Melynda Hickman sent out her annual Monarch Watch information. At Hackberry Flat WMA (Wildlife Management Area) and Center, the watch begins the first of October and ends October 7th. I hope the Monarchs are keeping tabs and decide what a great time this would be to flutter past Lawton to the southwest and spend the night at Hackberry Flat.

Melynda Hickman sent out her annual Monarch Watch information. At Hackberry Flat WMA (Wildlife Management Area) and Center, the watch begins the first of October and ends October 7th. I hope the Monarchs are keeping tabs and decide what a great time this would be to flutter past Lawton to the southwest and spend the night at Hackberry Flat.

We were there last October to not only watch in awe as hundreds of Monarchs flew in late afternoon to roost, but also helped tag butterflies the next morning. Over the week, 50 of us visitors and 70 school kids stuck small thin round adhesive disks, each with a separate tag code, on 500 Monarchs before they were released. The online Monarch Watch Tagging database lists five of the Hackberry Flat tags (none of mine) discovered at two different overwintering areas (Cerro Pelon and El Rosario) in Mexico. From Shawnee OK to either sanctuary in Central Mexico is about 1,300 miles. Both sites are in the mountainous area west of Mexico City. The miraculous power of the Monarch.

Hackberry Flat Center will have morning and evening Monarch programs. More info can be found at Melynda.hickman@odwc.ok.gov.

Monarchs did much better this past year east of the Rocky Mountains, but still numbers are at 33% of what they were in the 1990’s (National Wildlife April-May 2019 issue, Urban Greening Part 1). The Xerces Society sadly reports the western population, which overwinters around Baja and the California coast, seems to have collapsed. Monarchs experienced at 86% drop since last winter and their numbers have taken more than a 99% hit since the 1980’s. That migration may be history.

Here in Oklahoma Monarchs have a pre-migration migration in August. Larger numbers appear and some new caterpillars begin life, often with dire results. About the same time the Monarchs start their true migration from Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada and soar through Oklahoma from September 20th into early October. Keep your eyes peeled. The Monarchs are now on the move.

According to the United Nations report, 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050. Balconies, roof tops, window boxes, porches, and even walls will provide places for flowers, birds and pollinators. Homes, farms, roadsides, shopping malls, places of employment, schools, and even city parks can be turned into pollinator friendly sites. Create urban oases. The only way to rescue the Monarchs, bees and other pollinators is to get everyone on board!

If you didn’t make a small butterfly/Monarch home somewhere in your yard or garden this year, the winter is an excellent time for planning and preparation. Do your part. Create a spring wildflower plot full of milkweed and other natives. Help the Monarchs.

It’s not just the Monarchs that are migrating but hummingbirds are also going south. The little ones you’ve fed for months may already be gone. Others now come and go. The activity at my two feeders has been intense, but sporadic. Male ruby-throats will leave first to find choice winter territories. Our hummers are probably off to Central America. They will fly 500 miles over the very warm Gulf of Mexico which often fosters storms during their migration. I keep my fingers crossed for their safe journey.

All 339 species of hummingbirds live in North, Central and South America. These are our little American birds to protect and keep safe. The Ruby throat genus name is Archilochus, a combination of two Greek words “first in importance” and “an ambush”. Yup, that describes the hummer. With luck they may live 4 to 6 years. The Ruby Throat organization likes to point out if you have seen an old Tarzan movie recently and noticed a hummingbird flying around, it definitely was not filmed in Africa but probably shot on a studio lot in Hollywood or the Amazon River Basin of South America!

The first of the “Big Four” grasses is now in full bloom. Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) is back. The flower heads sparkle when the light hits them from certain angles. One of the most attractive of Oklahoma grasses, the drought tolerant tall prairie grass with long blue-green leaves and stems may grow up five feet. The arrowhead shaped panicles of blossoms attract bees, birds eat the seeds, and deer munch the forage which also provides cover for other wildlife. A great ornamental grass for your yard.

The survivor Gaura has become my hero. At the bridge was growing this giant plant, very delicate airy stems with small leaves and a multitude of asymmetrical blooms. The 5-foot-tall gutsy Gaura plant had been blooming continuously for two weeks by the guard rail. One day the ground near the plant was sprayed with a potent herbicide. The plant held on. A week later the tough beauty was cut down although the plant did not visually block any part of the bridge. It just added a bit of charm and attracted the butterflies and hummingbirds.

I moved the stems away from the bridge to the side of the road, hoping seeds might disperse. Days later small pinkish fluffs appeared where the Gaura had been. I walked over to discover one short Gaura stem, cut to 1 ½ feet in height, sticking out from the inside of the guard rail. All along the stem were tiny blooms, as if the stem carried the entire burden of the decimated plant on its shoulders. For days this little stem has continued to be covered in miniature-sized blooms. Never give up. Inspiration for all of us.

Never give up is the mantra of the squirrel. The pole supporting the bird/squirrel feeder blew down in the last storm and was resurrected but a foot shorter. Made the descent from the upper branch too precarious for the squirrel. It sat and chattered, squeaked, hissed, whistled, and yelled many unprintable things from the branch the next day. During that night, nestled deep within its leafy nest, the rodent must have had a prophetic dream. Next morning the squirrel climbed up the pole. Voila. Back in business. Who says animals are dumb!

Now for the important event last Saturday afternoon, the game between the University of Tulsa and Oklahoma State University. Although the air temperature was about 95 degrees, on the playing field it was 120 degrees. Brutal for both teams. TU led at halftime, but, in the end, OSU pulled off the win. Tulsa played admirably well and did not throw in the towel. Everyone had glistening skin and sweaty frocks, including the people in the stands. I felt sorry for them. We were watching a large-screen TV in an air-conditioned house while tail-gating with BBQ and all the fixings on the table.

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at Becscience@att.net.