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

The Old Man and the Bee

Dr. Robbin Thorp started looking for Franklin’s bumble bee in the 1960s. It remained easily found throughout its range since the 1990s, but subsequent yearly surveys by Dr. Thorp have suggested this bee is nearly extinct. No Franklin’s bumble bees were observed during surveys in 2004 – 2004 with the exception of a single worker bee found in 2006. And yet, 10 years after last sighting the bee Dr. Thorp continues his search and remains hopeful.


Mount Ashland, Oregon (CNN) He was an old man who spent his days alone in the mountains of southern Oregon looking for a bee. He hadn’t seen the bee — no one had seen this particular bee species — in 10 years when he asked me to join him.

It was August, the last breath of summer bee season. Robbin Thorp, then 82, a retired entomologist from University of California-Davis, wore a safari hat, tinted bifocals and a T-shirt with an image of Franklin’s bumblebee printed on the chest. That black-and-yellow bee, which looks like so many others except for the characteristic “U” on its back, is the object of Thorp’s obsession. It’s a creature he told me flies through his dreams, always just out of reach.
Finding it — believing it can be found — is what brings him to this spot 6,400 feet above sea level, near the base of a ski lift, even though his gait is wobbly now and these craggy, alpine ravines could break a 20-something hip.
Franklin’s bumblebee is a species other scientists fear extinct. But Thorp will barely entertain that idea.
“When things are rare, they’re really, really hard to find,” he told me.
Thorp can be matter of fact like that.
And so the old man keeps looking, bee net in one hand and “bee vacuum” in the other. He walks from one flower to the next, inspecting the pollinators. If he sees one that might be Franklin’s he’ll slurp it into the bee vacuum, which looks like a child’s water gun. Then he closely inspects it: “Just another one of the common bumblebees.”
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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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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.


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.