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Mariton: Laying the Foundation for Spring Color

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus.

Eastern Comma

Eastern Comma

In the coming weeks, many people will be removing leaves from their yard. This is a good time to remember that a few leaf piles around your yard are beneficial for butterflies and other insects.  Eastern Commas and Mourning Cloak butterflies are two species that overwinter as adults.  These are some of the first butterflies to emerge.  I’ve seen them on mild February days, but they get active in April, and lay eggs for the next generation.

Eastern Comma underside.  See the comma?

Eastern Comma underside. See the comma?

Leaf piles are a favorite place for them to winter, so it is easy to inadvertently destroy these butterflies in a zealous removal of every leaf from the yard. I always leave some banks of leaves along the building foundations and in flower beds.  There are also piles along the wood’s edge of the yard.  These small piles are beneficial to the beds, as well as butterflies, and can be easily removed during the spring yard work.

A Mourning Cloak in April.

An April Mourning Cloak.

Right now the leaves are filling our lives with colors.  So, it is easy to forget how much we yearn for color at the end of winter.  By leaving some leaf piles around your yard you will be providing winter shelter for our earliest butterflies.  This is one instance where being lazy has a nice benefit.

Mariton: Wild Bergamot Blooming

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus.

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on wild bergamot.

The wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) is blooming in Mariton’s fields right now and attracting lots of insects. This plant seems to have expanded in our fields, and has really spread out in Meadow #3. You get a sense of that from the photo above. It is pretty impressive.

Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly

 

Hummingbird Moth

Hummingbird Moth

The hummingbird moth is a beautiful creature. It is a daytime moth that is smaller than a hummingbird, but really does resemble one the way it moves from flower to flower. Notice in this photo how the flower head is actually made up of several small flowers.

Some butterfly weed is still blooming in the meadows.

Pearl Crescent on Butterflyweed

Pearl Crescent on butterfly weed

 

Mariton: 26th Butterfly Census

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus.

Coral Hairstreak

Coral Hairstreak

We held the Annual Butterfly Census on Saturday morning. Dating back to 1991, this was the 26th butterfly count at Mariton.  We ended up with 15 species and 120 butterflies.  The species count is a little low from recent counts, but the individual count is similar to recent years.  It felt like there were less butterflies this year (with the exception of Great-spangled Fritillaries and Silver-spotted Skippers which were abundant).  The milkweeds and butterfly weed are blooming, which is usually a good attractant.  It will be interesting to see if some of the butterflies we expected to get on the count show up in the fields over the next few weeks.  Mariton definitely has great pollinator habitat to attract butterflies.  More importantly, the diversity of food plants for caterpillars translates into diverse butterfly species.

Pearl Crescent

Pearl Crescent

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

 

 

Mariton: Butterfly Season

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus.

Little Wood Satyr

Little Wood Satyr

Little Wood Satyrs were numerous last week on our butterfly walk. There were considerably less of them this week.  We are nearing the end of this spring’s brood, and likely won’t find any next week.  The caterpillars of this species feed on grasses, and the butterflies are usually found in the shade of trees along the edge of fields.  It is small but handsome, with its many eyespots that help to confuse predators.

Spring Azure

Spring Azure

There were quite a few Spring Azures this week. This is a very small butterfly, but adds bits of blue as it spreads its wings and rises up from the vegetation.

Great-spangled Fritillary

Great-spangled Fritillary on an early milkweed.

Great-spangled Fritillaries are one of the most common butterflies at Mariton. This orange butterfly is often mistaken for Monarchs when flying because of its color and size.  There is plenty of food for both species’ caterpillars here (fritillaries eat violets, Monarch eat milkweeds).  Next week, the milkweeds should be in full bloom at Mariton.  Milkweed blossoms attract many species of butterflies for the nectar.  We should have a good morning next week.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Butterfly season is when we seem to see more Common Yellowthroats. We hear them on almost every bird walk, but after their young hatch they seem to come out of the thick brush for better viewing.  This male has a moth in its bill that it was taking to the nest.  They are stunning warblers and have a wonderful song to go along with their looks.

Mariton: Butterfly Census

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus.

Great Spangled Fritillary on Butterfly Weed

Great Spangled Fritillary on Butterfly Weed

We had a slow start to the Butterfly Census.  Around 10:30 things started moving and we ended up with 18 species.  We had 103 individuals.  The most abundant species were Great Spangled Fritillaries, with 55 individuals.

We had three different Hairstreak species.  Carole’s photos bring these butterflies right up close, but these are very small butterflies (notice the size of the blossoms).  Binoculars are really essential in identifying many butterflies, and the camera is very helpful for going back and seeing slight nuances.

Banded Hairstreak

Banded Hairstreak

 

Coral Hairstreak

Coral Hairstreak

Gray Hairstreak

Gray Hairstreak

A couple of us commented that we have seen more Mourning Cloaks this year than ever before, so I include this photo of a very handsome Mourning Cloak that Carole took.

Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Mariton: Year in Review

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

As I put the new calendar on the wall, I thought I would do a brief review using photos from this year’s blog posts.  This isn’t everything, just some of the highlights.  We had a snowy and cold winter and I wrote a series on dressing to enjoy the weather.

Winter Hats

Some of the photos of the season:

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Photo by Carole Mebus

Bladder nut in ice

During the spring Mike and Kieu Manes planted American Chestnuts.  The wildflowers at Mariton were glorious.  There were several bird walks.  The  nest boxes had a lot of activity.

planting Chestnuts

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Trillium by Carole Mebus

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Swainson’s Thrush by Carole Mebus

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Moving into summer, the Bird Walks transitioned to Butterfly Walks.  There were Kayak trips on Lake Nockamixon.  And we had a great group of children for Nature Camp.

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Coral Hairstreak by Carole Mebus

Haycock Run

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Nature Camp visits Traugers by Carole Mebus

The fall colors in 2014 were fantastic. During our weekly walks in October we marveled at the colors, along with being treated to exciting bird sightings and more butterflies.

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Mariton Field by Carole Mebus

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Female Bluebird with Fall Backdrop by Carole Mebus

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Eastern Comma butterfly under Pawpaw Tree by Carole Mebus

2014 was a special year for Mariton.  It marked the 45th anniversary of the Guerrero’s establishing the Deed of Trust that protects Mariton.  It also marked the 70th anniversary of the first purchase of land that would later become Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary.  During the year we showed the movies that the Guerrero’s made when they first moved to the property(in the late 1940’s), along with a slide show of vintage photos.

Belgium 1960s

The Guerrero’s in Belgium in the early 1960’s

I’m wishing you a Happy New Year for 2015.  I hope you find time to be inspired and moved by nature’s beauty.

Mariton: Birding is still good.

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus.

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Tufted Titmouse and Poison Ivy berries

Tuesday’s Walk was good for birding.  The gnats are still bothersome, but that probably helps us find some interesting birds.  At the top of the Spruce Trail, we found a flock of several bird species.  Yellow-rumped Warblers were feeding with Golden-crowned Kinglets and Ruby-crowned Kinglets.  It was a pleasant surprise to find these species all in one place.  There were also Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Downey Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmice, and Chickadees.

An immature Bald Eagle flew right over us in one of the meadows.  We figured that it was probably a 3 year old bird, as the head and tail weren’t completely white.  We also saw a Cooper’s Hawk in that meadow.

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Eastern Bluebird female

Along the Turnpike Trail, we ran into another group of birds that included Bluebirds, some Cedar Waxwings, and more Yellow-rumps.

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Cedar Waxwing

 

Mariton: Birds Are Where You Find Them

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus.

Our Tuesday walk was a great morning for birds.  Right off the bat, we got into a mixed flock with a variety of woodpecker species, including a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.  Included in the flock were several Eastern Bluebirds, along with Chickadees and White-breasted Nuthatches.  We got a pretty good look at two Scarlet Tanagers.  Upon reviewing Ed’s photography, we found a scarlet patch on one of the birds that indicated it was a male in its yellow winter plumage.

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Eastern Bluebirds

We had an enjoyable walk to the meadows, but there was very little bird activity.  That was until we headed down the Turnpike Trail and we ran into another mixed flock of birds signaled first by the call of Chickadees.  We saw a flock of Bluebirds that investigated a dead tree.  There were woodpeckers too.  Then Marilyn spotted a small warbler flitting about the leaves.  We got a couple good looks and determined it was a Black-throated Green Warbler.  A pretty good sighting for an October morning.

Ed made the comment:  ” In the Fall, birds are where they are.”  It sounds flippant, but it is true.  One often finds songbirds foraging in groups of several species traveling through the forest or fields in a wave.  Safety in numbers and many eyes.  Usually I hear the Chickadees first, and then go on alert for what else might be with them.  You never know who might be traveling with the group.  I have seen Brown Creepers, thrushes, sparrows, Winter Wrens, kinglets, and other species all in one group.  They may feed all around you for a few minutes, but they are always traveling, and then they are gone.  So, unless you happen to intercept one of these traveling bands, it is really easy to go through a fall morning with very few sightings.  Polly Ivenz, who was Mariton’s Program Director for nearly three decades used to say “Birds are where you find them.”   So, Carole and I smiled when Ed made his comment.

 MEBUS EasternCommaMaritonButterflyCount0627-Side

At the end of the walk we stopped to look at several Eastern Comma butterflies that were feeding on the pawpaws by the parking lot.  This is what they look like with wings closed.  Below with the wings open.  It was an enjoyable walk interspersed with three bursts of activity.

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Crow’s Nest: The Eastern Comma

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

I spotted this butterfly on the fence rail the other day. Naturally, I didn’t have my camera with me—but I did have my phone. Good enough, though hard to center on the subject!

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It is an Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma). When closed it looks like a leaf, and yes, the name comes from the silvery comma that stands out in this ventral view.

When it opens, it is breathtaking.

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Eastern Black Swallowtail emergence at Hildacy

By Mike Coll, Preserve Manager

One of the things that I appreciate most about living on a preserve is getting to observe natural processes up close. I am constantly fascinated by the life stories of species that exist around us, which so often go unwitnessed. This year my wife noticed a Black Swallowtail (Papilo polyxenes) caterpillar feeding on the parsley in our garden. The larval stage of Eastern Black Swallowtails (like many insects) has very specific dietary requirements. These caterpillars will only feed on members of the carrot family, including Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota), dill, and parsley. As the caterpillars grow, they move through various stages, called instars. Each instar is different in appearance, and the caterpillars sheds their skin four times as they move into the next instar.

This individual is in it’s second or third instar.
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Black Swallowtails complete multiple generations each year. Because it was early in the summer when we found this caterpillar, I knew that it would complete its life cycle this season and that the resulting butterfly would then lay more eggs and go through at least one more cycle before winter. The final generation of this species each summer remains in chrysalis throughout the winter (unlike Monarchs, which migrate) and emerges the following spring.

I placed the caterpillar in an insect container, supplied it with some dill and parsley clippings from the garden, and waited to see what would happen next.

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This is a fully grown Black Swallowtail caterpillar (4th instar). At this point, I made sure that there were a few sticks in the enclosure so that it would have something to anchor its chrysalis to. I also continued to give it fresh parsley every few days because it obtains both food and water from vegetation.

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Within a week, the fully grown caterpillar created a chrysalis on one of the branches. Swallowtail chrysalises always have that one little spider web-like string attaching it to the branch. Amazingly, in the case of individuals who overwinter in chrysalis, that tiny string remains intact throughout the many months and harsh weather between the fall and spring.

During their time in chrysalis, Swallowtails essentially digest themselves and the fat stores that they have built up during the larva stage and reconstitute the elements into a new form.

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Just a few weeks later, the chrysalis split open and this butterfly emerged. It has been shown that certain memories created during the larval stage are carried over into the butterfly stage in some species.  So, at least in some ways the consciousness that was the caterpillar continues to exist when it becomes a butterfly.
www.sciencedaily.com

While its obvious that a butterfly’s consciousness is far different from ours, I couldn’t help but wonder what possible view of the world this butterfly could have after inhabiting such a completely different form just a few weeks earlier. When the above picture was taken it seemed like she had not yet realized that flight was now possible.

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After a few minutes, the newly emerged butterfly took off and landed on a native perennial a short distance away. This butterfly can be identified as a Black Swallowtail by the two rows of yellow dots along the wings (as opposed to a dark-morph female Tiger Swallowtail, which only has one row). It is a female because male Black Swallowtails have much larger yellow dots in a similar pattern.

In its adult form, the Black Swallowtail butterfly will feed on the nectar of a variety of flowers and hopefully mate and lay more eggs on one of the carrot-plants that can support the next generation of caterpillars.

One recommendation I have for anyone who finds a caterpillar and would like to watch its metamorphosis is to make sure that you have adequately identified and researched the species that you find. Because each species has very particular requirements for its survival, failing to provide the correct vegetation or habitat will not yield good results. There are plenty of resources online that can help with identification of caterpillars and butterflies. Lately, I have found this site to be good source of info. Despite being from northern Virginia, most of the species are the ones I see here in eastern Pennsylvania.

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