December 20, 2007

Dear Friends,

Welcome to my journey. This may be the only report all year that I actually type, as I have not yet departed and still have access to e-mail. Throughout 2008, I will be off-line and dispatching reports by hand, from various rural mailboxes around the land.

I see the plan of my year, such as it is, as being something like half of a daisy. The disk flowers are centered on Gray’s River, Washington, near the mouth of the Columbia River, where I live. (This is the area I wrote about in my recent book, Sky Time in Gray’s River: Living for Keeps in a Forgotten Place, Houghton Mifflin, 2007.) The ray flowers represent my excursions out and back, of which there will be several during the year. I will travel primarily by automobile–my 1982 Honda Civic (Powdermilk), starting out with 354,000 miles on the odometer. At this point, the only flights I intend to take will be to Alaska in midsummer and Hawaii at the end of the year, to wrap things up with the few (2) but beautiful Hawaiian endemics. Somewhere in the middle, I anticipate a long figure eight of an Amtrak trip.

My objective, as you know, is to encounter as many of the 800 species of North American butterflies north of Mexico (based on the new Pelham Catalog) as I possibly can in the year 2008. I don’t intend to merely tick them off, but to indulge in deep and revealing encounters with the butterflies, their habitats, and the landscapes and people and stories that make up their whole continental context. Of course I’ll be looking at the state of habitats and how traditional ranges are responding to climate change. It is these stories and perceptions and findings that will make up the pith of Swallowtail Seasons.

Many have asked if I will be taking pictures. I will not. Butterfly photography has come a vast distance since my Watching Washington Butterflies (1974), in which color photos of wild butterflies were first used in a field guide. But I have not come along with it! I will be working in word-pictures, which are my stock-in-trade. In this way, and insofar as it will be a Big Road Trip and a heck of a field outing, Swallowtail Seasons will resemble Chasing Monarchs (2000). But whereas that foray involved seeking one species in one general direction over three months, this one will address hundreds of species, every which way, for an entire year. I can’t yet quite comprehend, much less express, what an immense privilege this opportunity represents. And what a challenge.

Spontaneity will be the watch-word, as I’ll need to adapt to weather, fickle flight periods, information flashes, and many other variables. Thus I will make very few dates, commitments, or engagements, though I look forward to visiting and going afield with many old and new friends during the year. So be forewarned–you might get a call when I’m in your neighborhood! The same goes for my own “flight plans.” While I will have an extremely general outline of movements, I’ll need to be able to divert, detour, and digress, to shuck and jive, to pull a U-ey or hang a left at the flash of a wing or the rise of a cloud. Therefore, any prediction of when I will be where will be unreliable by definition. In rough terms, however, I will be orienting my travels around a number of “grail butterflies”–a dozen or maybe a score of species that I have always wanted to see, but which have so far eluded me–such as the short-tailed swallowtail of the Maritimes, the yellow Eversmann’s parnassian of the Far North, the Atala of southern Florida, or Behr’s sulphur of the High Sierra. The localities and flight periods of these will dictate many of my movements, and I will hope to pick up many of the other species along the way as I seek these special endemics.

So to start I shall head south down the Pacific Coast into the New Year. I intend to begin with the overwintering monarchs of the central California coast. A few other species fly year-round or at least very early in the year from the Bay Area southward. I will be looking out for West Coast ladies, gulf fritillaries, buckeyes, and cabbage whites in the early days, as well as some of the first spring emergents such as margined whites, echo azures, and western pine elfins. The farther south I get, the more species should be peeking out, including some early orange-tips and sulphurs. Spring rains and wildflowers in the desert will dictate many of my initial results. Before I return north from the first outing, I hope to find the precocious advance-guard of arguably one of the most beautiful of North American butterflies, the sonora blue. It shimmers with a truly empyrean blue, both the fore- and hindwings splashed with fire-engine orange. I have seen it only once, on a Super Bowl Sunday in San Jose.

Until the next word then, from the field,

Bob

The Washington Butterfly Association buys Bob Pyle a symbolic first tank of gas for the grand adventure at Bob’s local shop, the Rosburg Store, in Gray’s River Valley. From left to right: Butterfly Association members Al Wagar, David Droppers and Bob Pyle.


 

The Xerces Society » News

General Mills joins effort to support bee and butterfly habitats

General Mills has made its largest contribution to help save pollinators, announcing a $2 million commitment that will add more than 100,000 acres of bee and butterfly habitat on or near existing crop lands.

The five-year agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Xerces Society, the world’s oldest and largest pollinator conservation group, will focus its efforts in Minnesota, North Dakota, California, Nebraska, Iowa and Maine. The USDA and Xerces will match this donation with another $2 million toward the project.

Gaining support from large corporations is a key step, conservationists say, in reversing the decline of pollinators that are needed to reproduce food crops and plants.

The investment will support six new field biologists in these regions who will work with General Mills’ suppliers to implement a pollinator habitat plan. With private landowners managing more than 70 percent of all land on the United States mainland, the USDA and nonprofit organizations must rely on corporate and other private partners if they are to stop the decline of pollinators, said Jason Weller, conservation service chief of the federal department.

“Partnerships are vital. If we really want to conserve wildlife and help the environment, we have to work with private landowners,” said Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society.

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General Mills, NRCS and the Xerces Society announce multi-year, $4 million investment in pollinator habitat

WASHINGTON — General Mills, the Xerces Society, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture announce a major milestone in their partnership to restore and protect pollinator habitat across hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland in North America. The five-year, $4 million financial commitment between General Mills and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will support farmers across the U.S. by providing technical assistance to plant and protect pollinator habitat, such as native wildflower field edges and flowering hedgerows.

General Mills, the Xerces Society, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture announce a major milestone in their partnership to restore and protect pollinator habitat across hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland in North America. The five-year, $4 million financial commitment between General Mills and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will support farmers across the U.S. by providing technical assistance to plant and protect pollinator habitat, such as native wildflower field edges and flowering hedgerows. Through 2021, this partnership will help to plant over 100,000 acres of pollinator habitat.

Through 2021, this partnership will help to plant over 100,000 acres of pollinator habitat. Providing habitat in agriculture landscapes has been shown to help a variety of pollinators, including bumble bees, squash bees, honey bees and butterflies, and provides benefits to crops that need insect pollinators. Such habitat can also improve water quality, reduce soil erosion and provide habitat for game and songbirds.

“Two-thirds of the continental United States is privately owned, making the land management decisions of America’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners essential to pollinator health,” NRCS Chief Jason Weller said. “Agricultural producers can make relatively simple tweaks on working lands that benefit bees, butterflies and other pollinators while improving the operation as a whole. NRCS offers more than three dozen conservation practices that can benefit pollinators, and this partnership will enable us to better plan and implement these practices.”

In North America alone, bees are responsible for over $25 billion in agricultural production each year. In addition to improving the yield of many crop species, research demonstrates that pollinators such as bees may also improve the nutritional value and commercial quality of some crops.

“Pollinators supply one-third of the food and beverages that Americans consume,” said Jerry Lynch, Chief Sustainability Officer at General Mills. “As part of General Mills’ global commitment to treat the world with care, our investment will help pollinators to continue to play a key role in sustainable food production in the U.S.”

To create and accelerate habitat restoration for pollinators, this partnership will support six Xerces/NRCS Pollinator Conservation Biologists jointly managed by the NRCS and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, the largest and oldest pollinator conservation organization in the world. This biologist team will support U.S. farmers by providing individual consulting on habitat restoration and pollinator-friendly farm management practices, evaluate habitat, and serve as advisors to other conservation agency staff in the regions they serve. The biologists will be based in California, Nebraska, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Maine.

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Note: The Xerces Society is not responsible for the content of external sites.  Where trade names appear, no discrimination is intended, and no endorsement by the Xerces Society is implied.


Firefly Populations Are Blinking Out

Blink and you’ll miss them this summer. Around the world, people are reporting that local firefly populations are shrinking or even disappearing.

The insect’s dilemma first came to the world’s attention at the 2010 International Firefly Symposium, where researchers from 13 nations presented evidence of firefly population declines and declared “an urgent need for conservation of their habitats.” Since then, additional conferences and several scientific papers have documented regional firefly disappearances, and at least two citizen-science projects are attempting to document the phenomenon, but the full scope of the problem remains to be uncovered, says firefly researcher Ben Pfeiffer, founder of Firefly.org, a website about the decline of the insects, also called lightning bugs.

“It’s worrying,” said Pfeiffer. “When people see a habitat that’s got three, four, five different species of firefly flashing, each with a different flash pattern, it’s an amazing thing. It changes their lives, but few people get to see that anymore.”

The exact extent of the decline is unknown, but early indications suggest that lightning bug populations have shrunk in many places and disappeared from others. “Everyone is reporting declines,” said Eric Lee-Mӓder, codirector of the pollinator program for the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

Lee-Mӓder said he suspects that decades of overzealous collection by the medical industry may have also contributed to fireflies’ decline. Pharmaceutical companies used to pay bounties of up to a penny per firefly to collect their chemicals for biomedical use. The pharmaceutical company Sigma Chemical Company collected up to 1 million fireflies a year and sold the chemicals for about $260 an ounce, according to a 1975 report in the Milwaukee Journal.

“If you do the math, that’s a lot of insects,” Lee-Mӓder said. “You multiply that over a pretty wide area and add these other stress factors, and there’s no doubt that it has had a major impact on populations. We just don’t know what that impact is yet.”

A 2013 study published in Ecological Modeling found that some firefly populations failed when medical harvest rates exceeded 60 percent.

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Note: The Xerces Society is not responsible for the content of external sites.  Where trade names appear, no discrimination is intended, and no endorsement by the Xerces Society is implied.

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