Saturday, September 13, 2008

September 2008 II--Take a Walk on the Wild Side

We had a great day in John Williams Park, Sheridan Oak Forest Natural Area on September 13, 2008. Thirteen dedicated volunteers removed bags and bags of exotic invasive plants, and put in nearly four hours of hard manual labor. Our volunteers were primarily Hollywood Hills Key Club members (and a few Girl Scouts joined in, too.) I cannot tell you how awesome these 9th and 10th graders are! This is a photo I took of some of the group during a water-break at the entrance to the Natural Area.
The important thing right now is the timing…Caesar’s Weed, Air Potatoes and Balsam Pear are flowering and producing millions of seeds…this is NOT a good thing. If the seeds ripen and fall to the ground, we’ll have millions more to pull this fall and winter. We pulled hundreds of seedlings and mature plants, but there is plenty more to do. You could think of it as "job security" I suppose; there is always something to do at the park....which brings up this thought:

If your school has students that enjoy being out in the woods with friends and that need community service hours, this is a great opportunity to do something to help the environment, be with your friends, and get your needed community hours in a fun way (ok, yes, it’s a little hard work, but it is fun, too). Email me to make arrangements or to find out more about when we'll be there next:

We always do some environmental education while there, too. Volunteers learn about the native plants “hands-on” (which is the best way to teach anything!) and learn to tell the difference between our native plants and some of the invasives that may look very similar to an untrained eye. They learn to identify just about anything else that crosses our path while we are there, too. Insects (including bugs, butterflies and beetles), snakes (little ring-necks, nothing to be afraid of), spiders (up in the canopy, not a problem), birds, lizards mushrooms…it is a very cool place to be if you love Nature!

Listen, if you are an active type with lots of muscle power, pulling the big weeds and digging up invasive trees (such as Brazilian Pepper and Umbrella Trees) is a job made for you; if you like just sitting in one quiet spot in the forest, you can plunk down in the middle of an invasive seedling patch and clear them out without traveling more than three feet at a time. If you are really meticulous, you can hunt and gather the tiny rosary peas (that will sprout to make a million more plants!)

We joked today that we need some obsessive-compulsives (for the millions of seedlings and seeds), and people who need anger management therapy (for the big plants and trees). Not really, but there is something to suit a lot of different personality types! And I for one, find weeding to be a very relaxing thing…sort of meditative, especially in this beautiful surrounding.

The really great thing about being in the forest is seeing the wonderful wildlife. We saw butterflies galore, some really cool spiders, and many birds today, but the hawk wasn’t around today. I haven’t been able to get a positive ID on him because he flies away too fast (and I never have my binoculars with me because I am working!), but chances are that we have either a Cooper’s or a Sharp-shinned Hawk (both are forest birds who hunt other birds and small mammals.) We did hear the Blue Jays screaming loudly, so he was somewhere out of sight. The only photo I have of him is a mysterious shadow in the canopy…..

Twelve Monarchs emerged safely this week in my butterfly cage and were released; they have to wait for my milkweed to recover before I can host any more though!

A White Peacock visited my home this week, too and was very cooperative about having her picture taken. White Peacocks are a very common South Florida butterfly, whose host plant is Smooth Water Hyssop (Bacopa monnieri) and the pictured Fogfruit (Phyla nodiflora), which is a very common small grass flower.

And our atala colony is still there, too; the two pupae emerged and they must have been a male and a female because we now have 15 new larvae and 27 new eggs. It is always exciting to share the atalas with students, too.

Our NABA meeting this month was very interesting, too! Member Alex Schore did an awesome presentation and we learned that we actually saw more species and more numbers during the Spring than we did in the Summer…that surprised me and a lot of other people, too. Results will be posted soon on the Broward County Butterfly Club website. I am really looking forward to our fall count and hope you can join us on one of the dates at one of the sites where we’ll be counting. You are welcome to attend our free meetings, meet our wonderful members, pick up some awesome butterfly plants at our raffles, and learn more about our butterflies! See last post for times and place for the next meeting and our Fall butterfly counts.

Love Nature…remember that it’s providing you with food, water, shelter and OXYGEN. We need to be so much kinder to the Earth if we want to survive!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

September 2008 Atala News

September is here already, and we are finally getting the heavy rains and hurricane warnings that have been threatening us all season…read last month’s blog if you have vulnerable butterflies, such as atalas, in your garden…they can be protected with little effort on your part, after you secure your family and home, of course. Some of us consider the atala family and friend….

Some history may be in order here. Some of you may not realize that one of the reasons the atala is so vulnerable is because after the coontie was decimated by the starch industries in the early part of the 19th century, remnant colonies held on in isolated areas---but hurricanes impacted those fragile populations brutally. There were more than twenty Category 3 and higher hurricanes between 1921 and 1945, all of which did terrific damage and many people died---but even then tiny remnants of atala colonies persisted deep in wild lands, unbeknownst to anyone. The key, of course, is that there still were wild lands and places we hadn’t managed to destroy yet. But by the 1950’s, most lepidopterists considered the atala extinct!

But then, in the late 1950’s, a small colony was found intact in Broward County….Hey, I got this information from someone who was actually there at the time: Dr. Charlie Covell at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera at the University of Florida---some of those atalas were taken to Gainesville and reared in a safe environment (remember, this was decades before the awesome McGuire Center was even imagined).

That new colony was released in Everglades National Park, and was doing fine until Hurricane Donna struck South Florida in 1960. The colony was devastated and scientists gave up while everyone was trying to recover from the damages. Then Hurricane Andrew…and Gilbert….and increasingly less native pinelands or wild lands. Some of you know the happier ending—Roger Hammer found another population in Virginia Key in 1979! The whole world of butterfly enthusiasts reeled with the good news.

To my knowledge, every one of the atala colonies now extant in South Florida can trace its ancestry back to Virginia Key (that is my PhD thesis, by the way). Fairchild Tropical Gardens raised the larvae Roger found, and scientists since then have been introducing the atala back into its historical range, while enthusiasts have been planting the coontie host plants and re-establishing the nectar sources that development paved over in the name of progress.

The atala did not crash because of its natural cycles; it crashed because we took its host plant and concretized its habitat. The natural disasters simply pushed it over the edge toward extinction. So, this is why your gardens and your colonies are so important.

Atalas aside, my Monarch pupae are safe in a butterfly cage right now and hopefully will not emerge until Ike (and WHOEVER else is out there) has left the premises.

I hope that you will join us at NABA’s next meeting, Thursday, September, 11th at 6:30 for our social time, at the Broward County Extension Office, on College Avenue in Davie. The meeting will begin at 7:00. Our program for the evening will be Alex Schore's power point presentation, "A Comparison of Spring and Summer Butterfly Counts". This evening also marks BCBC's Six Year Celebration, so plan to enjoy some birthday cake decorated with our Chapter's logo, designed by artist David Maxwell, member Mary Maxwell's dearly departed husband. If you would like to contribute native plants for our Plant Raffle at the conclusion of our meetings, we welcome your donations. Tickets are $1 for one or 6 for $5.00. It is a great way to bolster your garden with new native plants, too!

NABA’s next meeting: Thursday, October 9th: Guest Speaker: Kelly Whitney to present "Everything you wanted to know about Swallowtails." Every month this season, NABA members will be concentrating on particular butterfly orders: it’s a chance to learn the details from our experts!

Mark your calendar and plan to participate in the following events:

Sunday, September 28th, 9:00 a.m. to noon: Butterfly and Bird Walk led by yours truly at Hollywood's John Williams Park, Sheridan Oak Forest Natural Area which is a ten acre incredibly beautiful oak hammock. During September, we’re hoping for a lot of migratory warbler activity and migratory butterflies, and all year there are tons of wonderful plants to explore for the native plant people. This Natural Area is not open to the public, so take advantage of this opportunity. Please RSVP to Sandy at 954-449-5428

Volunteers Jessica and Lisa Cook, and Emily and Kevin Daycock helped out at an impromptu planting and exotics removal day out at John Williams on Saturday September 1.
The most exciting news was finding atala pupae while there---I had re-introduced this colony in 2004, so it was wonderful to see them still hanging in there (literally). We had planted numerous native plants some time ago, but the City’s “maintenance crew” got weed-whacker happy and slashed a lot of them horrendously. We were all very upset, but have learned a lesson: everything we plant from now on has to be “caution-taped” and caged to prevent damage.
I have the same battle going on where I live now with the “landscaping crew”---and I have had to threatened them with bodily harm if they so much as attempt to turn my butterfly plants into flowerless squared-off hedges. (Yes, I have spoken to them nicely, in Spanish and English, but the only thing that seems to actually work with them is not so pleasant loudly enunciated verbal expletives….in either language :-)

There will be another Exotics Removal Workshop on September 13th, and November 15, too; John Williams Park, 6101 Sheridan Street, Hollywood, 9 AM to noon. Everyone is welcome to participate—bring water, sunscreen, and snacks if you’d like; it is wise to wear long pants and long-sleeves as mosquitoes can be an issue until winter finally arrives. We remove the ubiquitous invasives, but you’ll also learn about the native plants and wildlife, as well! Hope to see you there, or at one of the other events scheduled soon:

NABA Fall Seasonal Butterfly Counts are coming up soon! TIMES: 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. or 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
October 4, 2008 Saturday, we’ll be counting in two areas: Tree Tops Park/Pine Island Ridge and Long Key Natural Area.
October 11, 2008 Saturday, four areas: Crystal Lake Pine Scrub, Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, Hillsboro Pineland and Coconut Creek Tamarind Village.
Please add your name to the sign up lists at the meeting or RSVP to: Janice Malkoff 954-993-9449 or ; Barbara DeWitt 954-584-3123 for Long Key; Sandy Koi for Hillsboro.

I have also finished a list of over a hundred native butterfly host and nectar plants, specific to an area, for NABA's national website, which should be available for viewing within the next month; Art Constantino, and Mona and Walter Johnston are working on compiling yet another list for the basic cultivated domestic gardens (some native, some not--but NOT invasive!) Linda Evans, at Fairchild Tropical Gardens, is working on a list for Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties, too. Between the five of us, we have wonderful photographs to share with you.
Examples: Giant Cutgrass (Zizaniopsis miliacea), host plant for the Clouded Skipper (Lerema accius) and Least Skipper (Ancyloxypha numitor).
Or the ubiquitous Beggarweed (Desmodium incanum), host plant for the Long-tailed Skipper (Urbanus proteus), Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) and Dorantes Skipper (Urbanus dorantes).
And YOU thought they were just weeds...not so! These are just a few of the more intriguing plants for a native landscape (NO weed-whackers allowed!)

South Florida has such a vast diverisity of ecosystems and habitats that a list "for Florida" just isn't adequate, so we recognized the many little micro-habitats we have here, from coastal to pinelands, to make success in your garden better than ever!
Here's wishing you and yours a safe end to Hurricane Season!