Wisconsin is part of the Upper Midwest spring breeding area for Monarchs. They generally arrive from Mexico in May and June, looking for milkweed to lay hundreds of eggs. The caterpillars developing from the eggs then enjoy the milkweed leaves for their food, building up poison from the milkweed in their system. This poison helps protect them and the cocoon they soon form against ants, spiders, and wasps. The poison later helps the adult Monarch emerging from the cocoon to fend off predators, such as birds.
Cold and wet weather, of course, diminish reproductive success of the Monarch.The early three generations of Monarchs live only six weeks after they emerge from the cocoon. Later generations live up to eight months and can make the trek back the Monarch's hibernation place in Mexico – if they find enough milkweed to feed on the way.
Unfortunately, as we all know, in the monarch migration corridor to the south a large portion of the milkweed habitat has been eliminated – lost to the expanding corn belt and use of agricultural herbicide, as well as development. According to an estimate by the Director of the Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas, 5-15 million milkweed, via planting of seeds and plugs, will be required to offset the habitat losses for milkweed in the monarch migration corridor. Don't forget to pack milkweed seeds when you travel south. Gisela
Two proud parents watching their nestlings in BB9, along the Savanna edge. On May 17, box monitors Mitchell Thomas and Patricia Becker and Will Waller found 5 little nestlings in the box. Earlier that day, John and Gisela Kutzbach observed the female and male bluebirds keeping watch from a sumac bush, about 20 feet away from the box, and took this snapshot of the pair.
The process goes like this:
1) approach bird box and knock gently to announce your inspection
2) open house carefully: sparrows tend to be buried within their nests via a tunnel and will flash out in your face if you are not careful.
3) confirm nest type to identify bird, if you haven't seen one perching on the box
4) check for eggs
5) record required data on the BRAW form
6) move on to the next box
All of the boxes are easily approached and all are beside regular walking trails. They are sited within a specific "perching perimeter" so that the occupants can guard their box. And guard they do!
If you aren't a birder yet, this trail might make you a convert – that's what's happening to me. The trail takes about 40 minutes to monitor and the entire 40 minutes is filled with genuine excitement. You see the birds up close, they monitor you as you monitor them! The prairie area is no longer quiet, it's a noisy, busy place: hundreds of birds, thousands of bees (we need Hannah Gaines-Day to do a bee-walk), the leopard frogs are out by the hundreds. You cannot walk between the boxes without stopping to watch field events unfold. If you are interested in monitoring let us know (preserveFriends@gmail.com).
If you haven't been to the Prairie this season, now is the time. The old apple orchard is approaching full blossom. The bird houses are occupied. You will see bluebirds. The walk is easy. Comment below on what YOU see.
Gisela Kutzbach and contributors