The monarch migration is well underway. The iconic butterflies fluttering into California from the Pacific Northwest engage in "nectar stops" to fuel their flight to their overwintering sites along coastal California.
They are not the only ones seeking nectar.
Monarch: "Sweet! Look what I found! Nectar! Did someone plant this patch of zinnias just for me?"
Honey Bee: (Buzzing in) "Share, Monarch! I need some of that nectar to take home to my colony. Winter's coming and my queen and my sisters need more nectar to tide us over until spring."
Monarch: "Sorry, Bee. I'm on a tight flight schedule and you can always get your nectar tomorrow."
Honey Bee: "Maybe if I buzz your wings, you'll leave!"
Monarch: (Wings up) "I can take the hint, but I'll be back!"
"The annual migration of North America's monarch butterfly is a unique and amazing phenomenon. The monarch is the only butterfly known to make a two-way migration as birds do. Unlike other butterflies that can overwinter as larvae, pupae, or even as adults in some species, monarchs cannot survive the cold winters of northern climates. Using environmental cues, the monarchs know when it is time to travel south for the winter. Monarchs use a combination of air currents and thermals to travel long distances. Some fly as far as 3,000 miles to reach their winter home!...Monarchs living west of the Rocky Mountain range in North America overwinter in California along the Pacific coast near Santa Cruz and San Diego...Monarchs roost in eucalyptus, Monterey pines, and Monterey cypresses in California."--U.S. Forest Service
"A three-week count in November and December 2022, conducted over 272 sites in coastal California by the Portland-based Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, tallied 335,479 of the orange-and-black iconic butterflies, an increase of 36% over the 247,237 counted the previous year. More importantly, the rebounding species (Danaus plexippus) hit an all-time low of 2,000 in 2020, leaving biologists concerned it would disappear from North America."--Los Angeles Daily News.
And just like that, a female monarch butterfly fluttered into our Vacaville pollinator garden this morning, Aug. 10, and left a dozen or so calling cards: precious eggs.
We earlier saw a male monarch patrolling the garden on the morning of July 23, but he left to go find the girls.
So, total number of monarchs sighted in our garden so far this year: 2. (In 2016, we counted more than 300 eggs and caterpillars.)
Ms. Monarch deposited eggs on three milkweed plants: a narrow-leafed milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis, and two tropical milkweeds, Asclepias curassavica. She favored a lone tropical milkweed thriving in a planter. It's already attracted honey bees, leafcutter bees, syrphid flies, crab spiders, cabbage white butterflies, Gulf Fritillaries, mourning cloaks, gray hairstreaks, Western tiger swallowtails, ants, aphids, and a young praying mantis lying in wait.
Ms. Monarch totally ignored the showy milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, that towers over the garden. Not for me, she seemed to say. Ditto on the butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa.
We managed a few images of Ms. Monarch in flight, several images of her laying eggs, and a couple of the ever-so tiny eggs clinging beneath the leaves.
Welcome, Ms. Monarch. Now go tell all your buddies where to find the milkweed of your choice, and the rich nectar sources such as Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotunifola).
And you better warn them about that praying mantis...
It was a little late.
The first flameskimmer of the year usually arrives in our yard in early April.
Not this year. The species, Libellula saturata, was late.
The easily recognized red dragonfly, also known as "the firecracker skimmer," touched down in our yard today, May 24.
She perched on a bamboo stick in our pollinator garden, close to a fish pond, and eyed her surroundings.
It's amazing to watch them grab a flying insect and return to the perch to devour it.
Dragonflies belong to the order Odonata, which means "toothed one" in Greek.
Danish zoologist Johan Christian Fabricius, a student of Carl Linnaeus, coined the term Odonata in 1793. He is considered one of the greatest entomologists of the 18th century, according to Wikipedia. He named nearly 10,000 species of animals.
"My old flame" returned Saturday, July 2.
A strong north wind aided him.
It wasn't the "old flame" from last year, but a new generation.
Still, what a beauty of a dragonfly--a red flameskimmer or firecracker skimmer (Libellula saturata), native to Western North America.
Big Red perched on a tomato stake and checked out his surroundings, as a gale-like wind engulfed him.
Still, he stood his ground, or rather, his perch.
Big Red even managed to zip off and grab lunch (a bee) and return to eat it.
He didn't seem to mind the photographer seeking portraits of him during his lunch hour.
Saturday, April 9 was the day a clothespin sprang to life.
Some 200 praying mantis nymphs emerged from an ootheca that Mama Mantis (Stagmomantis limbata) had deposited last summer in our pollinator garden in Vacaville.
We first noticed the camouflaged ootheca (aka eggcase or ooth) on the wooden clothespin in mid-March when we were hanging a freshly laundered dog blanket on the line.
Then on that warm Saturday, with temperatures edging 80 degrees, the clothespin exploded with life. From a distance, the nymphs looked like feathery little ants flicking about.
Looking a lot like Mama, they edged out of the ooth, crawled up and down the clothesline, and then some ascended a metallic quail sculpture, the highest point.
A bird's eye view.
Praying mantis experts say that only a handful will survive to maturity. Yes, they will eat one another, along with other small insects such as fruit flies and aphids. Then they will advance to larger prey.
When Sunday dawned, they were gone.