Friday, October 5, 2012

Dusty But Colorful

The prairie here at Prairie Hill farm this fall

Long time - no post!  Also, long time - no rain!  Not a funny situation in the region...We did squeeze out about a full inch of rain the first week of September...but there was a gigantic pause before June!  And not a drop here since.  

I remember many years visiting the northwoods of Minnesota or Canada and seeing all the fire warning signs everywhere...even drove past some forest fires; some major, some not.  But I have never, in my memory, seen our own area here in NW Iowa under mid summer fire warnings!  Just never!  But that's been the case here since late July...we are tinder dry now, you can see rural travel on the gravel roads from many miles away...the dust plumes behind vehicles is clearly visible and you don't want to follow anyone too closely because of the bad visibility.

I haven't posted much because much hasn't been happening.  But I must say I have been curious about seed viability on warm season grasses.  Late in July I noticed a lot of our familiar grasses (Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Indian Grass, etc...) seemed to have their flowers drying up before they even managed to completely form.  But later in the season (early September) after a very brief rain respite (1") I noticed flowering again and pollination as well.  An area native plant grower and friend mentioned to me in late September that they were getting good ratings on their seed viability.  Just goes to show, as they always say, you just never know what's going to come of it all!?

The Monarchs were a concern here this spring, summer and fall
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison

My perennial friends and favorite invertebrates, the Monarch Butterflies, were a real concern here this year.  We had quite good numbers showing up in early spring - in fact the dates were record early arrivals for us.  And I witnessed egg laying in the pasture...even photographed eggs as they were so obvious.  But the thing that really puzzled and concerned me was we had no egg hatches and no caterpillars all summer!  I have never, in my life, "Not" seen a Caterpillar all spring, summer or fall!!!???!!!  Why after finding eggs, I could later not find larva?  

Then the summer was "scant" as far as Monarchs were concerned.  Nearly none, just a handful all summer.  This should not have been the case here, we had the largest crop of Asclepias (milkweeds) that I've ever seen here...we had A. tuberosa (Butterfly Milkweed) in record numbers...they were stunning all over the county...even the area farmers were asking me what that "orange plant" is showing up everywhere!  We had way more A. syriaca (Common Milkweed) than I care to see here  - the neighborhood is coated with seed parachutes from our pasture...not a real "good neighbor" relations maker with the local farmers.  We also had a good share (but down slightly from past years) of A. verticillata (Whorled Milkweed) and a small compliment of A. incarnata (Swamp Milkweed) in the ditches out front.

I witnessed a lone Monarch laying eggs on some Common Milkweed outside the studio windows in late August and tried keeping an eye on them - they were gone after just 3 days!?  I don't know of "egg" eaters in the insect world but maybe something is going on?  I know of parasitic wasps in caterpillars - but saw NO CATERPILLARS all summer (as I said before).  I haven't the foggiest idea what is going on?

This fall we had virtually no Monarch roosts here - we usually have 150-500 individuals roost here each fall.  13 was our high number in a roost this fall..."6" was the other high day..."high" used very sarcastically...

The folks following this have raised issue with the drought hurting the mid section of the continent's Monarch survival...I'm sure that has some bearing.  They also have raised issue with GMO crops, in fact Iowa State University, and I believe Minnesota, have been looking at this aspect.  But it does nothing to explain a local phenomenon like we've been experiencing here...eggs laid but no hatching, no larva...with an abundance of food source for larva and adult stages.  We do not spray insecticides here on the acreage, but I have no knowledge of GMO crops or spraying issues in the surrounding area, so I can't speak to that.

The bright spot for Monarchs has been the east coast migration, it is the highest in "recent" memory.  I certainly hope it helps the wintering population make a come back. 

I hope that summer was good to you and that autumn will be even better - take care out there and be good to one another!


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