Shawnee News-Star Wednesday Gardening Article  September 27th  2017 Becky Emerson Carlberg This gardening article actually began on the autumn equinox.   The Google Doodle was a cutaway slice of rodent life.   Below ground a brown mouse in neck scarf was drinking a cup of hot tea.   Jars were full of grains and seeds in preparation for the winter.   [...]

Shawnee News-Star Wednesday Gardening Article  September 27th  2017

Fritillary butterfly in Maxmilian sunflowers.

Becky Emerson Carlberg

This gardening article actually began on the autumn equinox.   The Google Doodle was a cutaway slice of rodent life.   Below ground a brown mouse in neck scarf was drinking a cup of hot tea.   Jars were full of grains and seeds in preparation for the winter.   Above ground the bright yellow and orange leaves were falling from the trees.   Our astronomical calendar recognizes the first day of autumn on September 22nd, the day the sun passes to the south of the equator.   The hours of sunshine each day decrease.   The meteorological autumn began September 1st.   The four seasons are divided into 3 sections closely tied with the changing seasons.   Our regular calendar may need to be updated to coincide with the meteorological calendar if the seasons continue to advance the way they have the past few years.   Who knows what autumn will bring.   Will it be freezing cold, fiercely hot or fairly cool?

It makes no difference to the plants in bloom this time of year.   They are in their final hoorah before shutting down for the winter.   Some will return next year while, for others, their life soon ends.   The Maximillian sunflowers, Compass plants and Starry Rosinweeds (related to Compass plants and resemble sturdy daisies over 3 feet tall)   are excited and happy to show their bright yellow faces at the sides of roads, around barns, in flower beds, and along the fences. Green milkweed has made its reappearance in uncut pastures.

As the cold fronts begin marching through the state, the Monarchs and hummingbirds are exiting to warmer climes.   Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management Area in southwest OK is hosting its annual Monarch Watch the first week in October.   Sponsored by the OK Department of Wildlife Conservation, the Monarchs are tagged during several mornings and roost watches are held in the evenings. Last year 476 Monarchs were tagged.   This March, three of the tagged butterflies were identified in Michoacan, Mexico, over 1,200 miles away!

Male Monarchs have thin wing veins and a swollen pouch on each hindwing.   Females have thick veins and no pouches.   Tags are round, very small and positioned on the outer hindwing close to the body to not impede flight. Migration is starting when the wild asters, goldenrods, Joe Pye weed and sunflowers begin blooming.   Another indicator is the latitude.   The latitude of Shawnee is 35.34, so the predicted migration will range from Sept 24th-October 6th with the mid-point Oct 2nd.

The Wildlife Expo was held Sept. 23rd-24th  at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie.   The OK Department of Wildlife Conservation, along with additional conservation agencies and sponsors, presented sports, fishing, archery, camping, wildlife/ bird watching and other activities.   Free to the public, this is an annual demonstration of the diversity of the natural wonders found in Oklahoma that encourages participation of all ages. Attendance usually tops 50,000 people.

Several OK Master Naturalists were working in the Wildlife Diversity area.   The Wildlife Diversity Program is devoted to non-game, be they very common to threatened or endangered.   These are the species not harvested, hunted or fished.

The binocular area proved very popular.   Assorted binoculars were available for kids and adults to spot turtles in the distance.   With native plants around them, bird feeders and birdbaths were used by brave hummingbirds, sparrows, and chickadees.   The bird tent had healthy attendance. The famous Texas horned lizards from Tinker AFB were wandering in their fenced terrain, and the pounding of nails carried through the air as bird houses were constructed at the next tent.

Butterflies are all the rage, especially now with the critical movement of Monarchs to Mexico and the flurry of activity before cold sets in.   The center of attention was the butterfly house. Inside the netted structure were Gulf Fritillaries, Monarchs, their smaller look-alikes, the Viceroy Butterflies and the Queen Butterflies, and yellow Sulphur butterflies.   Fall blooming plants, slices of watermelons and fruits provided nourishment for the fluttering insects.   The outdoor Gulf Fritillaries were hitting the open butterfly garden/rain garden that had been installed on a gentle slope.   Up to six Fritillaries were counted as they flew in to investigate the temporary floral display of Passion flowers, milkweeds, Verbena and other potted plants buried in mulch.   The show delighted the numerous kids and parents that filtered through the area.   Dozens of butterflies, birds, bees and insects were immortalized in pictures.  The staff and a multitude of volunteers made possible this great Expo.

Butterfly garden at the Wildlife Expo

Keep a watch out.   The butterflies are coming through.   Drive carefully.  The Monarch Highway is Open.