The Magic of the Monarch…it’s WORKING!
With so many people involved in Loudoun County’s Monarch efforts, it’s a delight to shine a spotlight on some of them, so we thought it would be purposeful to share a few exciting and diverse efforts coming out of Loudoun county.
Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy joined in the extraordinary citizen science and conservation effort for the Monarch butterfly in 2013 by launching the “Bringing Back the Monarch, Keeping the Magic Alive” program consisting of several important goals. A local information campaign is key to this effort, including public talks, workshops, and hands-on opportunities to learn about raising and releasing Monarchs and restoring and protecting the dwindling habitat along their migratory path between Mexico and Canada.
The campaign has been enthusiastically embraced county-wide and has inspired eagerness among all age groups, resulting in a deeply committed effort across so many levels of involvement. Dozens of Loudoun’s public and private schools have taught their students by planting and registering Monarch Waystations, and countless residents now know of and understand the importance of Milkweed, the Monarch’s only host plant.
In my own close-knit community, South Riding, it is not so rare to see a neighbor of mine now carefully turning over milkweed leaves in the yard. Such selfless volunteers are looking for Monarch eggs or caterpillars. They have joined in the effort because the Monarch is a creature we can save just by KNOWING more and adjusting our compass to align with their needs as they journey North and South, crisscrossing Loudoun County in that tell-tale glide as they seek out a nectar source or a tender milkweed plant just right for egg-laying. We are making a difference in that magical journey here in Loudoun County, one garden plot or Monarch talk at a time.
From all corners of Loudoun, we are hearing reports of Monarch caterpillar and butterfly sightings (please report your sightings to Journey North), we receive inquiries about how to rear the caterpillars, and we answer requests for native plant and milkweed plant needs with plant sales to foster the development of habitats across our area. Waystations bursting with these native beauties and with the Monarch’s milkweed are now popping up on apartment balconies, in school courtyards, in park meadows, and in front yard planter beds. These Waystations are diligently registered with Monarch Watch, too. And why is that, really…why REGISTER your garden? Well, among the many incentivizing reasons, my favorite is that a SIGN goes up to communicate the good news of the important work that space is now up to. That sign is powerful because people walking past stop to read it, then they ask questions or visit the website whimsically scripted at the bottom (MonarchWatch.org). Really, a sign like that on a garden means something special is going on, and people want to know more. That’s the golden ticket! It’s the Salesman’s “grab” convincing you that there is something new to learn today. Remember those neighbors of mine I mentioned…those curious souls staring carefully into the milkweed? They saw our sign, and then they asked what it was all about. Sometimes, it’s just that easy. In other ways, the efforts are more gregarious and elbow-greased.
To start with, our dedicated president, Nicole Hamilton, along with another very active Loudoun Monarch advocate, Caroline Kuhfahl, has been writing letters and hosting meetings with local wineries (like 868 Vineyard and Sunset Hills) to foster event planning initiatives that call attention to the wonderful butterfly habitat opportunities available on the grounds of these vineyards. There are several events in the works, and some already successfully held, so keep your eyes on the events calendar to catch the next “WINGS & WINE” event (to be posted).
Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy works with public libraries, parks, and community centers all over Loudoun County to host Monarch talks aimed at informing our local communities of the plight of the Monarch and to invite citizens to be awed by the Monarch’s unique story. In addition, a series of “Raising and Releasing Monarchs” workshops have been very popular and have equipped a growing crowd of citizen scientist volunteers with the knowledge, the tools, and the support to collect eggs and caterpillars from the wild that are then reared in captivity to be released as adult butterflies. This is a fascinating and joyful journey for all involved. One such Loudouner, Ed Felker, wrote about his first-time experience raising and releasing Monarchs this summer in a stunningly poetic photo-essay. If you have not read it yet, here is the link; trust me, you’ll feel as though you are watching it all unfold before your own eyes.
Loudoun citizens are showing their commitment to habitat restoration, too. Aside from the countless private Waystations, Monarch Waystations are now registered at public spaces including Ashburn Farms, Brambleton, Loudoun Soccer Park (where Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch himself planted milkweed), and at over 30 Loudoun County Public Schools. This is an extraordinary response! In an effort to learn just how many Monarch releases are occurring in Loudoun County, Loudoun Wildlife has created an online form where citizens can report their release data. The total count and information will be displayed on Loudoun Wildlife’s website–that portion is still in development to be deployed in the coming days. Click HERE to enter YOUR releases!
The greatest hope of all of these sorts of activities is to spread a little wonder with the education we are sharing. Wonder leads to that special kind of curiosity that motivates one to seek information. More than a year ago, that marvelous wonder sparked something in a now 9-year old Loudoun student, Carter Steadman. Carter has been chasing down every bit of current Monarch information available, and he’s been chasing Monarchs through milkweed patches, collecting over 200 eggs and caterpillars this season alone. It’s a daily exercise in observation and careful caterpillar headcounts as he rears his Monarchs to adults that flit off with whimsy while he watches with that stunning wonder in his smile. He is determined to save this creature, and he takes every opportunity to tell anyone willing to listen, earning him the nickname, “The Monarch Kid.”
This summer, Carter’s level of passion, along with his natural at-ease disposition, have been at play for Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and the Monarch. He has presented with Nicole Hamilton to children and families at local libraries and community centers, and he has created and planted four registered Monarch Waystations, including a very large and already successful garden at his school, Hutchison Farm Elementary School in South Riding. Planting events at his school were held at the end of May to put the plants in place for summer, and Carter tended to the school’s garden twice a week all summer making sure it was weeded, watered, and ready for Monarchs should they arrive. Well, in his own words, “THEY CAME, I FOUND A MONARCH!” The first Monarch caterpillar was found in mid July, and since then Carter has found eggs, caterpillars, and butterflies in the garden. He proudly reared the first caterpillar at home and released it back into the school’s garden as a healthy adult male named “Husky” in honor of the school’s mascot. Carter’s enthusiasm for sharing the magic of the Monarch with the students led the school to rename the hallway leading to the garden “Monarch Hallway,” which Carter thought was pretty cool because it means “…everyone will say ‘MONARCH’ every day, and that means people will be wondering about Monarchs.” We think he’s on to something there.
Perhaps the most special part of Carter’s efforts is that he truly has a tireless passion for the recovery of the Monarch migration…he believes recovery will happen. This is not a “maybe” or “if” scenario for him, perhaps because he is only 9 and at this young age possibilities are limitless, or perhaps because part of the answer to the problem is so simple: tell people. Share what you know. When people know better, they often do better. And so, Carter tells people…and some people with rather large audiences have started listening. Louder voices, like local and national newspapers and TV news, are helping Carter share the magic of the Monarch. This summer, Carter was filmed for “The Meadow Project” http://themeadowproject.com, an independent educational “documentary focused on showing how and why native plants are critical to the survival and vitality of local ecosystems.” Nicole & Carter were also interviewed for a news spot related to the recent pollinator task force appointed by the White House. The piece aired in California where a portion of the annual migration takes place. Such opportunities to share Loudoun’s efforts far and wide have an important role toward inspiring others to become involved, and ultimately impact the Monarch’s chance to bounce back. See the news video HERE.
Follow Carter on Facebook, join in any of Loudoun Wildlife’s free events, and participate from the comfort of your home by simply sharing this post with your own networks in a sort of information migration effort.