Tag Archives: milkweed

Connecting children with nature through art, observation, and inquiry

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This fall many 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders have connected with nature, created art, and have had lots of fun on field trips to the Museum of American Bird Art at Mass Audubon. Students have explored our Wildlife Sanctuary, became enthralled by the exhibition of Larry Barth’s amazing sculptures, and created art inspired by nature in our studio and outside on our sanctuary. Our field trips have been focused on close observation of nature and activities that encourage creativity, imagination, and inquiry.

What have we done on the field trips?

On the field trips, students investigated seasonal changes that occur in the fall, focusing on how seeds move and how plants and animals prepare for winter. For example, students explored how the wind and animals move seeds from one place to another.

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“It looks like the field is full of bubbles.” Overheard while students investigated how milkweed seeds have adaptations to disperse via the wind.

In addition, they closely observed the sculptures by Larry Barth in our museum. Everyone marveled at Barth’s incredible attention to detail.

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Using inspiration from the natural world and Barth’s sculptures, students created landscape art using seeds and other natural materials.

Check out the landscape art that students have created

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Using inspiration from the natural world and those amazing sculptures, students created a series of monotype prints.

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Monarch Butterflies at the Museum of American Bird Art

Monarch butterflies arrived in the middle of July and taken up residence in the meadow at the Museum of American Bird Art. So far, I’ve counted 4 adults in the meadow at once, with one or two butterflies present on most days. They have been laying lots of eggs on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and these have been hatching over the past two weeks. I’ve counted around 20 or so eggs and found 6 caterpillars munching away on milkweed. Monarch caterpillars only eat plants in the milkweed genus (Asclepias) and common milkweed is by far their most important host plant. Approximately 90% of migrating North American monarchs eat common milkweed as caterpillars. I will post updates on monarchs periodically, but wanted to share photos and time lapse videos about the monarchs at MABA. Further, some background information about their migration and conservation can be found at end of this post, including two tremendous Mass Audubon resources.

Monarch Butterfly Eggs

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Look at the beautiful sculpturing that is present on this teeny tiny egg. Once the caterpillars hatch, voracious consumption of milkweed ensures. Check out these time lapse videos.

Adult Monarchs Nectaring At Joe Pye Weed

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Current Status of the North American Monarch Butterfly

In North America, monarch butterfly populations have dramatically declined over the past 20 years, with the population hitting their lowest total ever in the winter 2013-2014. However, Chip Taylor, professor at University of Kansas and founder of Monarch Watch, is guardedly optimistic about this years monarch population.

Where do Monarch Butterflies Spend the Winter?

The majority of North American Monarch Butterflies spend the winter in the pine and oyamel trees located at the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve on the border of Michoacan and Mexico State, Mexico. Monarch butterflies in the Pacific Northwest typically overwinter in trees along the California Coast and there is some evidence that Monarch Butterflies in the Northeastern United States also overwinter in Cuba in addition to Mexico. Check out this fantastic video by MonarchWatch.org of the forests in Mexico where monarchs will spend the winter before migrating back North.

 

Citizen Science Opportunities:
Check out this map of 2015 monarch butterfly and caterpillar sightings. Here are MABA, I report our sightings to this organization to be part of this national citizen science project. Email me, skent@massaudubon.org, if you’d like more information.

Resources to learn more about Monarch Butterflies:

Urban Oasis

This is from a series of posts by MABA resident artist Barry Van Dusen

Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, Worcester on July 2, 2015
I meet Deb Cary in the parking lot off Massasoit Road when I arrived at the sanctuary around opening time. She suggests that my first destination should be the Wilson Meadow at the southeast corner of the property. Broad Meadow Brook is the largest urban wildlife sanctuary in New England, and both of these attributes – LARGE and URBAN – will be evident at various times during my visit.
The education center is bustling with day campers and visiting families, but the trails at this early hour are quiet. The Wilson Meadow Link Trail follows a raised berm alongside a red maple swamp, affording nice, open views of standing dead timber in the swamp. It’s a good place for drawing birds with a scope, and I do a page of red-winged blackbird studies in my field sketchbook. Waxwings, robins, tree swallows and both green and great blue herons are also in attendance.

Redwing studies, Broad Meadow Brook - at 72 dpi

Red-winged Blackbird Studies, sketchbook page, pencil, 9″ x 12″

Rounding the backside of the Wilson Meadow, I’m struck by the view of the handsome old barn at the Wilson-Rice Homestead, and decide to do a watercolor. Two majestic white pines frame the scene on the left. Sunlight dapples the roof and sidewall of the barn, while the backside is bathed in shadow. It’s an unexpectedly pastoral scene, right here in the heart of New England’s second largest city!

Wilson-Rice Homestead, Broad Meadown Brook - at 72 dpi

Wilson-Rice Barn at Broad Meadow Brook, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 9.5″ x 10″

After lunch, I hike out along the Cardinal Trail to the powerlines – a hotspot for butterflies (Broad Meadow Brook boasts the largest butterfly list of any of the Mass Audubon properties!) The open meadows below the transmission lines are managed for wildlife through a cooperative partnership with the power company, and I notice (by sight or sound), all of the avian powerline “regulars” here: towhee, field sparrow, prairie warbler and indigo bunting.
Setting up near the decorated bench dedicated to Barbara Walker, I find coral hairstreaks, great spangled fritillaries, a monarch, an American lady and a snowberry clearwing moth flitting among the milkweed and goldenrod.

American Ladies, Broad Meadow Brook - at 72 dpi

American Ladies, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 9″ x 12″

Heading back along the Blue Well Trail, where it becomes a short section of boardwalk, I find a single ebony jewelwing.  It perches briefly on the lush vegetation growing along the brook, and I admire its paddle shaped all-black wings and jewel-like body with turquoise and ultramarine highlights.

Ebony Jewelwing - Broad Meadow Brook - at 72 dpi

Ebony Jewelwings, watercolor on Whatman paper, 6.5″ x 10.5″

Along many of the woodland trails, thick growths of sassafras seedlings carpet the forest floor. The leaf shapes of the seedlings are quite variable, but they all have a cartoonish aspect. All those in-and-out curves look like something drawn by a child, or maybe a Disney animator!

Sassafras Seedlings at Broad Meadow Brook

On the Sprague Trail, I hear the “chick-burr” notes of a scarlet tanager and soon thereafter notice two birds moving through the mid-story of the forest. It’s an adult scarlet tanager being shadowed by one of its offspring – full grown, but in juvenile plumage.  The adult appears abit annoyed and harried by the youngster, who follows the parent closely, fluttering its wings and begging loudly! I take some notes on this seldom-seen juvenile plumage, and make some quick studies of the adult.

Scarlet Tanager studies 2, Broad Meadow Brook - at 72 dpi

Scarlet Tanager Studies, watercolor and pencil sketchbook page, 9″ x12″