Tag Archives: buckeye butterfly

The (Prairie) Butterfly Effect

“I want the experience of the butterfly.” — William Stafford

***

The first one flew just ahead of us, then disappeared. “Hey—was that a monarch?” my husband Jeff asked. I shaded my eyes against the sun, unsure.

We were at Kankakee Sands in northwestern Indiana, returning from visiting family down south. Needing to get off the mind-numbing, semi-rumbling Interstate 65 that connects Indianapolis with Chicago, we decided to take a more off-the-beaten path route.  A stop at this 7,000-plus acres Nature Conservancy site along the way was a no-brainer.

KankakeeSandstwilightWM91418.jpg

As we pulled into the empty “Bison Viewing Area” parking lot, there was nary a hairy mammal in sight.  All the bison were grazing far away in the preserve, oblivious to public relations and their responsibilities in promoting prairie at their assigned station. The light slanted low across the wildflowers. September days were shortening. The quiet was tangible, except for the hum of singing insects in the grasses.

Jeff broke the silence. “Look! There’s another one,” he said, pointing. Two more butterflies flew over. Monarchs! And then another.  And another. As our eyes adjusted, we began to understand what was in front of us.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of monarch butterflies covered the prairie…

monarchviceroyKankakeeSands91418WM

A viceroy butterfly occasionally mixed in. Everywhere we looked, there were monarchs nectaring on stiff goldenrod.

WMTrio of monarchs on stiff goldenrod KS91418.jpg

The prairie was a shimmer of motion and color in the late afternoon light.

WMkankakeeSandsmonarchmigration91418.jpg

Wave after wave of orange and black butterflies fluttered across the goldenrod. I began frantically snapping photos with my camera. Click! Click! Click! But…How do you capture the movement and motion of clouds of butterflies? After a few minutes, I put my camera down and tried videotaping them with my cell phone. I soon gave up. One random viceroy butterfly video later,  I realized it was futile to try and freeze the magic.

 

Perhaps, this was a moment to tuck into your heart, instead of trying to capture it with images and technology. We put away the camera and our cell phones. Instead of frantically clicking away, both of us watched the butterflies in silence.

So many butterflies! We couldn’t stop talking about them as we drove home. We knew prairies were great habitat for these amazing insects. But still!

Nachusa Grasslands, a Nature Conservancy site where I’m a steward, has some beautiful butterflies. I love the buckeyes, which seem to be everywhere at Nachusa this month…

NGbuckeyeonaster91518WM.jpg

…and the uncommon regal fritillaries, which I’ve seen there a few times in the summer. They take my breath away!

regalfritillaryNG62518

The Schulenberg Prairie, where I’m a steward supervisor, constantly dazzles me with its frequent fliers. Like this black swallowtail butterfly nectaring on rattlesnake master just weeks ago.

swallowtailSPMA7218

Fermilab’s prairies, another great place to hike in the Chicago region, continue to delight me with a diversity of butterflies, including the common but charming little eastern tailed blues.

easterntailedbluebutterflyfermilab62918wm

But seeing the massive monarch migration up close for the first time at Kankakee Sands this week brought all the other prairies like these into focus.

This, I thought, is what happens when we try to heal the earth.

nachusagrasslands91518FameFlowerWM.jpg

This is why we collect native prairie seeds, then go to crazy lengths to dry them and reseed new prairie restorations.WMseeds drying at Nachusa Grasslands 918.jpg

This is why we set the prescribed fires to renew the tallgrass each spring.

pvsburn copy

This is why we sweat in summer temperatures nearing 100 degrees, caring for prairie. Stay up late at night reading about restoration methods. Help our children and grandchildren raise a few caterpillars that become butterflies to understand the cycle of life. This is why we hike the  prairie trails with little ones, so that early on they will experience some of the miracles of the natural world.

WMFermiprairie91018.jpg

This is why we scribble restoration plans and seed collection notes. Cut honeysuckle and buckthorn so it doesn’t encroach into the tallgrass. Go out and speak and teach about prairie and all its creatures. Pull weeds.

IMG_9491

This is what can happen when volunteers and stewards and site managers and donors care for the beautiful world we’ve been given.

NGintherain102117

And, sometimes, on a magical day like this one, we see the tangible results.

****

William Stafford (1914-1993)  is considered to be one of our finest, if sometimes uneven, nature poets. Wrote Steve Garrison of Stafford, “He offers a unique way into the heart of the world.”

***

All photos and video copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): late afternoon at the bison viewing area of Kankakee Sands, The Nature Conservancy, Morocco, IN: monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) and viceroy butterflies (Limenitis archippus) nectaring on stiff goldenrod (Oligoneuron rigidum), Kankakee Sands, The Nature Conservancy, Morocco, IN;  trio of monarchs (Danaus plexippus) nectaring on stiff goldenrod (Oligoneuron rigidum), Kankakee Sands, The Nature Conservancy, Morocco, IN; late afternoon at Kankakee Sands, The Nature Conservancy, Morocco, IN:  video of viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus) nectaring on stiff goldenrod (Oligoneuron rigidum), Kankakee Sands, The Nature Conservancy, Morocco, IN; buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia) on unknown aster (Asteracea), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; regal fritillary (Speyeria idalia) , Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) on rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; eastern tailed-blue (Cupido comyntas), Fermilab Inner Ring, Fermilab Natural Areas, Batavia, IL; September on Fame Flower Knob, Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; drying seeds at Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; prescribed burn, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; small toddler investigating flowers, Fermilab Interpretive Trail, Fermilab Natural Areas, Batavia, IL; weeds and work bucket, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Nachusa Grasslands in the rain, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL.

Thanks to all the organizations that manage Kankakee Sands, including the Nature Conservancy of Indiana, Division of Fish & Wildlife, Division of Nature Preserves, Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Indiana Heritage Trust, Indiana Grand Company, Lilly Endowment, National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, and Natural Resources Conservation Services. Grateful for the butterfly magic this week.

America’s Favorite (Prairie) Pastime

“A baseball weighted your hand just so, and fit it…When you hit it with a bat it cracked – and your heart cracked, too, at the sound. It took a grass stain nicely….” — Annie Dillard

 

For baseball fans, July means the season is building to a crescendo. So it is also in the tallgrass.

July throws out every possible pitch on the prairie: thunderstorms, scorching hot days, high winds, foggy mornings, cool evenings. It keeps you slightly off-balance. Guessing. Unsure of what the next day or—even hour—in the tallgrass might bring.

P1000581.jpg

In the prairie wetlands, egrets crouch; umpire the prairie ponds and streams.

IMG_5731 (1).jpg

Cup plants have hit their stride. Towering and aggressive–up to 10 feet tall—their cheerful flowers team up with compass plant and prairie dock blooms to splash yellow across the prairie.

P1100902.jpg

Their perfoliate sandpapery leaves catch rainwater for thirsty goldfinches and other birds. Think of a scratchy catcher’s mitt.

P1100912.jpg

Big bluestem shoots up overnight, waving its turkey-footed seed heads. As Illinois state grass, it deserves an all-star role on the July prairie.

IMG_8421 (1)

Cordgrass blooms, subtle and easy to miss.

P1100922.jpg

But with the prairie roster overflowing with wildflowers…

P1100936.jpg

…big bluestem and the other grasses are sometimes overlooked, just as utility players often are beside their flashier teammates. Just wait until October, they seem to whisper.

P1000600.jpg

Gray-headed coneflowers shake out their lemon petal pennants, cheering on the season.

P1100883.jpg

In a few weeks, their gray seed heads will become dry and brittle with an amazing scent: an anise-citrus prairie potpourri. Mmmm.

P1010939.jpg

Joe Pye weed fills the prairie savanna with clouds of pale lavender. Their floral scorecards are marked with yellow tiger swallowtails and other butterflies, crazy for the nectar.

P1100899.jpg

Buckeyes surf the grasses; pop up along the paths.

P1090612.jpg

And every prairie clover bloom seems to sport a bee or butterfly.

P1100048.jpg

America’s favorite pastime might be baseball.

But the prairie in July knows how to hit a home run.

*****

The opening quote is from Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood (1987), her memoir of growing up in Pittsburgh. Among the awards Dillard has won for her writing is the Pulitzer Prize for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974), a sustained non-fiction narrative about the beauty and terror of the natural world.

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): fog over the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; great egret (Ardea alba), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum), with unknown bee, author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum), author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Belmont Prairie Nature Preserve, Downer’s Grove, IL; prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinata), author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; prairie blooms, author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; Schulenberg prairie grasses at sunset, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; gray-headed coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata), author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; gray-headed coneflower seed heads (Ratibida pinnata), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum), author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL;  white prairie clover (Dalea candida) with wild indigo duskywing butterfly (Erynnis baptisiae most likely, although this is a difficult genus to ID), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

Wild Things

“Two great and conflicting stories have been told about (wildness). According to the first of these, wildness is a quality to be vanquished; according to the second, it is a quality to be cherished.”–Robert Macfarlane

So often, we settle for “pretty” when we think about place. And yes, the prairie can be pretty, and full of pretty things. Great blue lobelia. Creamy white turtlehead blooms.

“Wild” makes more demands of us.  It changes our idea of beautiful. The prairie as a wild place asks us to be uncomfortable in order to experience it.  To be scratched, sore, tired, and bitten.

P1000745

Wild may be more subtle than pretty. It asks us to look at the sweep of a prairie landscape; the nuances of color and movement.

P1000935

It pushes us to pay attention to small things, that may otherwise easily slip below our radar.

P1000907

To be wild is sometimes unsafe. Prairie dropseed lures us with its buttered popcorn smell, while tripping us up with its silky grasses and mounded roots. Early European settlers called prairie dropseed, “ankle breaker.”  To cross a prairie in that time, with your belongings packed into your wagon, was to enter the wild. A place of hazards.

IMG_8254.jpg

Other plants, like the prairie cordgrass towering over your head, slash bare skin with razor-like leaf cuts if you venture too close. Its nickname: “rip gut.”

CROSBY-Cordgrass2016SP

And yet…look again. So many delicate blooms amid the rough and ready grasses! You pick your way carefully, still conscious of the perils.

P1000895

 

Beauty and terror co-exist, side by side.

P1000882

The idea of “wild” invites us to marvel over less-appreciated creatures, who have a certain ferocious allure.

P1000811

The wildness of prairie may seem empty. The openness of sky and grass leaves us vulnerable to whatever is “out there.”

P1000872

You feel the eyes of a thousand inhabitants of the natural world watching.

P1000871 (2)

You stand, a solitary figure in the tallgrass. No other person in sight. Prairies, like other wild places, give us room to be alone with ourselves, without white noise and distractions. And perhaps this is the most terrifying demand of all from wild places. But for those who make the journey, it is the most satisfying reward. What will you discover?

Why not go, and find out?

*******

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby: (top to bottom) great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) and white turtlehead (Chelone glabra linifolia), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL: great spangled fritillary (Speyeria cybele) on pasture thistle (Cirsium discolor) , Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL;  September colors at Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; familiar bluet damselfly (Enallagma civile) , Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; prairie dropseed, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinata) , Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; violet wood sorrel (Oxalis violacea) Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus) and bee (Megachile spp.), Nachusa Grassland, Franklin Grove, IL; banded garden spider (Argiope trifasciata), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; September at Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; common buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL.

Robert Macfarlane (1976-) penned the opening quote, which is from his book, The Wild Places. He is a contemporary British writer, and winner of the Boardman Tasker Prize for literature.

Image

Prairie Peace for Troubled Times

It’s a scary world out there, as this past week has shown.

IMG_6875

If you need a lift for your spirits…

IMG_6858

 

…a reminder that the world is beautiful, as well as broken, if we have eyes to see.

IMG_6787

 

A promise that the future can be unexpectedly joy-filled,

IMG_6422 (1)

And that there is hope for change.

IMG_6064

 

Come take a walk with me in the tallgrass.

IMG_6891

 

For a few moments, rest  your mind from all the violence and ugliness.

 

IMG_6927 (1)

 

Think about the color and life that even now, is all around you if you look for it.

IMG_6453

Some of it loud, pink, and glorious.

IMG_6727

Some of it quiet and nuanced.

IMG_6899

 

Do a little soul restoration,

IMG_6817

 

while contemplating prairie restoration.

IMG_6833

 

Better yet, when  you’re done reading this–

 

IMG_6828

 

Go for a walk on the prairie, and let your spirit soak up the quiet of the natural world.

IMG_6059

 

Whatever frame of mind these words and images  find you in…

IMG_6679

I wish you a moment of quiet reflection. A rest from the chaos.

Peace.

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): compass plant buds broken by a weevil (Silphium laciniatum and Haplorhynchites aeneus), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; ; Halloween pennant (Celithemis eponina), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia) Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; American bullfrog in Willoway Brook (Lithobates catesbeianus) Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; bison calf (Bison bison) on the July prairie, Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; the Schulenberg Prairie in July, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; chicory (Cichorium intybus) Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  compass plant (Silphium lanciniatum), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; queen of the prairie (Filipendula rubra) East Side prairie planting, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea) and a bee (species unknown) Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  Michigan lily (Lilium michiganense), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; flowering spurge (Euphorbia corollata), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  prairie parsley (Polytaenia nuttallii) going to seed, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  bison herd (Bison bison), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; bottle brush grass (Elymus hystrix), savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

October’s Fire

Autumn strikes its match against the tallgrass.

IMG_0087

There’s a hiss, then a smolder. Seemingly overnight, the prairie bursts into flame.

IMG_0311

Sumacs catch fire.

IMG_0270

The odd sapling or two torches the tallgrass, creating small flare ups.

IMG_0263

IMG_0163

Impossible colors clash.

IMG_0080

Even the butterflies mimic the tallgrass, their wings full of glowing embers.

IMG_0241

The colors crescendo, peak, then begin to fade.

IMG_0282

Compass plants wave leaf flags of surrender.

IMG_0067

Slowly, the elephant-eared prairie dock leaves crumple like old paper bags.

IMG_0065

Little bluestem sparks bright;  then its seeds float away like cinders, still combustible.

IMG_0299

Colors burn out, leaving trails of ash-colored seeds behind.

IMG_0324

The seeds disperse. Only skeletons of the plants remain.

IMG_0262

November is close on the heels of this conflagration. As the prairie moves into a season of rest, it will offer new ways of seeing beauty. Structure, instead of color.

IMG_0337

 

Until then, we celebrate the last frenzied outpourings.

October’s fire.

 

All photos by Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; road through the October tallgrass, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; sumac (Rhus spp.), NG; October sapling in the tallgrass, NG;  October sapling in the tallgrass, NG; New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae- angliae) against gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa), SP; buckeye butterfly, NG; compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), SP; prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum), SP; Canada wild rye (Elymus canadensis), NG; Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota), NG; Great Angelica (Angelica atropurpurea), NG.