Saturday, April 18, 2009

April 2009--Atala News are the Blues

Atala populations crashed almost completely as of February; I suspect that the unusual cold, the length of the cold fronts, and the drought affected their normal recovery with more impact than did even the four hurricanes in 2004! They were showing some recovery in late March in South Miami-Dade, but by mid-April all signs of life had disappeared in the colonies.

Current reports from Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale indicate zero atalas in any life stage; including the oldest re-introduced colony (which has been viable for five years!) This is the most significant crash I have seen in six years; but some colonies had no activity until early May in past years, so we aren’t completely depressed yet. There was one site reporting some activity on the northern edge of Broward County; to prevent over-enthusiastic collectors from impacting a fragile colony, I am not publishing its location. When the next irruption occurs, I’ll be begging for people to 'steal' pupae to establish new colonies.

I am still trying to figure out how to post a graph on this blog so you can see the general trends over the years, but I guess you’ll just have to attend the next meeting where I’ll be speaking about my favorite butterfly. Crashes are normal, but they aren't usually so severe as to have all colonies at all sites crash simultaneously.

People have been telling me that their coontie plants are either suffering from scale, and/or powdery mildew, or that they are flourishing without herbivorous insects defoliating them. The treatment for either of the mentioned diseases is posted here on the February 2008 blog archive.

Art Constantino also mentioned a thought about possible decreasing Ruddy Daggerwing populations. The Daggerwing uses the Ficus trees as a host plant. People are treating their Ficus trees for “Ficus Whitefly,” and the pesticide is potentially impacting the caterpillars and eggs of the Daggerwing. Likewise, treatment of palm trees for “Lethal Yellowing Disease” also impact the Monk and Palmetto butterflies that use palms as a host plant. It is a tough decision, because if the plant dies, one loses the butterflies that use it anyway; if the plant is treated with a herbicide or pesticide, one loses the butterflies that use it as well. Perhaps the answer is to treat the affected plant and also install a “free and clear” version in another location for the butterflies.
Here on the west coast, I have to say that Manatee County certainly has some of the most beautiful natural areas I have ever seen. These photos were taken in Emerson Point Preserve, one of the natural areas where I work. This is a kayak trip I led through what is affectionately called the "Mangrove Tunnel" by the locals. It is incredible.

And this is a "secret lake" that we visited, which is located inside a mangrove tree-island off Tampa Bay....what a magical place! Much thanks to one of our volunteers, Wayne Douchkoff, for the photographs of our paddle trip at Emerson Preserve.

We have been incredibly busy with programs, establishing trail signs, and rest areas along the miles of trails, monitoring our Bald Eagle family and watching migrations of birds, butterflies and dragonflies. There are two fledgling eagles at Robinson Preserve, and it has been a joy watching them test their new flight skills, play with their food, and gain confidence in their hunting skills. This photo of Mom Eagle is by one of our volunteers, Chris Constantino (perhaps one of Art’s relatives?)

In the near future, we’ll be watching our Scrub Jay colonies out at the prairie Preserves, too. In May, students and professors from the local colleges and universities will be helping out with our third annual Bio-Blitz, this one at Rye Preserve, which is a huge oak hammock with a natural waterway. I will be leading an all-day butterfly-blitz and I am very much looking forward to doing so. This coast has some true diamonds, such as the Tiger and Zebra Swallowtails, rare on the east coast.
I could not resist this photo of one of my back-yard squirrels munching on an orange from my tree. There were plenty to share, although the orange season is about finished now.
The migration movement of the beautiful Great Southern White has slowed down, but now I am seeing Large Orange, Sleepy and Cloudless Sulfurs flying around. (In California, March was the month of Painted-Lady migrations by the millions!) Which brings me to my next point…
I will be speaking at the Sunday, May 3rd meeting of the Miami-Blue Chapter of NABA at Castellow Hammock, in Homestead, at 1 PM. I’ll be presenting, “Butterfly Migration: Beyond the Monarch.” There have been a few new developments in the field of migration research since my presentation last fall for Broward NABA. And I am delighted to be speaking at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden this July for Butterfly Days, too.

I hope my Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade friends come over to visit Manatee County, too. It boasts a virtually intact eco-system that hosts rare species and miles of beautiful hiking, biking and paddling trails. If development greed stays under control, this jewel may be the most sought-after natural resource in Florida. As a Broward friend mentioned, “Wow. Mangrove-lined shores?! What a concept….” And the fishing is still good, as I’ve been told…..

Those of you on the east coast know that the beauty of mangroves has been replaced with concretized seawalls and boat docks. You also know that the fisheries are crashing. What you may not know is that the mangroves provide the nurseries for juvenile fishes….which safely grow up in the tangled roots to be the fish on your plate….you cannot destroy the habitat and still expect the benefits of it.

I could easily get on a soap-box about the value of natural lands, but I know that most everyone who reads my blog is already on the same page, so I will spare you the monologue.


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