Butterflies in your Garden

Spring is finally here, and do you know who is migrating back to New York? Normally, the first answer to this classic question is “the birds.” Migrating birds are one of spring’s most welcoming signs, but there are other visions of spring popping up everywhere. If you don’t believe it, just check the new grasses and the plants just beginning to grow. It won’t be long before the caterpillars start crawling and the dragonflies begin darting.

Caterpillars are one reminder that spring is in bloom and summer is right around the corner. During this time of the year, the butterflies are finding their way back to the northeast where they lay their eggs, which hatch into caterpillars as quickly as 3-5 days.

Have you ever wanted your backyard to be full of these flying beauties? One way you can attract butterflies is to build a butterfly garden. These are not your typical flower beds. Different species of butterflies are attracted to different types of plants that provide them with the food they need to grow. Planting flowers which are native to New York is an important first step. To learn more about planting native, visit the New England Wildflower Society or the Audubon at Home page on creating backyard habitat. If you want to create your own butterfly garden, you must first learn what kinds of plants butterflies like to feed on. Here is a list of a few different butterflies and what plants they enjoy:

Monarch caterpillar. Photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP

Monarch

This bold orange beauty, shown in the featured image above, will feed on a number of different flowers and even drink the juice from overripe fruit, but Monarch caterpillars rely on only milkweed for their food. Milkweed is poisonous to many different creatures, but monarch larvae are able to tolerate the poison and store it in their body, making the caterpillars, and the adult butterflies, toxic to would-be predators. The bold colors are the butterflies’ way of saying “Caution!”

Mourning cloak butterfly. Photo by Edward H. Holsten, USDA Forest Service
Mourning cloak butterfly. Photo by Edward H. Holsten, USDA Forest Service

Mourning Cloak

You’ll have to look closely for this camouflaged butterfly. The morning cloak will eat rotting fruit so scan around fruit trees or berry bushes in the late spring or summer. One of their preferred foods is tree sap, especially from oak trees.

Painted Lady. Photo by Troy Weldy, NYNHP
Painted Lady. Photo by Troy Weldy, NYNHP

Painted Lady

Buttonbush. Photo by Timothy Howard, NYNHP
Buttonbush. Photo by Timothy Howard, NYNHP

The painted lady’s bold reddish-orange top wings are quite different than its subtle gray bottom wings. The painted lady will feast on flowers, and has a surprisingly soft spot for thistles. Don’t worry; the painted ladies enjoy the lovely buttonbush, just as much as spiky thistles

Red Admiral Butterfly. Photo by SteveNanz.com
Red Admiral Butterfly. Photo by SteveNanz.com

Red Admiral

This butterfly may look somewhat similar to the painted lady, but it’s much different when it comes to food. The red admiral prefers sap flows in trees and rotting fruit, but if it can’t get that, it goes for flowers. Oddly enough, this butterfly also enjoys bird droppings, but you don’t have to worry about putting those in your garden.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Photo by Lilly Schelling.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Photo by Lilly Schelling.
Hello there! photo by Thomas P. LeBlanc, Allegany State Park

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

This big butterfly certainly lives up to its name. The eastern tiger swallowtail enjoys meals of wild cherry and lilac. Like the monarch, it also feeds on milkweed, especially in the summer. Its caterpillar can fool predators with the amusing eyespots on its large head.

 

For more information about these butterflies and more, go to the link below for identification tips and information:

http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Papilio-glaucus

When planting your butterfly garden, make sure to keep some space between the plants for easier tending. It may take some time for the butterflies to become aware of the new food source, but with patience and time, you are sure to see them flapping before long. If you want them to stay, consider putting up a butterfly house among the flowers. If you don’t have a green thumb, many of our state parks have butterfly gardens that you can visit, find one near you at NYSParks.com!

featured image is a monarch butterfly by Lilly Schelling.

Post by Mary Greagan.

Earth Day At Bear Mountain

On April 26th Bear Mountain State Park, in Orange County, held a very special Earth Day celebration for its two bears. The bear enclosure was thoroughly decorated with a farmer’s market theme, including copious peanut-butter treats prepared by zoo visitors for the bears to enjoy. The bears had a great time searching for hidden snacks and exploring their beautified habitat.

photo by Karen Parashkevov
photo by Karen Parashkevov

 

Bear Earth Day 3
photo by Paris Harper

 

2 Karen parashkevov
Photo by Karen Parashkevov

Following the festivities at the Bear Den, visitors explored a variety of other fun activities throughout the zoo.  Children made fish prints, nature jewelry, and insect crafts.  There were also opportunities to learn about shells, invasive species, birds, biofacts, alternative energy, native trees, and composting. Entertainment included live music and story time.  Visitors also learned about ways to volunteer and take action for the environment in our local community.  Finally, everyone had a chance to meet Trailside’s resident porcupine, Fanny, in a live animal presentation in the amphitheater.  The entire day was a treat for humans and animals alike.

If you missed the Earth Day Celebration, come join in the fun at Trailside’s Summer Celebration on Saturday, June 28, 2014.  At Summer Celebration you can plant your own sunflower, learn about the summer season, and enjoy wildlife-related crafts. Learn about Trailside’s upcoming events at www.trailsidezoo.org.

featured image by Karen Parashkevov

Cleaning Up Phragmites

Evicting invasive species from our parks is a tough job. Clearing Phragmites from around the rim of Moreau Lake in Moreau Lake State Park, for example, takes a large team of environmental staff and Student Conservation Association Interns an entire day, as we found out in early April.

phrag1

Phragmites is a tall reed which grows all over the world and has culturally been used for food, weapons, weaving material, music instruments.¹ However, populations of Eurasian Phragmites were introduced to the U.S by boat during the 18th and 19th centuries. Lacking natural population controls, the invasive Phragmites has rapidly spread throughout the U.S.²

Phragmites spreads rapidly because, in addition to reproducing through seeds, it also clones itself through rhizomes, a type of root that can form new, genetically identical plants. In this way, Phragmites can rapidly form dense stands that overcome all other plants in an area.³

Cutting down Phragmites isn’t easy work. Structurally similar to bamboo, Phragmites needs to be cut down with a heavy machete or a metal-bladed weedwhacker. Plant can grow as high as fifteen feet and often shelter higher populations of ticks than stands of native plants.

Phrag Moreau Before and After

Because of the particularly pernicious nature of Phragmites, NYS Parks uses herbicide on large stands, in addition to manual and mechanical forms of control. However, even after the plant is dead, cutting Phragmites down is an important part of the restoration process because it allows native plants to recolonize the area, improving the health of wetland ecosystems and building a buffer against future Phragmites invasions.

Sources

  1. Driscoll, Leslie. 1999. Phragmites australis. University of Massachussetts Boston. Online, http://site.www.umb.edu/conne/leslie/lesliepage.htm.
  2. Saltonstall, Kristen. 2005. Plant Conservation Alliance Alien Plant Working Group—Phragmites australis. Online, http://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/fact.htm
  3. Phragmites australis (grass). Global Invasive Species Database. http://www.issg.org/database/welcome/

Post by Paris Harper, photos by Casey Holzworth

Are You Ready for I Love My Parks Day?

Fans of NY State Parks are all geared up for the 2014 I Love My Parks Day, but this year State Parks, with help from the New York Natural Heritage Program, will also be running the 2nd annual Bioblitz. A BioBlitz is a time-limited survey of the number and types of species that live in a given area. On “I Love My Park Day,” scientific professionals and experts will take part in BioBlitzes at Minnewaska State Park Preserve and Clark Reservation State Park. Over a 24-hour period, our experts will document as many species, communities and habitats as possible while focusing their efforts on rare plants, animals, and ecological communities in the parks.

But you don’t have to take my word for it, A group of students from SUNY ESF created a great video explaining the highlights of Clark Reservation State Park, I Love My Parks Day, and the 2nd annual Bioblitz

featured image is of Broom Crowberry, a species of interest at the Minnewaska bioblitz. Photo by Kimberley J. Smith, NYNHP

Bird Box Bonanza

EABL
Photo by NYS Parks

Spring is here and you know what that means! The birds are coming back in force and they are all looking for places to build a sturdy nest. One of the ways Grafton Lakes State Park helps our feathered friends is by providing pre-fab nest boxes. The two targeted audiences are the wood ducks and bluebirds, although other birds take advantage of the boxes as well. Wood ducks and bluebirds  have each suffered population declines in the recent past, partially due to human interference. By providing these special nesting boxes, we can help bring the populations back up to snuff!

Photo by stevenanz.com
Photo by stevenanz.com

Wood ducks’ natural nesting cavities usually consist of a hollow nook in a tree, made over the years by a branch rotting away, or an old woodpecker feeding site. It also needs to be near water. Wood ducks are unique in that they are one of the only ducks equipped with strong claws on their feet enabling them to climb branches in order to build nests.

Photo by Deb Brzozowski

Because dead snags are seen as a danger to humans, the trees that wood ducks like to nest in are often cut down. Grafton Lakes State Park has so many bodies of water it is the perfect place to put up some nest boxes. Earlier this year we patrolled the 15 sites spread out over 5 ponds, cleaned out old nest material and refilled them with new wood shavings. If a duck chooses to use the box, the female will supplement the wood shavings with down feathers, and lay 6-10 eggs. Wood ducks have two broods each year. The chicks will hatch out in about 30 days with a full coat of down and are mobile within 2 days, jumping from the nest and waddling their way to the water. About 40% of the Grafton Lake boxes are occupied by wood duck broods each year, the rest used by owls, squirrels and other critters.

The bluebirds face a different challenge- their populations have been impacted by increasing land development. Bluebirds need nests that are high enough to deter predators and enable them to look out on an open area where plenty of bugs can be found (like the edge of a farm field or large yard). The other challenge to bluebirds is the increase of invasive species competing for the same type of nest. European starlings and house sparrows are both aggressive  birds that will kill bluebird parents, chicks and eggs they find in order to claim a nest box for themselves. While starlings are not usually an issue with properly made nest boxes, the house sparrows should never be allowed to occupy a box.

The Assistant Park Naturalists at Grafton held an educational program in the beginning of April about bluebirds. Almost 20 people attended; a lot of great nest boxes were made and brought home to spruce up personal yards. These bluebird boxes will become part of the successful citizen science project that has been helping bluebird population numbers rebound since the 1970s.

Photo by Deb Brzozowski

Photo by Deb Brzozowski

Photo by Deb Brzozowski

Just a few days ago, the bluebird nest boxes at Grafton Lakes got their first check up. After knocking on the box to inform any birds of our presence, we checked for signs of nest building and cleaned out any bugs that had overwintered in the boxes. Bluebirds build their nests from dry grass or pine needles, and we did see both a partially constructed nest and one that was completed. Hopefully soon we will be hearing little bluebird voices in Grafton!

If you’re interested in helping these beautiful birds there are many websites that have nest box instructions and dimensions for building your own box. Just make sure your box has adequate drainage holes, ventilation and weather protection.

Put up a box this spring, grab your binoculars and settle in to see some amazing sights of nature in your own backyard!

For More Information:

On bluebirds: www.noble.org/ag/wildlife/ebluebirdnestboxes/

The Birders Report has a variety of nest box plans available including bluebird and wood duck boxes.

Article and photos by Deb Brzozowski (debstepin.blogspot.com)

The official blog for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation

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