Thursday, August 13, 2009

Summer Volunteer Project

To retain my Master Naturalist certification, I'm required to complete a minimum of 40 volunteer service hours. The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project is one of the ways I've been obtaining my volunteer hours. Every Wednesday evening, a small number of dedicated volunteers head over to the Payne Field near Rochester's Quarry Hill Nature Center to look for monarch eggs and caterpillars. In the photo below, my buddy Dave begins his search. Dave is also a fellow Master Naturalist volunteer and bluebird enthusiast. We met years ago when he first moved to Rochester and I was working at Wild Birds Unlimited. It's been fun spending time with him again on volunteer projects at Quarry Hill and Master Naturalist events.

Here's Lucille and her two children on the monarch quest. They ride over on their bikes every week, but Lucille admitted to me last week that she's enjoying this project much more than the kids are.

Every week, we fill out a checklist indicating what we find in the field. We tally each plant that's inspected and if eggs or caterpillars are found, that's also tallied. The caterpillars are also categorized by size: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th instar. Here on my clipboard is a lovely 5th instar I found during the monitoring. (This caterpillar went home with me, turned into a chrysalis the next day and I'm now waiting for it to emerge as a monarch butterfly.)

The first few weeks of monitoring in June were great -- the milkweed plants were taller than the surrounding grass and it was easy to get through the field. Now look at it! Some of the grasses and weeds are almost up to my chin! I have to be pretty careful bending over to inspect the milkweed plants lest I get poked in the eye or ear by some foxtails or wild parsnip.

As I've mentioned before, the low numbers of monarch eggs, larva and even butterflies has been disappointing. But there are plenty of other insect sightings in this field to keep things interesting. Lately I've been seeing lots of milkweed beetles doin' the "wild thing," but this is the only time I've ever seen this particular position........and I just couldn't resist taking a picture!
Looks pretty precarious to me, but I guess even beetles like a little variety!

I'm happy to report that my monarch butterfly tagging kit finally arrived in today's mail. My monarch ranch has at least one butterfly scheduled to emerge from its chrysalis early next week, and I hope to share a "how to tag a monarch butterfly" post with you then, so stay tuned!


Anonymous said...

Pretty interesting stuff, I don't know about peeking in on PRIVATE AFFAIRS, shame on you. LOL a lot.
Keep up the good work with the Monarch Ranch. How many are in there now?


Gaelyn said...

What a fun project to be part of. I look forward to a butterfly banding post. It's hard for me to imagine how and where.

You are one busy lady.

Jayne said...

What a great project Ruthie, and a good bit of FUN too. :c) Looking forward to seeing your ranch again.

troutbirder said...

I hope the wood tick counts are down. Hate to read that our dedicated scientiests are at risk!

RuthieJ said...

Hi Mom,
In the ranch are 5 cocoons, 3 caterpillars getting ready to make the change and 2 still eating milkweed leaves. I haven't taken the time lately to go and look for more eggs, but maybe next week.

Hi Gaelyn,
The tagging part is pretty cool. After we're done with larva monitoring at Quarry Hill, we change over to tagging monarch butterflies. Pam (our project coordinator) has a goal of tagging 1000 monarchs this summer, so it will be interesting to see how close we can get to that!

Thanks Jayne. I saw a beautiful garden spider in her web the other night when we were out there, but I didn't have the camera along.

Hi Troutbirder,
Amazingly enough, I haven't picked up a single wood tick out in this field!

Kelly said...

...I know what you mean about poking yourself in the eye with the taller plants--it just did it with bamboo--yikes, I'm lucky I still have an eye! Tomorrow, we're digging up another section of the yard...for milkweed and other butterfly loving plants. I'm going to start preparing now. I hope I get Monarchs next summer! Your volunteer project and Monarch ranch has been very inspiring! ( the bugs!) :-)

Mary C said...

Ruthie, your last photo looks very similar to a picture I took last year of a couple of lady bugs. I never did publish it on my blog. But maybe one of these days...
That looks like a fun volunteer project to be involved in. And to think you can take a few "finds" home with you.

Dana and Daisy said...

There's an indoor botanical garden in OKC called Myriad Gardens and every october they have like ten thousand monarchs that hatch! Steve and I plan to go see them this year, (fingers crossed we choose the right week!)

RuthieJ said...

Hi Kelly,
I hope your eye will be OK!
Good luck with your butterfly garden. It's a really fun thing to have and once you get your milkweed and other plants growing, you should register as a monarch waystation.

Hi Mary C,
That caterpillar I've got on the clipboard is going to hatch as a monarch butterfly this morning! It's amazing to watch this process from start to finish.

Hi Dana,
I hope your visit to the Myriad Gardens coincides with the hatch too--can't wait to see those pictures!

Susan Gets Native said...

COOL. Very very COOL.

I still go out every day and check my milkweed. One Monarch (Veronica) and a ton of tussock cats and today, a wheel bug nymph. But no more Monarchs! I'm itching to watch one go through metamorphosis again!
And will be ordering a tagging kit for next year, ya sure, you betcha!

RuthieJ said...

Hi Susan,
I was amazed to find 4 large cats (two 4th instar and two 5th instar) on milkweed when I went to the compost bin after supper tonight. I plucked the leaves they were on and gave them a new home in my monarch ranch (photos will be in the next post!)