give a lot of credit to the Southern Oregon Monarchs Advocates (SOMA), formed in 2014, and to its leader Tom Landis. Last year SOMA reared and released more than 2000 monarchs as part of the WSU project. "This year we're putting more emphasis on controlled rearing in schools and have over a half-dozen schools in northern California and southern Oregon participating," said Landis, who worked at a Forest Service nursery in Colorado and then served as an Extension agent for nurseries across the west. "My primary focus has been monarchs and milkweeds workshops (67 so far) and creating pollinator habitat with monarch way stations."
Meanwhile, WSU entomologist David James continues his monarch research. In his "Annual Project Progress Report for 2015: Developing an Understanding of Monarch Butterfly Breeding and Migration Biology in the Pacific Northwest," the associate professor wrote that "with assistance from inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, a total of 1487 monarchs were reared, tagged and released from Walla Walla, Yakima and Prosser during August and September. An additional 1400 monarchs were reared and tagged by citizen science collaborators in Oregon, Idaho and Nevada. Nineteen fall migrants were tagged at Lower Crab Creek. Thus, a grand total of 2906 monarchs were tagged during late summer and fall 2015 in the Pacific Northwest. At the time of writing (February 2016), 16 tagged monarchs have been recovered at distances greater than 50 miles from the release location, mostly in overwintering colonies on the California coast. The longest distance traveled was 775 miles by 2 males released at Walla Walla and Pasco found in the same overwintering colony at Morro Bay, CA. "
His project goals and objectives are five-fold:
- To determine the phenology and ecology of monarch butterfly breeding in eastern Washington.
- To determine migration directions, routes and destinations used by summer and autumn monarch butterfly generations in the Pacific Northwest.
- To determine the environmental cues responsible for inducing reproductive dormancy and migratory behavior in Pacific Northwest monarch butterflies.
- To engage incarcerated citizens at the Washington State Penitentiary in scientific research with demonstrable social and educational benefits to themselves and the corrections community.
- To provide scientific information needed for development of effective and targeted nectar and host plant conservation strategies along monarch butterfly migration corridors
As for Steve Johnson, it's really a small world. The "Monarch Dad" is connected to UC Davis and the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR). His late father, Walter Johnson, a UC Davis grad, served as a UC Extension agent for 40 plus years in Alameda, Placer and Shasta counties. A brother and two nephews are also UC Davis grads.
As for A6093, we're all wondering where he is now. Johnson quipped that maybe the monarch needs a name instead of a number. Maybe the name of a vineyard? It's possible A6093 came from an egg or a caterpillar in a vineyard that Banke leased to Eliana Wines. "The owner has a small tasting room on the property (on Gaerky Creek Road) where the tasters can sit out and watch the monarchs," Johnson noted. The owner, determined to evoke the elegance of the wine, named his wine Eliana, which in Hebrew and Romance languages means "God has answered."
This is for certain: A6093 was born in Ashland: either in town or in a vineyard just outside of town. He was tagged and released from town.
Meanwhile, keep an eye open for WSU-tagged monarchs. Their migration will continue through Northern California to coastal California until the end of October, James said. Then in February, the monarchs will leave their overwintering sites and head inland.
Let's hope that A6093 or Eliana will be one of them.
A monarch—the most special monarch ever--fluttered over our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. on Monday afternoon, Sept. 5 and touched down on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).
As it sipped nectar, I glimpsed something white, round, and lettered, something I've never seen before in the wild. This one was tagged.
Shouldering my camera with a macro lens as long as a military tactical flashlight, I slowly edged around the garden, nearly hugging my new best friend, a cherry laurel hedge, as I tried not to look like a predator seeking prey.
Please, please, don't fly away. Stay still for a few minutes so I can read your tag. Please. Please. I want to know where you're from, how far you've traveled to get here.
As if on cue, Danaus plexippus stayed still and I shot away on the continuous mode setting with my camera, a Nikon D700 equipped with a 70-180 macro lens. It's a handy lens for fluttering monarchs and skittish insects that move in and out of your viewfinder.
But when I read the little round white tag, my eyes widened and I think I did a happy dance or a somersault or a pirouette. The tag, with a serial number, read “Monarch@wsu.edu A6093.” Oh, wow! This monarch is from my alma mater, Washington State University.
Where have you been, email@example.com? I've been looking all over for you since Oct. 17, 2014 when I also encouraged others to look for you.
The next time you see a monarch butterfly heading your way--or settled in at an overwintering site in coastal California or in central Mexico--check to see if it's tagged.
It may have flown hundreds of miles from the Pacific Northwest, and Washington State University entomologist David James is eager to know where you found it.
James, an associate professor at Washington State University, studies the migration routes and overwintering sites of the Pacific Northwest Monarch population, which are thought to overwinter primarily in coastal California but also in central Mexico. He spearheads a Monarch-tagging project in which volunteers--primarily inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla--rear and release the butterflies.
And voila! There is firstname.lastname@example.org A6093.
To put it frankly, A6093 and I became quite close. True-blue friends. Well, he's orange and black, actually. Still, it was a five-hour friendship. I first saw him at 1 p.m., and he hung around our pollinator garden for five hours. How did I know the gender? When he spread his wings, I saw the familiar black dots.
A6093 was exciting to watch. He'd pause to sip some nectar from the Mexican sunflowers and butterfly bush, and then soar upward again, meeting and pursuing other butterflies. He was part of a swirl of orange butterflies, a symphony of orange butterflies, dancing in the sky to music only they could hear.
But here's what's really exciting. We emailed entomologist David James of WSU and learned that the monarch was tagged by Steven Johnson of Ashland, Ore. and released on Sunday, Aug. 28. “Information is slowly trickling in,” he wrote back today. “I think it likely that Steven reared it from an egg laid on his property."
"So, assuming it didn't travel much on the day you saw it, it flew 285 miles in 7 days or about 40.7 miles per day. Pretty amazing. So, I doubt he broke his journey for much more than the five hours you watched him--he could be 100 miles further south by now."
"Clearly this male is on his way to an overwintering colony and it's possible we may sight him again during the winter in Santa Cruz or Pacific Grove!”
Maybe we'll get more tagged monarchs? "You could well find another tag in your yard!" James said. "We believe they do take defined routes (valleys, rivers) so you may well be on a 'route.'"
So apparently our yard was a fueling stop or an "oasis," as James put it. "The tagged male--had you been able to look inside its body--would have been full of 'fat body' and a very reduced reproductive tract..so his interest in the opposite sex is currently minimal..and it'll stay that way until Feb 2017!"
(Editor's note: If you see a WSU-tagged monarch, take a photo and let WSU know. Contact email@example.com or the Facebook page. For more information about the project, see WSU's monarch butterfly news story about inmates' tagging project, and a news story on monarch decline.)
Washington State Prisoners Raise and Release Monarch Butterflies, Entomology Today, Entomological Society of America
A mid-life chrysalis?
Well, maybe not mid-life, but definitely out of season.
A female monarch butterfly eclosed today in our little indoor butterfly habitat. Two weeks ago, we “rescued” the caterpillar from a narrow-leafed milkweed plant in our Vacaville pollinator garden and brought it inside. Our goal: conservation. We sought to protect it from prey, including the resident scrub jays.
So, this morning, we lost a chrysalis and gained a butterfly. She was right on schedule: Eclosure after 10 days as a chrysalis.
When the temperature hit 61 degrees at around 1 p.m., we released her. She fluttered a bit, and then soared straight up, a good 80 feet high. Usually when we release the monarchs, they flutter around, sometimes touching down on a bush and sometimes soaring over it. This one wasted no time.
On its way to Santa Cruz?
Not sure. At 3:30 p.m., we spotted a monarch butterfly--same one?--roosting on our African blue basil as a dozen honey bees buzzed around, gathering nectar.
Meanwhile, the fellow members of her species are winging their way to their overwintering sites: the monarchs east of the Rockies to the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico, and those west of the Rockies to the California coast, including the Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz, and Pacific Grove in Monterey County. They cluster in eucalyptus, Monterey pines, and Monterey cypresses.
Monarchs do not fly at night. They travel only during the day and then find a roosting spot for the night. "Roost sites are important to the monarch migration," according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service. "Many of these locations are used year after year. Often pine, fir and cedar trees are chosen for roosting. These trees have thick canopies that moderate the temperature and humidity at the roost site. In the mornings, monarchs bask in the sunlight to warm themselves."
How many miles can monarchs travel a day? Between 50 to 100 miles, the Forest Service says. "It can take up to two months to complete their journey. The farthest ranging monarch butterfly recorded traveled 265 miles in one day."
Monarchs use a combination of directional aids, including the magnetic pull of the earth and the position of the sun. They take advantage of the air currents and thermals as they head toward their overwintering sights.
To think that we humans can barely make it out of the neighborhood without our GPS devices!
As of 5 p.m., the monarch roosting on the African blue basil is still there. The bees are gone, back to the warmth of their hives.
Tomorrow, our little buddy will warm her flight muscles, sip a little nectar, and take flight.
Safe travels, Miss Monarch!