Tag Archives: Wildlife

Monarchs of 2018

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Monarch butterflies on a hackberry tree.


Monarch butterflies are nature’s most gentle beauties. Since 2015 I’ve biologically monitored the main 3RF campus in Foard County, Texas for all kinds of wildlife. I’ve seen monarchs pass through, but only a handful at a time.

This year was quite different. I was checking my camera traps when I came up under a hackberry tree. Immediately, I was swarmed by hundreds of monarchs. This was a first on the campus. Everywhere, I went they were all over the hackberry trees near the water, as well as the bloomed liatris (blazing star), which is a tall purple flower. There were some Queen butterflies mixed in with the monarchs as well.

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Monarchs alighting on liatris.

Hackberry trees seem to be the favorite for the monarchs and other butterflies on the campus. They never alighted on any mesquite trees and hardly on the red-berry juniper trees.

The annual migration of North America’s monarchs is a unique occurrence. They are the only butterfly known to make a two-way migration like birds do. Monarchs are having a harder time at making their yearly migration from the north to Mexico. These little beauties can travel between fifty to a hundred miles a day using air currents and thermals.

Monarch butterflies are a keystone species that once fluttered throughout the United States by the billions. They alighted from Mexico to Canada each spring on a trek that required six generations of the insect to complete. A keystone species is one which other species in an ecosystem largely depend. They maintain the structure of an ecological community and if it were removed that particular ecosystem would change drastically.

Driving this past week, I’d slow down or swerve when I could to avoid hitting the monarchs flying. I probably hurt or killed more than I would like to admit.

It is not often I love sitting in one spot on the campus because there is so much to do, see, and still explore. But I literally could’ve sat under the hackberry trees all day long watching these monarchs’ silent beauty.

To help the monarchs on their back and forth journey here are some helpful tips: always plant native milkweeds; liatris on the campus is a favorite of the monarchs and if it will survive in your climate then plant it; plant a hackberry tree or even a pecan tree; if you see monarchs flying in front of your car slow down to avoid hitting them; try to avoid using pesticides during their migration times of early spring and early fall.

Lastly, just enjoy the beauty of these magnificent butterflies.

A lesson in Humility from Bird Seed

File Feb 10, 9 04 16 AM


I love birds, except for blue jays. Why my hate of them? There was a blue jay last year that destroyed the barn swallow nest under the patio. The swallows laid four clutches of eggs and with every clutch, the blue jay would eat the eggs. On the last attempt by this blue jay, the nest that had been there for years was destroyed. That was the same nest that gave a winter home to a Carolina wren.

With my love of birds, I feed and water them, especially during the winter when they have limited resources on the high plains of Texas. While checking out in Wal-Mart – I relearned a valuable and humble lesson and it came with the purchase of bird food.

The friendly and talkative young girl checking me out was probably no more than twenty. She commented on many of my purchases like all the cheese I was buying – yes – I love cheese to Lamb Chop (Azrael’s favorite toy), but it was the comments on the birdseed cake that caught my attention the most.

When she asked what kinds of birds I had I replied back that they were wild birds. I immediately could tell by the confusion on her face she did not understand what I meant by wild birds. She thought I actually had birds living in my house. Then I thought about my friend, June who has Archie and our conservation that morning. Archie was squawking loudly in the background. Apparently, there was a wild bird outside he that had peaked his interest.

As I tried to explain about doves, robins, and other birds, I could still see the confusion on the girl’s face, I took a patient breath and explained to her that the birds I was feeding were all outside wild birds that come and go. Some have dark heads, some have red colors, and some are almost entirely bright blue. They live in the trees, as well as travel all over town and Texas.

Sadly, she still didn’t get it. How do I know she didn’t get it? Because – her last comment said it all “well its cool that you don’t have them in your house.”

As I walked to my car and drove home, I reflected more on that exchange than I probably should have. But it truly bothered me knowing that this girl did not know about wild birds.

I cannot imagine not being raised outside and knowing what birds are or even a bobcat, toad, butterfly, or the smell of wildflowers. I must stop and realize that not everyone was raised around wildlife and exposed to the outdoors. I climbed trees like a monkey growing up and came into contact with a variety of bird nests and birds. I hiked with my dad on all of our trips across the states. I saw birds of many colors never knowing what they were. Someone did tell me what a magpie was in Wyoming and it soon became my favorite bird.

I cannot imagine not having the multitude of wildlife experiences I had. I certainly cannot imagine anyone else knowing what even birds are. But sadly – I did encounter someone who had no clue about wild birds. I can only hope to run into this girl again with bird food and try my best to explain to her again about wild birds.

In reflection, this was a hard lesson for me. But it these kinds of lessons that remind me of my humanity and that sharing my wildlife knowledge is one of the most important things I can do.