Migrating Monarch Butterflies

Monarch butterflies roosting in tree

It’s fall, and the monarch migration has been ongoing for several weeks.  The butterflies that cruise through my area of Oklahoma are headed to Mexico.  These butterflies are probably the fourth generation removed from butterflies that went north last spring, yet they know exactly where to go and how to get there.

Monarch butterflies are the only insect known to migrate in this way.  They head south to overwinter, then in spring head north again.  They lay eggs, die, and the next generation goes a bit further north and repeats the cycle.  Come fall, the fourth generation is the one that gets to head back south–some travel over 2,500 miles!

The butterflies have been using our yard as a rest stop every year in the fall, and beyond going outside and taking a few pictures of them filling the trees, I didn’t really pay much attention.  This year I found out about the website Journey North, which tracks monarch butterflies and maps them.  You can add your observations to the website and boom! you have just become a citizen scientist.  How cool is that?  Registration is easy and free.  Journey North tracks several migrations, including hummingbirds and gray whales.  

Here’s a screenshot of a Journey North map from 9/19/18.  
And here’s one from today, 10/4/18.  

I take lots of pictures of the butterflies roosting in my yard, very few turn out well.  It’s hard to get close enough for a good picture without startling them, and they are always moving a little bit.  And there’s the wind… but here are some pictures anyway.

Turn off the sound, it’s windy!

The video above gets you a better idea of just how many butterflies are clinging to the tree branches and how amazing it is to see them flying around you.  (If you do happen to listen to the sound, my older son is referring to a trip to the Butterfly House in Key West, where he and his brother were terrorized by the ginormous Blue Morpho butterflies many years ago.  Good times.)

Unless you have been living under a rock (not that there’s anything wrong with that), you have probably heard about the alarming loss of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.   There are many reasons for this, including mowing, spraying, and even raking and bagging leaves.  

There are some easy ways to help support pollinators:  Don’t spray your yard with pesticides.  They kill ALL the bugs, good and bad.  Let some flowering weeds grow in a part of your yard.  Our whole yard is basically (short) flowering weeds… If you are in an addition where you are required to have a pristine lawn, at least put some native plants in your landscape.  Don’t rake and bag your leaves.  They are chock full of caterpillars and other future pollinators.  They will break down and help renew your soil.  Again, if you are required to have a clean yard, maybe there’s a patch in a back corner you can leave alone.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation, in collaboration with several other states, has started timing their mowing to help improve monarch butterfly survival rates.  Roadsides are potentially a huge source of milkweed that the butterfly larvae eat.  They used to mow next to highways four times a year but have reduced it to “safety mows” in late June or July in several places.  They also planted a Monarch Waystation in Oklahoma City near I-35 recently.

Some people participate in butterfly tagging and some raise monarch butterflies in their yards to release.  One might wonder, do captive raised butterflies migrate like wild butterflies?  The answer is YES, yes they do!  Go to https://www.internationalbutterflybreeders.org/expertanswers/ for details about that!  The downside to captive raising monarchs is the possibility of releasing diseased butterflies into the general population.  

You can find out what type of milkweed (or butterfly weed) is native to your area by looking here.  Butterflies also need nectar plants, so consider adding a few of those as well.  Native plants have other benefits too; they provide shelter and forage for wildlife, and they are better adapted to the local climate.  Here’s a link to National Wildlife Federation’s native plant finder.

Here are just a few of the many monarch related websites:

Monarch Joint Venture

MonarchWatch.org

USDA Forest Service

Monarch Butterfly USA

Journey North

Several of these websites will send you free or very inexpensive milkweed seeds, and fall is a good time to direct sow milkweed.  You can also plant in spring from seed, start indoors in late winter, or buy plants from a reputable source.  

I hope you have been able to enjoy some butterflies in your own area this fall and plan to help them out next year.  

Migrating Monarch Butterflies from HouseofIngrams.com

Butterfly and Moth Identification

Black Witch moth from HouseofIngrams.com

One morning I was cruising through our strange little “breakfast nook” area and saw something out of the corner of my eye…I thought there was a good-sized bat hanging outside our window!  On closer inspection, it proved to be a really big moth.  Really big, like seven inches across, and it was sideways so it really did look like a bat at first glance.  Well of course first thing I do is start snapping pictures of it, thinking I could identify it.

Moth silhouette from HouseofIngrams.com
Seriously, out of the corner of your eye, this thing looks like a bat. Both my boys thought the same thing.

There are 6,935 species of moths and butterflies documented in North America.  Uh huh.  There are 5726 verified species of moths in the United States.  Hmmm.   Well…

As it happens, moth and butterfly identification can be quite difficult sometimes, so after a fruitless search of several websites, I happened across Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA).  Lucky me, they have a huge database.  Best part, you can submit your sighting and if you send them a picture they have a regional expert who will identify your mystery Lepidoptera and email you back!  So I registered for free, sent in my picture with the location and time, and within 30 minutes I had an ID for our moth.  It is an Ascalapha odorata… the common name is Black Witch!  Of course, if you read about it on the species page they make sure to tell you that it is “easily identified by its large size and pointed forewing”…ok so in future I will be able to identify one!

BAMONA screenshot from HouseofIngrams.com

The screenshot above is the bottom of the species page, and my photo is on the far left.

BAMONA sighting map
All the reported sightings of this species, mapped!

I am truly a major nerd, but this just tickles me to death.  Anyone with a decent picture of a moth, butterfly, caterpillar, egg, or pupa can submit it and get it identified, plus it helps BAMONA track species all over the continent.

BAMONA get involved

Citizen science is a method of data collection using crowdsourcing- regular people make observations and report to scientists who compile and analyze it.  This method is a great way to get a lot more data than trained scientists could ever get working alone.

This would be a great nature lesson for any student and is an excellent resource for insect study; well, moths and butterflies at least.

Other citizen science projects that are very easy and fun to participate in are the Great Backyard Bird Count, Project Feederwatch, and WeatherUnderground (you can connect your personal weather station to their network to monitor the weather).  There are a bunch of ongoing projects listed on this Wikipedia page.

I hope this is helpful and encourages you to send in your butterfly and moth pictures to BAMONA!

Identifying Butterflies and Moths using BAMONA website from HouseofIngrams.com

 

Riverfront Murals of Cape Girardeau

Mural in Cape Girardeau from HouseofIngrams.com
The art studio and the artists are listed in this mural.

Cape Girardeau is a town on the Mississipi River in southeast Missouri.  It has a colorful history and has preserved it in a unique way, by painting huge detailed murals depicting scenes from the area’s past on the floodwall built to keep the town from being regularly inundated by high river water.  If you have to have a giant concrete wall between you and the river, this is the best way to do it!

The murals are located in the old downtown district, which is full of nifty old buildings.  There are restaurants, antique shops, and bars to visit and when we were there, lots of free parking.  There is a pathway along the murals on the town side of the wall with descriptive signs in front of each panel.  There is also a pathway on the river side you can walk along.

Cape Mural from HouseofIngrams.com
This is my younger son in front of a riverside mural.

I am in awe of the artistic skill needed for this, and the sheer scale of this project.  The 24 panel Mississippi River Tales murals and the Missouri Wall of Fame are the ones we saw on this visit.  There are other murals in the area by other artists as well.  My photos don’t really do it justice, but I will put them here anyway.

Missouri Mural from HouseofIngrams.com
Famous people from Missouri.
Missouri Mural from HouseofIngrams.com
More famous Missouri people.

Missouri Mural from HouseofIngrams.com

Each mural in the Mississippi River Tales has a little sign in front explaining the story depicted.  I only took a picture of one, because it was such a crazy story…

Railroad Mural plaque from HouseofIngrams.comRailroad Mural from HouseofIngrams.com

Missouri ingenuity.  And the railroad track runs right in front of the mural today.

Trail of Tears mural from HouseofIngrams.com
This depicts the Trail of Tears.

Nine of thirteen groups of Cherokees crossed the Mississippi River at Cape during the harsh winter of 1838-39.  Thousands died during this forced relocation and dozens are buried in the area.  There is a state park at the crossing location now.

Mural from HouseofIngrams.com

Louisiana Purchase mural from HouseofIngrams.com
This depicts Napoleon in his bath…informing his lackeys that he had sold Louisiana to that upstart United States.

Mural from HouseofIngrams.com

Mural from HouseofIngrams.com

Mural from HouseofIngrams.com

Mural from HouseofIngrams.com

Keep in mind, this is a smooth concrete wall…all the “stonework” is painted on.  The one above fascinates me.  It’s a painting of a painter painting the painting…

These are just beautiful in person, so if you get a chance to visit, do so!  There is an online guide with lots more information here.  

Here’s some of the downtown area…

Port Cape Girardeau building from HouseofIngrams.comBuildings Cape Girardeau from HouseofIngrams.comDowntown Cape

River view from HouseofIngrams.com
And there is the river!
The bridge crossing the Mississippi viewed from Cape Girardeau.

I hope you enjoyed the photo tour!

Getting a Higher ACT Math Score

My younger son took his ACT for the second time in early February. He got a decent score the first time, but in the hope of getting better scholarship offers elected to take it again to try and increase his math score (and bump up his composite as well).
He took it originally in April 2017 as a sophomore and got a 28 in math with a 32 composite. He was taking Thinkwell online Geometry at the time. This year he is taking Thinkwell Trigonometry (which begins with a massive Algegra 2 review!).  I am not affiliated with Thinkwell, we just really like their upper-level math courses for homeschool.

This post contains affiliate links.  See my full disclosure policy here.

We had the first edition of this McGraw-Hill 50 Top Skills for a Top Score ACT Math  (the second edition is out now) that his brother had used with some success when he was in high school and so thought it would be a good way to try and increase his math score. There are 50 lessons to cover 50 key ACT math concepts and strategies. He signed up for the February 10, 2018, test. By the time we recovered from the holidays and a family vacation, he had three and a half weeks to study; practically speaking he had 22 days. I challenged him to cover at least three lessons a day on top of his regular schoolwork. He had Sundays off and at least one camping weekend during this time, so he usually did four lessons a day.
Test day came and went, and I knew the scores usually come out the second Tuesday after the test Saturday so was really planning to check first thing on the 20th but got busy and forgot!
It was a couple of days after the scores were up before I remembered to look.
Mission accomplished! He managed to score 33 on the math section, which was a gain of five points! His other scores were comparable to last time, so his composite went up to a 34. I went and woke him up to show him the scores on my laptop screen. He was less excited than I expected.
😀
This book is available on Amazon.
His method was simply working through the lessons in order, but this includes a CD with two extra practice tests (recommended), a pre-test and post-test, and cut out flash cards.  These images are from our book, which is a few years old.  The one linked above on Amazon is the new second edition.

I should say that no matter how good the prep materials are, you won’t get a good result without a lot of time and effort.   Your results may vary!

 


I think his Thinkwell Trig course with the Algebra 2 review included helped but the prep book was a HUGE factor in improving his score.  We highly recommend it!

 

The Florida Aquarium and the American Victory Ship

Back in January, we took a day to visit the Florida Aquarium in Tampa because we are all about aquariums…seriously, we go to every one we possibly can, including the ones here in Oklahoma, which are obviously few and far between…

Our visit coincided with a rare cold spell in south Florida, but it was still warmer than Oklahoma.  The first full day we planned to check out the aquarium in Tampa then make our way to our hotel in St. Pete Beach that afternoon.  It was COLD.  A really good day to be inside somewhere–and lots of other people must have agreed because the place was packed.  There was a pretty good line of people waiting to get tickets when we arrived.  We finally got our tickets and made our way inside.  I took some pictures but they don’t really do things justice.  It’s a very beautiful facility with oodles of amazing animals.  

Sand eels are so cool!

Roseate spoonbills.

The duck above is watching all the strollers closely so it can snatch up dropped kiddie snacks…”Pay no attention to that sign behind me!”

We went through the whole place in around two hours; keep in mind my boys are 20 and 16 so they weren’t interested in the hands-on or outdoor play areas (they have an outdoor splash pad playground which was not open during our visit, go figure!); families with smaller kids might want to allow more time.  And if you go when it’s warm, which is apparently almost always, you will want to bring swim gear, towels, and sunscreen so your kids can play out there.  They have a place to change in and out of swim gear right next to the playground.

There is a snack bar on site but since we had seen everything we wanted, we walked about a block down the street and found a New York style pizza place which was really good.  It had a New York police precinct theme.  It is called, appropriately, Precinct Pizza.  Check it out if you are in town!

We were thinking about heading to the rental car and finding our hotel, but had noticed a sign on the way into the aquarium mentioning something about a historic victory ship nearby…so we followed the signs and found this:

American Victory Ship

The SS American Victory Maritime Museum is one of only four working WWII era ships in the country.  My older son is a major history buff, so of course we had to spend the rest of our day exploring the massive ship.

They take this old merchant marine cargo ship out on a Relive History Cruise twice a year, and we were bummed that we missed that.  Perhaps another time.  There are nine decks to wander, including 3-story cargo holds, galleys, crew cabins, mess halls, officers’ quarters, and lots more.  They also have medals and many historic artifacts.

Above you can see the dazzle paint scheme that helps to break up the shape of the ship.

 

Both places are definitely worth a visit if you are in the Tampa Bay area!  If you decide to include the ship on your itinerary, keep in mind it has nine stories to go through and it is a ship…so expect lots of walking, and lots of steep metal stairs.  To give you an idea, I had 10,975 steps on my Samsung phone for that day.  😀

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Backyard Bird Count

Have you ever heard of the Great Backyard Bird Count?

GBBC 2018It’s February and almost time for the 2018 Great Backyard Bird Count! This year it goes from February 16 through 19.  Started by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audobon Society in 1998, this is a free four-day long event and anyone can participate.  You can count for as little as fifteen minutes or as long as you like, one day or all four.  This event helps scientists get a better idea of how bird populations are doing.  Last year (2017 GBBC) was the biggest ever with over 160,000 people participating!

To find out exactly how to participate, go to the GBBC website.  You will need to make an account if you haven’t already.  Here’s a link to an instructional PDF.  If you are a brand new user, they recommend registering at BirdCount.org.

Red Bellied Woodpecker on feeder

You can count birds in your own yard, a park, on roadsides, or anywhere.  The online report forms allow you to log the time and location.  There are lots of tips on counting and identifying birds on the website as well and many excellent bird photographs.  If you take some bird pictures you can submit those too.

You can start with a printed checklist or just use a notebook.  Note your date, time, and location.  I usually take a notebook and write in the birds I expect to find then use tally marks during the observation period.  If there are several birds of the same species, try to report the largest number you saw at one time, this way you won’t overcount.   If I get an unexpected bird I just write it in.  After I have completed all my viewing I log in and enter the data using their easy forms.

Cardinal

I have tried to participate a little bit every year but it’s been kind of hit and miss.  In my own backyard, we usually see lots of birds when it’s cold and nasty out, but when the GBBC rolls around we nearly always have nice warm weather and the birds don’t show up.  😀  I will give it a whirl anyway!

White Crowned Sparrow

If you really enjoy keeping track of bird sightings, on the eBird website you can log bird sightings year round and it will track all your data for you.  I haven’t logged in a while and have some serious updating to do…

Helpful bird identification tips can be found at eBird, along with bird data and news.  Audobon.org has news and photos.  Cornell’s website has an online searchable bird guide.  There are also mobile phone apps you can use.

This is an excellent opportunity to get your kids involved in citizen science, a process in which volunteers partner with scientists to answer real-world questions.  Anyone can “do science” this way; you don’t have to have a degree.  You could go on a field trip to a park and make a really fun day of it, and you might spot more than just birds!

Squirrel Talk

Are you planning to participate in the GBBC this year?  Let us know in the comments!