The Year the Monarch Didn’t Appear

Many, many readers have forwarded the following article from the New York Times, “The Year the Monarch Didn’t Appear.” 

Female Monarch Egg Marsh Milkweed ©Kim Smith 2013JPGFemale Monarch Depositing an Egg

In the above photo, the female Monarch Butterfly is curling her abdomen around to the underside of the Marsh Milkweed plant. She chooses the most tender foliage toward the top of the plant on which to deposit her eggs.

Begin New York Times article, published November 22, 2013 ~

ON the first of November, when Mexicans celebrate a holiday called the Day of the Dead, some also celebrate the millions of monarch butterflies that, without fail, fly to the mountainous fir forests of central Mexico on that day. They are believed to be souls of the dead, returned.

This year, for or the first time in memory, the monarch butterflies didn’t come, at least not on the Day of the Dead. They began to straggle in a week later than usual, in record-low numbers. Last year’s low of 60 million now seems great compared with the fewer than three million that have shown up so far this year. Some experts fear that the spectacular migration could be near collapse.

“It does not look good,” said Lincoln P. Brower, a monarch expert at Sweet Briar College.

It is only the latest bad news about the dramatic decline of insect populations.

Another insect in serious trouble is the wild bee, which has thousands of species. Nicotine-based pesticides called neonicotinoids are implicated in their decline, but even if they were no longer used, experts say, bees, monarchs and many other species of insect would still be in serious trouble.

That’s because of another major factor that has not been widely recognized: the precipitous loss of native vegetation across the United States.

“There’s no question that the loss of habitat is huge,” said Douglas Tallamy, a professor of entomology at the University of Delaware, who has long warned of the perils of disappearing insects. “We notice the monarch and bees because they are iconic insects,” he said. “But what do you think is happening to everything else?”

A big part of it is the way the United States farms. As the price of corn has soared in recent years, driven by federal subsidies for biofuels, farmers have expanded their fields. That has meant plowing every scrap of earth that can grow a corn plant, including millions of acres of land once reserved in a federal program for conservation purposes.

Another major cause is farming with Roundup, a herbicide that kills virtually all plants except crops that are genetically modified to survive it.

As a result, millions of acres of native plants, especially milkweed, an important source of nectar for many species, and vital for monarch butterfly larvae, have been wiped out. One study showed that Iowa has lost almost 60 percent of its milkweed, and another found 90 percent was gone. “The agricultural landscape has been sterilized,” said Dr. Brower.

The loss of bugs is no small matter. Insects help stitch together the web of life with essential services, breaking plants down into organic matter, for example, and dispersing seeds. They are a prime source of food for birds. Critically, some 80 percent of our food crops are pollinated by insects, primarily the 4,000 or so species of the flying dust mops called bees. “All of them are in trouble,” said Marla Spivak, a professor of apiculture at the University of Minnesota.

Farm fields are not the only problem. Around the world people have replaced diverse natural habitat with the biological deserts that are roads, parking lots and bluegrass lawns. Meanwhile, the plants people choose for their yards are appealing for showy colors or shapes, not for their ecological role. Studies show that native oak trees in the mid-Atlantic states host as many as 537 species of caterpillars, which are important food for birds and other insects. Willows come in second with 456 species. Ginkgo, on the other hand, which is not native, supports three species, and zelkova, an exotic plant used to replace elm trees that died from disease, supports none. So the shelves are nearly bare for bugs and birds.

Native trees are not only grocery stores, but insect pharmacies as well. Trees and other plants have beneficial chemicals essential to the health of bugs. Some monarchs, when afflicted with parasites, seek out more toxic types of milkweed because they kill the parasites. Bees use medicinal resins from aspen and willow trees that are antifungal, antimicrobial and antiviral, to line their nests and to fight infection and diseases. “Bees scrape off the resins from the leaves, which is kind of awesome, stick them on their back legs and take them home,” said Dr. Spivak.

Besides pesticides and lack of habitat, the other big problem bees face is disease. But these problems are not separate. “Say you have a bee with viruses,” and they are run-down, Dr. Spivak said. “And they are in a food desert and have to fly a long distance, and when you find food it has complicated neurotoxins and the immune system just goes ‘uh-uh.’ Or they become disoriented and can’t find their way home. It’s too many stressors all at once.”

There are numerous organizations and individuals dedicated to rebuilding native plant communities one sterile lawn and farm field at a time. Dr. Tallamy, a longtime evangelizer for native plants, and the author of one of the movement’s manuals, “Bringing Nature Home,” says it’s a cause everyone with a garden or yard can serve. And he says it needs to happen quickly to slow down the worsening crisis in biodiversity.

When the Florida Department of Transportation last year mowed down roadside wildflowers where monarch butterflies fed on their epic migratory journey, “there was a huge outcry,” said Eleanor Dietrich, a wildflower activist in Florida. So much so, transportation officials created a new policy that left critical insect habitat un-mowed.

That means reversing the hegemony of chemically green lawns. “If you’ve got just lawn grass, you’ve got nothing,” said Mace Vaughan of the Xerces Society, a leading organization in insect conservation. “But as soon as you create a front yard wildflower meadow you go from an occasional honeybee to a lawn that might be full of 20 or 30 species of bees and butterflies and monarchs.”

First and foremost, said Dr. Tallamy, a home for bugs is a matter of food security. “If the bees were to truly disappear, we would lose 80 percent of the plants,” he said. “That is not an option. That’s a huge problem for mankind.”

Jim Robbins is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and the author of “The Man Who Planted Trees.”
 *  *  *

My note about milkweeds ~

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is the milkweed we see most typically growing in our dunes, meadows, roadsides, and fields. It grows quickly and spreads vigorously by underground runners. This is a great plant if you have an area of your garden that you want to devote entirely to milkweed. It prefers full sun, will tolerate some shade, and will grow in nearly any type of soil. The flowers are dusty mauve pink and have a wonderful honey-hay sweet scent.

Marsh Milkweed (Aclepias incarnata) is more commonly found in marshy areas, but it grows beautifully in gardens. It does not care for dry conditions. These plants are very well-behaved and are more clump forming, rather than spreading by underground roots. The flowers are typically a brighter pink than Common Milkweed.

Artist Spotlight Series – Eileen Patten Oliver

spotlight_eileen patten oliver

Spotlight on Eileen Patten Oliver

Eileen, a relative newcomer to Cape Ann, was born and lived her first 40 years in Waltham, MA. After a few years in the Plymouth area, caring for her mother, she and her family moved in 1998 to Lubec, Maine (the quintessential coastal Maine fishing village and home of West Quoddy Head Light). Eileen loved Maine and planned to live there for the rest of her life, even after her marriage ended. Fate however intervened! The first time the man who would become her new husband brought her to his home on Cape Ann, she instantly fell in love. Although she wasn’t too sure about him yet, she was totally smitten with this place. She remembers saying to him as they drove past Folly Cove that she wished she could just wrap the whole place up in a box and take it home with her. Their relationship blossomed over the following months with places like Rocky Neck, Lanes Cove, Flat Rocks, Halibut Point, and Bearskin Neck as the backdrop. Finally they decided that the long distance aspect of their romance was too hard and she left Maine behind, starting her new life in a place that prior to meeting him she barely knew.

At that point she wasn’t painting much, but found herself so inspired by the atmosphere, the galleries, and other wonderful Cape Ann artists that she picked it up again. In the three years since moving here, she hasn’t stopped for more than a few days at a time. The fact that her husband, James Oliver, is also an artist, gives her a kindred spirit to share the process with, and he encourages and inspires her every single day.

You can see more of Eileen’s work at The Cultural Center at Rocky Neck, 6 Wonson Street, East Gloucester during the Rocky Neck Holiday Art & Fine Crafts Festival

Saturdays and Sundays, Noon-4 PM

November 30 – December 29

and look for her during one of the fun parties:

Friday, November 29, 5-7 PM Gala First Choice Preview Party

Saturday, December 7, 2-4 PM High Tea

Sunday, December 15, 3-5 PM Happy Hour

Saturday, December 21, 2-4 PM Winter Solstice Party

Sunday, December 29, 2-4 PM Pre New Year’s Party

E.J. Lefavour

When it comes to local entertainment the days of procrastination are over

I love to procrastinate.  One of my Grandfather’s favorite sayings (he had lots of them) is “Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow, ’cause you might not have to do it.”

It used to be that if you wanted to see live music in Gloucester and Cape Ann, you could decide at the last minute, stroll down to the venue just before showtime, get your tickets at the door, mosey on in and find a good seat.

Those days are gone.  Oops, did you want to see Chelsea Berry & Friends at Crowell Chapel on Dec 7 or Cape Ann Big Band’s Shalin Liu matinee on Dec 8?  Too bad.  They’re sold out.  The good news is that Chelsea & Friends added a new show on Dec 8 and there are still a few tickets for Cape Ann Big Band at 7pm.

But if you wanted to see Overboard on Nov 30 at Old Sloop, you’re just plain outa luck. They’re completely sold out.  So are a number of other local shows between now and Christmas.

More good news : we added a Sunday Matinee on Dec 15 for our Henri Smith Christmas show at The Larcom Theatre in Beverly, so you can still get good seats.  And there are still a few seats left to some of the Shalin Liu shows we told you about in this post.  But these won’t last long, so don’t think you’ve got much time to decide.

I think we can probably all agree that having a thriving music scene in Gloucester and Cape Ann is a good thing for all of us — even if it means we miss a few shows because we don’t pay attention to posts like this one that tell us to save the date.

Coconut Loves Her Sunday Dinner

Christmas eight years ago, an elf dressed in traditional elf attire, holding a red velvet pocketbook, knocked at our backdoor with special delivery from Santa for a little girl named Amanda. After the screaming and yelling caused by the excitement of seeing an elf standing at the back door subsided, my stunned and in shock daughter raised her hand replying in her sweet raspy voice, “my name is Amanda.” The elf bent down eye level to Amanda carefully handed the red velvet bag to her. the elf explained that Mr. and Mrs. Claus wanted her to receive this very special Christmas gift one week early. Peeking out from the open end of the bag was a fluffy snow white fur ball with a little button nose. The look on our little girl’s face was priceless and that very moment is one our friends and family visiting that night will never forget. The elf quickly vanished into the dark of the night and from that point on our family life was forever changed. A note from Santa was attached to the bag explaining that Mrs. Claus had chosen to name this adorable snowball “Coconut.” Two hours later in the thick of celebrating my husbands birthday, Amanda tapped me on the shoulder and asked me, “Mommy where did this dog come from and who does it belong to?” It was at that moment we all realized that she truly was in shock and had no recollection of the elf knocking at the back door….A priceless Christmas story and moment in time my husband, family, friends, and I will never forget!





Coconut loves her Sunday Pasta…

Every Sunday for the past eight years Coconut waits patiently by my stovetop for her Sunday Pasta Sugu Dinner! Mr. and Mrs. Claus must have know she had some Sicilian blood running through her veins.  Let the Holiday season begin, and lets all welcome the new memories into our lives.




Santa must have known she had some Sicilian blood running through her body when he sent her to join our family, because she  licks her lips and bowl clean every week!

Sunday Sauce and Meatball recipe is featured in my newly released cookbook “Gifts Of Gold In A Sicilian Kitchen With Sista Felicia, Harvest” Click link below to order online


Janet and I have three parakeets, Merry, Pippin, and Jack. I had no familiarity with birds until I met Janet, but now I do. Caged birds need heat, food, and water to survive. I learned all this from her. Before I left for work today I checked on them, and I smelled something like burning. It was a space heater, so I replaced it with another one. Not only am I attached to these birds, but I've also learned to like the wild birds outside as well. I hear them every morning communicating with our birds. It's a sweet sound. We put seed outside for the Swallows and Bluejays. Unfortunately, the water in the bird bath was frozen today.
Janet and I have three parakeets, Merry, Pippin, and Jack. I had no familiarity with birds until I met Janet, but now I do. Caged birds need heat, food, and water to survive. I learned all this from her. Before I left for work today I checked on them, and I smelled something like burning. It was a space heater, so I replaced it with another one. Not only am I attached to these birds, but I’ve also learned to like the wild birds outside as well. I hear them every morning communicating with our birds. It’s a sweet sound. We put seed outside for the Swallows and Bluejays. Unfortunately, the water in the bird bath was frozen today.

Community Photos 11/25/13

Hi Joey,

Although I really do try, I can’t stop myself from pulling off the road  to take sunset pictures. I am constantly amazed by the variation of beauty this planet gives by spinning around. How lucky we are!


Janet, Sunset Addict


Trimming The Kent Circle Christmas Tree photo from Anthony Marks

Nick Curcuru and Pat Cusick string lights on the tree.


Hi Joey,

I’d like to share some photos of a cold day at the Cox House (Essex Green Belt) on Rt 133 in Essex (just before the Blue Marlin on the Right).   It’s a great spot along the Essex River, with nice pathways for walking and bird walking.   Very dog friendly.  There was an artist there painting when we were there today.  Even on a cold day it is a beautiful spot.

Mary Barker

Community Stuff 11/25/13

FREE EVENT. Christmas Sing-Along with Jayzee and the Singing Seniors at the Rose Baker Senior Center


Calendar and Goin’ On—Please!!!

Gloucester Stroke Club meeting Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 6:30 pm.

Please note change in time. Addison Gilbert Hospital, Logan Room.  First Floor, Front Entrance. Annual Potluck Supper.

Please bring a main dish or dessert to share and a $5. gift for the Yankee Swap.

New Members are welcome and guest encouraged to attend.

For more information Please call Virginia 978-283-3968 or Cynthia 978-283-2633.

Holiday_Artist Flyer 2013

Chorus North Shore Holiday Concerts 12/7 and 12/8

For their 82nd season, under the direction of Sonja Dahlgren Pryor, Chorus North Shore is performing Handel’s Messiah with the Honors Youth Choir, the Festival Orchestra and joined by soloists Jean Danton, soprano; Martin Kelly, tenor, and Mark Andrew Cleveland, bass.

Concerts are Saturday, December 7, 2013 at 8:00 PM at Our Lady of Hope Church on Linebrook Road in Ipswich and Sunday, December 8, 2013 at 2:00 PM at Hamilton-Wenham High School, 775 Bay Road in South Hamilton

Tickets are available now on the website at and will be on sale at the door before the concerts

General Admission: $20; Seniors/Students $17; Children 12 and under are free

Handel’s Messiah, one of the best-know and most frequently performed choral works in Western music, was originally an Easter offering first performed at the Musick Hall in Dublin on April 13, 1742. On Christmas Day in 1818 the Handel and Haydn Society in Boston performed Messiah and since that time it has become a perennial Christmas favorite. And now it has become a biennial tradition for Chorus North Shore.

Chorus North ShoreChoruspixCNS Youth Choir Rockport Concert 4-27-2012 4-23-36 PM