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My husband and I can spend many an hour watching the birds come to our backyard and perch on the branches of a dead tree located thirty feet from our veranda. It provides them with views over a vast area of shrub land that abuts our property.
One day we noticed that a couple of house finches decided to build a nest in the top of our propane patio heater. Much as we love birds, this was a little too close for comfort. So we cleared out the nest and stuffed the top part with newspaper.
The next time Mr. Finch flew over to the heater, his beak loaded with a twig, he was astounded to find some one had foiled all of his hard work and blocked his access. It wasn’t long before he discovered the culprit: the master of the house. Was he annoyed? What do you think? And what was he going to tell his spouse?
I am thrilled to be part of the Northern Arizona University’s Milkweeds for Monarchs project, whose mission is to use citizen volunteer gardeners to assess the suitability of a range of region-appropriate milkweeds in home gardens and determine their utilization by monarch butterflies in mid and high elevations in Arizona.
As most people know, monarch butterflies can’t survive the cold climates of North America, and so make an annual journey down to Mexico and the southern United States every fall, then return in the spring. Their life cycle begins with the laying of eggs on their spring migration north and continues through out the summer. The larvae hatch and feast solely on milkweed.
The population of these once-common, iconic orange-and-black butterflies has seen a rapid decline of nearly seventy percent in the past two decades. One reason is that the heart of monarch breeding range is the agricultural areas in the midwest where milkweed plants have given way to corn and soybean fields. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, it’s estimated that monarch butterflies may have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat — an area about the size of Texas — including nearly one-third of their summer breeding grounds in the past 20 years.
In late fall, instead of mating and laying eggs, monarch butterflies spend their time drinking nectar and clustering together in nighttime roosts in preparation for their long journey south. Arizona is one of their flyways, passing through on their way south in the fall and returning in the spring. Fifteen years ago, no one thought a significant number passed through Arizona. But since they began tagging them, scientists know they pass through and end up in Kino Bay, Sonora, in the mountains of Mexico and in California. The Canelo Hills south of Patagonia and the entire Sonoita area are hot spots for monarchs though they are found throughout the state, including Grand Canyon National Park. See article.
According to the NAU project, the monarch breeding season is complicated in Arizona because of variable elevations and associated plant communities and many climatic microsites. In the Desert Southwest there are more than 40 species of milkweed which is more than 50% of the total diversity of milkweeds in the continental US. Arizona has the second greatest diversity of milkweeds next to Texas. A common garden experimental design is used, which means planting the same milkweed species in similar physiological condition and from the same genetic source in each of the experimental gardens.
Update: It’s a white-lined sphinx moth.
This insect was but a blur of motion to our human eye. My husband had to photograph it with his telephoto lens at high shutter speed to see it. But is it a butterfly or a moth? The following excerpt gives us a clue:
During rest, the tube-like feeding structure of the butterfly (i.e., the proboscis, equated to a “tongue”) remains coiled tightly against the head. However, when the butterfly moves to feed upon the nectar of a flower or something akin, the proboscis unfurls to extend downward into the flower’s center. https://asknature.org/strategy/proboscis-unwinds/#.WQOcvFPyvBI
So I guess that’s what this is–a butterfly and not a moth. But more importantly: What a tongue!
Bran Castle, famous home of Count Dracula in Transylvania, hosts one of the most spectacular Halloween celebrations imaginable. It includes a night tour of the Castle with Vlad The Impaler and Halloween After Party hosted by a famous Romanian DJ. They hold a contest for best costume. Winners spend the night in the castle–coffin or bed is their choice. When we landed at the airport in Bucharest, we met a traveller who had come to Romania solely for this event. I wonder what his costume looked like.
We travelled south to the San Carlos indian reservation near Globe in early March to see the fields of poppies.
Next we went to a baseball training game in mid March. The route from Sedona into the valley was stunning.
Now in Sedona, at 4,500 feet, the wildflowers have gone, well…wild.
When people come to visit you, and you live two hours from the Grand Canyon, it’s a must see. I can’t count the number of times I have looked over the vast edge of the canyon and gazed into its depths.
Having gotten the canyon out of the way, we bring our friends to our favorite place — Monument Valley. It may have been made famous as the backdrop for 12 westerns, but for me it is a timeless place of peace and serenity.
This time we visited around the new year and there was a sprinkling of snow. With the sun hanging low in the sky, the lighting was magical. Unlike the summer, when you have to navigate around the many tourists in their cars and SUVs, you practically have the place to yourself in winter.