Feliz Cumpleanos! Lucky Boy Ranch Tag Team Hits Monarch Butterfly Motherlode For Monika’s Birthday Weekend

October 17, 2008

It was Monarch Butterflies everywhere, all the time, for Monika’s Monarch birthday weekend this year. After a frustrating 2007 season, 10/13/08 seemed our lucky day with hordes of Monarch butterflies roosting along the Llano River, a full moon, a birthday chrysalis, and back-to-back birthday cakes. Friends and family pitched in to tag 500 Monarch butterflies in just several hours and could easily have exceeded last year’s unmet goal of 1,000. Too bad we ran out of tags!

Our neighbors, the Singletons, tagged 1,200 at their place.

Our crew of Monarch maniacs competed to see who could snag the most in a single swing: Monika started with 15; David quickly surpassed that by netting 26; then Clint came along and outdid us both by nabbing 35 Monarchs in one swoop.

While Nick and Bob cleared cedar and weedwhacked the river path, Jen, Tim, Nancy, Nona, Tristan, Tanner, Oma and Opa all pitched in to net and tag. Cocoa and Sufy helped, too.

Given the high volume of Monarchs, we tried a new strategy this year. After netting them, we stashed them in our nifty butterfly cage and retreated to the porch for communal, assembly line tagging.

Never have we seen them here this thick. David, who once guided tours in Angangueo, Mexico, the special preserve where the Monarch butterflies go home to roost for the winter, described the phenom as “orange snow.” Jen walked the trail and sighed “enchanting.” Clint: “it’s more amazing than I ever imagined.” To get an idea of what it’s like to flush a cluster of Monarch butterflies, watching them float up and scatter like silent tiny quail, check out this 12-second video clip.

You honestly couldn’t walk for five minutes without seeing a Monarch butterfly. One even slurped at our hummingbird feeder. On Wednesday, Hugh and Matt joined us and and Hugh kayaked over to the “monarch spot.” “It’s magic,” he quipped.

And so it was. What a delight to finally share the experience with my dearest friends and family. It was the best birthday present ever.

Gracias a todos for making it so special.

Five Monarch Butterflies Tagged as Monarch Season Gets Underway

October 1, 2008

Queen butterflies pose as Monarch butterflies at Lucky Boyr Ranch on the Llano River

Not quite Monarch butterflies,  Queen butterflies flooded Lucky Boy Ranch this weekend, captivating our crew and keeping tenacious taggers on their toes.  About two dozen Monarchs were spotted and we tagged five.  Three of those tagged were extremely ragged, highly unlikely  arrivals in Michoacan, Mexico.  
  
While Monarchs were conspicuously absent, Painted Ladies, Gulf Fritillaries, Pipevine and Eastern Black Swallowtails, as well as fresh hatches of Sulphurs feasted on the frostweed, goldenrod and cutleaf daisy provided by the Lucky Boy nectar fest.
The crew of Hugh, Jenny, Siobhan and Matt shared the weekend with Bob and Monika, which kicked off with the Presidential Debates at Bobhenge followed by cedar clearing, deer blind building and intermittent Monarch tagging and kayaking.  
Praying Mantis Eats a Bee on Frostweed on the banks of the Llano River.

Praying Mantis Eats a Bee on Frostweed on the banks of the Llano River.

Our clearing project along the riverbank has created a prime butterfly habitat, with nectar aplenty and butterflies in abundance.   From kayaks we even spotted some late season Texas Star and Purple Mistflower.    A global bee shortage?  Not this weekend.  Bees were ubiquitous and provided a reassuring hum, our own pagan soundtrack to the weekend.                                                                                 

A praying mantis chowed down on a honey bee, while Siobhan, Bob and Matt witnessed the diamondback watersnake at the Big Riffle.  More tagging coming soon, and high hopes for a thunderstorm and a cold front.

Watching for Monarch Butterflies and Texas Horned Toads at Lucky Boy Ranch

September 23, 2008

It’s been a feast or famine season for weather, with an intense drought busted by some relief-providing rains…and that means there’s nectar waiting for this season’s Monarch Butterflies.

A gang of us will head out this weekend to see what we find.  We have 500 tags, a net for every taker, and high hopes of nabbing the elusive creatures.    Three weeks ago we spotted tens of Monarchs along the river, and plenty of eggs on the swamp milkweed.  Stay tuned for a full report.

Meanwhile, who would have guessed that in addition to the illustrious Monarchwatch, the organization that started the Monarch tagging project, there is also a Horned Toad Lizard Watch? 

Horned Toads Make Occasional Appearnces at Lucky Boy Ranch

Horned Toads Make Occasional Appearances at Lucky Boy Ranch

It’s true.   In 1997, Texas Parks and Wildlife began tracking the appearance of Horned Toads, affectionately known by Texans as the “Horny Toad.”   We’ve noticed the funny lizards (the official state reptile) seem to have declined in abundance over the years.  Read the 10-year summary of Horned Toad spottings here.

The good news is that Lucky Boy has a steady supply of Carpenter Ants, which is the Horned Toad’s primary food source.   This may explain why we’re seeing more of the horned reptiles of late.   Just in the last two years, we’ve had three sightings–one just last weekend by Nick and his crew.  Thanks to Lilliana Fields for the fine photo.

So…if we ever tire of tagging Monarchs (unlikely), we can always track Horned Toads.

Wildlife Rumpus at Lucky Boy Captured

July 1, 2008

The most exciting thing to happen at Lucky Boy in a long time was the installation of a digital wildlife camera at the Arrowhead Road feeder.  The camera, activated by motion and heat, was a Father’s Day gift for Bob, but it turned out to be a present we all can enjoy.   Check out the slideshow, Lucky Boy Ranch Gone Wild!, a selection from the almost 2,000 photos taken in the first month.

The wild rumpus begins at Lucky Boy Ranch deer feeder.

Who would have thought a wildlife happy hour was unfolding just down the road from the ranchhouse?  Yep, while we kicked back on the porch, pigs, deer, turkeys and raccoons chowed down on scratch, peas, corn and antler mix, just a quarter-mile away.

The set-up would not have been possible without the help of our friend Clint, who picked it up for us at Cabella’s, installed it, and even provided a lesson on how to work it. Thanks, Clint!

Stay tuned for for wild rumpus updates from different Lucky Boy perspectives–the view from the river, a wildlife trail, in front of the ranchouse, and our various feeders. 

 

Monarch Butterflies Skip Lucky Boy, Surge Toward Coast

October 31, 2007

    Houdini hunting at Lucky Boy Ranch                                              

Monarchs totally passed us by last weekend, in what I viewed as the final tagging opportunity in a frustrating, unusual season.   Houdini, pictured above, had more luck with birds than I did with butterflies.

It appears the Monarch butterflies took a more western route and are now flooding the Gulf coastline.  Lucky for those living along the beach.

Didn’t spot a single one at the ranch this weekend.  Lots of pecans, though.  Let’s not talk about the encounter between the Expedition and two separate bucks on our full moon drive out on Friday night.   Our SUV will be in the shop for weeks.

Upon returning home Sunday, one lone Monarch glided around the backyard. 

Weekend Wishes Come True: Monarch Butterflies at Lucky Boy

October 23, 2007

Monarch on Cedar

As the Grackles biked south against strong headwinds for the MS150, Monarch Butterflies fluttered to Lucky Boy Ranch fighting the same strong gusts.  The good news, as for the Grackles, is they arrived safely…and in big numbers.    

THIS is the Monarch festival I’ve been bragging about all season.  Wouldn’t you know it was the one weekend when I would head to the ranch with only Cocoa and Sufy as my canine tagging team?   Most of my ranch partners were biking to the beach.

Still managed to snag 72 Monarchs in my net, not to mention two I tagged in my own backyard for a weekend talley of 74.  That brings the season total to 144–far from my millenial goal, but I’m not complaining.

It was unusual tagging as Monarchs rested and roosted in the thick cedar along the Llano as winds gusted to 30 miles per hour.  Sufy and Cocoa would run ahead of me, flushing them like quail.  The resilient creatures fought the blowing current, treading air and making them possible–but not easy–to net. 

Hundreds, probably thousands of Monarchs showed up this weekend.   Thrice I had more than five butterflies in my net, and I can’t count how often I swinged and missed.    Multiple Monarchs in the bag feels fantastic, the squirming life of minnows in a bucket.

Next week will be the peak. 

13 Monarch Butterflies and Six Friends MAKE Monika’s Birthday

October 16, 2007

Tagged Monarch Butterfly at Veronica’s                                                                    My weekend-long birthday celebration got off on the right foot–or should I say wing?–when Veronica surprised me with a Monarch Butterfly that had laid its egg on her butterfly weed.  The photo above was taken in her yard.  

Talk about lucky:  Veronica has butterflies still hatching in her yard this late in the season.  What a way to start a birthday weekend.   She, Joseph and I made our way to the ranch and snagged two more before nightfall.

         Tagged Monarch Butterfly

On Saturday, David, Leigh-Anna, Katy and Bob joined the Monarch tag team and while it wasn’t the Monarch monsoon I was anticipating–we fell short of my weekend goal of 51, tagging a Lucky 13–it was a fantastic weekend of kayaking, tagging, great friendship, food and wine. 

Joseph, Leigh Anna and David tagged their first Monarchs and officially caught Butterfly Fever.  Joseph won the Monarch Maniac Award, chasing down the floating flutterers while toting a 12-foot-long PVC pipe “extender” that allowed him to snag them way up high.   David and Leigh Anna witnessed  an osprey diving for a fish in front of the picnic spot–a first.   And Katy made the most fantastic dinner and birthday cake (with help from Veronica) while Bob supplied the bubbly and wine. 

Winds gusted from the south at about 25 mph and the temperatures climbed into the 90s.   We speculated that the Monarchs were waiting out the wind with no incentive to move South.  Why bother?  Warm weather, still some nectar, and plenty of water, so their attitude was decidely “mañana.” 

We’re expecting a strong finish to Monarch season as cold fronts find us.   In the meantime, thanks to my family and friends for indulging my lepidoptomania and making the weekend so special.

One Monarch Tagged and Sent Off with A Kiss

October 9, 2007

 Asia Sends off Tagged Monarch Butterfly with a kiss    

Friends came all the way from New York to tag Monarch butterflies, and we were lucky to get JUST ONE this weekend.   Asia, pictured above, learned to place the tag on the discal cell, before sending the healthy male off with a kiss.  It was the lone tagged Monarch in our guests’ Lucky Boy  weekend.                       

While the Chicago Marathon was cut short because of the heat, our clever butterfly friends sat out the 90-degree temperatures somewhere north of Mason County.

Marilyn, Lee, Asia, Austin, Peggy, Pat and David came from Woodstock, New York, Dallas and Austin, respectively, nets in hand.  We spent several hours combing the pecan trees along the Llano River on foot and via kayak.   Fewer than a dozen Monarchs were spotted all weekend.  While Asia tagged one Saturday morning and I nabbed one upon arrival Friday, it was another weekend of Queens, fritillaries and the occasional Red Admiral.  

We had other encounters with butterflies, though.  Lee and Austin performed an experiment on Gulf Fritillaries for Austin’s science project, whereby five butterflies were placed in the refrigerator for one – five minutes.  We recorded how long it took each to “wake up”  and fly off.     I bet Austin gets an “A” on his science project.   Austin, please let us know how that turns out.

Texas Monarch Watch assigns the late arrival to an extremely warm September.  The Monarchs appeared to be in Oklahoma this weekend, about two weeks behind schedule.  With the cutleaf daisies going to seed and the milkweed drying up, nectar sources may be scarce by the time they arrive.  Goldenrod is still on the river, but not much. 

We’ll be waiting for them next weekend with some overripe watermelon as a welcome mat.  Stay tuned.

Monarchs Bypass Nectar Fest at Lucky Boy

October 1, 2007

Monarch–NOT

What if you gave a nectar party and nobody came?  Imagine assembling the perfect feast for special guests who choose to skip your soiree.

That’s how it felt this weekend at Lucky Boy, as an open bar of milkweed, goldenrod, purple mist flower and standing cypress awaited the arrival of our honored guests: migrating Monarch butterflies.  But they were no-shows.

Plenty of other butterfly friends stopped by.  A fritillary festival of sorts, with a variety of Swallowtails–Blacks, Pipevines and Tigers–an abundance of Queens and even a few Red Admirals, who hadn’t made an appearance in a long while.

This weekend, Monarchs were conspicuously absent.  In seven hours of attempts, only nine Monarchs were netted and tagged, bringing our season total to 32.  Oma tagged her first.  Congratulations!

Frustration grew as hundreds of Queens, like the one pictured above, posed as their idols.  The pink milkweed which lured the Monarchs to our riverbanks two weeks ago has gone to seed or was destroyed by aphids.  Perhaps they passed us by for a more enticing nectar Happy Hour.  Or, more likely, gusty winds and looming storms kept them moving south, high in the clouds, riding the wave.  

Jenny says Monarchs are ubiquitous in her frontyard milkweed patch in Grapevine.  And she’s sending them our way.  Better luck next week.

And the Spider Ate the Monarch

September 19, 2007

Spider Eats Monarch Butterfly                                                         The first team of Monarch Butterfly taggers at Lucky Boy Ranch witnessed a steady drift of the regal creatures this weekend.  Our tagging strategy took a turn from years past, as the Monarchs would ONLY nectar on the pink milkweed on the riverbank, rejecting the ample white milkweed where we usually net them like fish in a barrel. 

As a result, we juggled swinging our nets with paddling kayaks–no easy task.

By Sunday we nabbed 22 Monarchs, not bad for so early in the season.  Now:  only 977 to go.

One disturbing site was Monarch Murder in the Chigger Islands. 

We observed several desembodied Monarchs, their royal orange wings draping pink milkweed along the riverbank.  The butterfly serial killer, pictured above, was identified as an Orb Weaver spider. 

As the photo depicts, the savvy spider weaves its silk around the alluring pink milkweed.  When the Monarchs light the flower to nectar, the spider seizes them, draining their life like a Lucky Boy margarita.

Nature is cruel, but then, spiders have to eat–or is it drink?– too.

Special thanks to Naomi, Lisa Marie and Tim for being such troopers and helping me kick off the season. 


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