Thom Smith | Naturewatch: Waystations, raising caterpillars help monarchs
This year, our third grade class at Molly Stark Elementary in Bennington captured and raised 15 monarch caterpillars. We fed them milkweed every day until they turned into chrysalises. We had 100 percent success with all 15 caterpillars and released 15 beautiful monarch butterflies. It was a fun and exciting experience.
Recently, we read your article about monarchs in The Bennington Banner regarding the slight increase of these creatures in New England this year versus the past few years. We were happy to have helped with this. Unfortunately, we just read another article about the wind and weather possible keeping the butterflies too far north for this time of year.
We wonder if you would continue to write articles to keep us informed about the monarchs. We also would like to help if we can. We would like to try planting milkweed and possibly create a monarch butterfly habitat at our school. Do you have any ideas for us or ways to make this happen? As third grade learners, we want to know where or how to start this project.
— Miss Reed's 3rd Grade Class
Grade 3 Teacher
Molly Stark Elementary School
Our monarch waystation [at Williams School] provides several varieties of milkweed, the host plant for the monarch and flowering perennials. Milkweed is the only plant they will use for their spring and summer breeding. Similarly, the need for nectar plants helps them to make their long journey to Mexico. The need for host plants for larvae and nectar plants for adults applies to all monarch and butterfly populations around the world.
A big thank you to third grade teacher Mrs. Joppru and science teacher Mrs. Burdick for raising and releasing monarchs over the years. Thank you also to the students, staff and parent caretakers of this special space.
Williams also has an amazing Nature Walkway that goes through a wetland. I have been in communication with the Conservative Commission regarding the purple loosestrife problem in the wetlands. The C.C. contacted me in April as they would like to use insects to remove them from the Nature Walkway. They had mentioned either this year or next year they would begin.
— Sara Garinther, an involved parent living in Pittsfield
Another waystation new to Kimball Farms is a haven of grasses and flowers or will be next spring. It comprises a relatively small patch of former lawn, that will look as if it was always meadow by next summer. This brainchild of a small group of seniors at Kimball Farms a retirement community on Walker Street in Lenox, was begun last past spring, and is returning to nature with more than a little encouragement.
Two of the "movers and shakers" of this undertaking this past season, are residents Gwen Sears, and Jim McCarthy who credited other committee members, Elske Smith, Pat Esterson, Ned Dana, Sandy and Jennie Fenn, and Heidi Stormer, and Kimball grounds keepers. While visiting the new waystation, I could see how inspired they were when Kimball Farms said yes to the proposal allowing a small plot of what was once a field with cows and horses to return to a very manageable sanctuary. This fall it was completely renovated to better encourage native growth. My hope is that it will grow as time passes various wildflowers especially attractive to pollinators, including bees, butterflies and hummingbirds multiply and flourish.
I will be providing information on planting monarch butterfly gardens and provide addresses for additional help in upcoming columns. In the meantime, if you wish to plant native milkweeds, gather seed pods and store for the winter in an unheated place, either garage, shed or refrigerator to plant in the spring. More later.
Questions from our readers
Q: Is it late enough to put up the bird feeder? (Maybe a half dozen people have asked this question.)
A: While many enthusiasts are anxious to begin feeding the birds, the bears are just as anxious. If if bears are potentially a problem, the answer is no. Unfortunately, they don't possess a calendar and, if food is available and the weather is mild, with little snow, many will not den up. In recent years, more bears with access to dumpsters and other food sources remain active. I don't believe it is as much global warming as it is availability of food.
Q: I use to have loads of birds at my feeder. Four or five years ago, we started getting a few pigeons and our regular birds have slowly taken off and now we [only] have 30 to 40 of these pesky pigeons around all the time and none of the other birds. How can I get rid of them?
— Barb C., North Adams
A: This is a difficult one and besides a couple thoughts I have, maybe a successful reader or two will help us out. One sure way to keep pigeons away is to place chicken wire 3 inches above the ground beneath the feeder (s), so any seed that falls will be out of reach of the larger birds, including pigeons. Next, offer foods pigeons will not eat. For goldfinches, fill tube feeders with Niger (thistle) seed; for cardinals, titmice, chickadees, nuthatches and more, offer safflower seed in tube or hopper feeders that pigeons cannot land on. This may only discourage pigeons, and if there is another reason they have taken interest in your yard, I cannot help.
Thom Smith welcomes readers' questions and comments. Email him at Naturewatch@live.com or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201
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