Found At Last, A Monarch’s Tag!

Found At Last, A Monarch’s Tag!

For the last three years, I have tagged Monarch Butterflies. Having raised these fascinating, and now troubled, iconic creatures for the last 15 years, I took on the task of tagging their hind wings in the late summer/fall of 2015.  I was hooked! It was easy and fun! I was acting as a contributing citizen scientist, providing data to Monarch Watch on the migration of these miraculous insects.

So, I did it again in the fall of 2016 and again, this past fall, 2017. I tagged 16, 17, and 25 monarchs each respective year for a total of 58 monarchs. It is not a lot, but it is significant for me. I receive a great deal of joy from helping sustain the monarch population. It has also been the subject on which I have focused many of my environmentally based garden club lessons with students over the last 14 years. For me, the act of tagging brings their life cycle full circle. It is a sign of hope I am placing on them as I attach the tag to their hind wing. I carefully raise each monarch caterpillar or egg I find in the habitat meant for them in my yard. I feed them daily and clean their “cages.” When one ecloses or emerges from the chrysalis, as the term implies, it is a beautiful transformative moment. A moment signaling hope for their future.

Immediately upon emergence from the chrysalis, the monarch’s wings are crumpled and wet. They cannot fly at this time and, as I understand it, if they fall before their wings dry out and straighten, they will most likely not survive! Luckily, I have never had this happen. After a short time – an hour or two – the wings have stiffened and the butterfly is starting to move them to open and close.  The monarch can be tagged at this time. Holding the butterfly securely with the wings closed, the tiny tag is attached to one of the hind wings. The tag has letters and numbers – a code, if you will – in sequence for the number of tags you purchased. The tags are very sticky and need to be placed on the wing in the correct position, the first time, for they cannot be repositioned without stripping the scales from the wing.


Tags can only be ordered in late summer for it is only this generation of monarchs that make the great migration to Central Mexico for the winter.  The tags must only be used the year they are purchased, and remaining tags (unused) should be returned to monarch watch with the data record sheet of those monarchs you tagged that season.  Sex is noted, as is whether the monarch was caught and tagged was wild or reared. Tagging location is also indicated on the sheet. It is a relatively simple, yet effective means for tracking the butterflies.

Yesterday, I got some very exciting news! After three years of tagging, and looking for recovered tags on the reported data sheets, I was finally was able to identify two codes from tags that were placed on Monarchs by me last fall! TWO!  Both tags were found in Mexico! Monarchs I had raised in my home gardens in West Central Wisconsin had made the complete migration all the way to Mexico! How cool is that?!


Monarch Watch receives the report of found tags. The person finding the tagged monarch reports their location and the code on the hindwing tag.  This is then shared via their website through social media outlets, so people – interested citizen scientists, like myself – can look to see if any of the monarchs they tagged made it to Mexico!  Thus, scientists can tell if they are seeing a large number of monarchs successfully make the migration from one area of the country versus another.

second tag of the 2017 season

Last year I tagged 25 monarchs. Sixteen were females and 9 were males. All were hand-reared.  Two were recovered in Mexico. One, a female was released here on 9/8/17 and found in Sierra Chincua Mexico on 2/10/18. Another, a male – actually, tagged by my husband on 9/20/17, was found on 3/3/18 in Cerro Pelon, Mexico.  This was such exciting news! You can be sure I will be tagging more monarchs this coming fall. Thank you Monarch Watch for encouraging citizen scientists to contribute to your understanding of these iconic creatures. Hopefully, it will help us all save them.




Cougar in the Coulee?!

Cougar in the Coulee?!

We had some excitement this week at our house! On Wednesday, my husband called me to “quick come here and bring your camera” while he was getting ready for work. When I met him in our bedroom, I could see what he was excited about! There was a large black animal in the dry creek bed by our house.  It was large! Both of us thought it was a cougar – or black panther! I know, I know. It is Wisconsin. We might see an occasional cougar trotting through our forests and valleys but this animal was totally black. And, very large.  Its tail was very long.  The cat moved using large back haunches and paws that seemed as big as my closed fist! We were sure we were seeing an exotic animal in the coulee right next to our house!


Many photos were shot. I recently obtained a 600mm telephoto lens for our son’s sporting events and was able to zoom in close enough to get a good look at this beautiful, yet, somewhat scary animal.

Soon, my husband left for work. We were both excited at what we thought we saw. I posted photos to FaceBook and sent my husband some to his email so he could show his co-workers the “cougar”! When our teenage boys arrived home from school, I proudly showed each of them the photos on my computer. Both laughed! “Mom”, my 18-year-old stated, “that’s a house cat.”


“No! It was really big! Too big to be a house cat,” I told him. “It’s tail was really long, too! And, the haunches!”  He just laughed.

I am a great lover of wildlife. Just days before I was exclaiming over a hawk’s wingspan as he glided over our backyard into the same coulee in which we saw the large cat. And, the week before that, it was a fox trotting through the same dry creek bed that I caught on camera. In our house, I get teased a lot for my exclamation of wonder about our natural world. This was no different.

That night, I sent five photos to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Website (DNR) that asks citizens to report large mammal sightings. The laughter continued but my husband had co-workers that hunt agree with him that it was a cougar and I experienced the same from some of my FaceBook friends. There was amazement, laugher, and maybe, a little fear, too!


We kept the garage doors down all day on Wednesday. I did not want to be met in the garage by a hungry cat, that’s for sure!

By Thursday morning I had a response from the DNR warden. It was, in fact………..a house cat I had caught on camera! Really? We were so sure it was bigger. My husbands’ response was “baloney” (Well, not that exact word!) Later on Thursday, a black cat returned to the coulee’s dry creek bed. My eldest son was home and agreed with his brothers. It looked like a house cat to him, and really, not a very big one in his opinion. I had to agree. This cat looked very similar to the other cat but was smaller and the tail was shorter. Could it be different? Could it be the same but our perceptions of the cougar-cat on Wednesday was fed by our excitement?  Maybe, to both questions.

On top of it all, when in the grocery store on Thursday afternoon, we happened to see this “Puma Kola” made by a gourmet soda drink company, Sprecker’s.  There was no question that was coming home with us ……. It was  just too funny!


In any case, we have had a lot of fun with this experience in our house this week. And, I think we provided some entertainment for our friends as well! One, messaged me that she loved the sense of adventure and, whether cat or cougar, I should keep posting! I think I will —- after all , everyone needs a good laugh!


Busy Finch on a Morning Filled with Birds

Busy Finch on a Morning Filled with Birds

This morning I was able to watch a female purple finch work on making her nest. She caught my eye as I looked out my kitchen window and saw movement in the garden below, near an ornamental Korean Lilac tree close to blooming. Busily, she kept adding pieces of mulch and plant debris to the clutch in her beak, obviously approving of the quality and availability.

Not making the connection at first, I soon realized her nest was being made in tightly woven confines of branches in the soon to flower lilac. She nearly disappeared when she entered the rounded crown where her family would  grow.

After a brief period, and maybe realizing I was watching, she flew out of the tree, off to another place to collect treasures of twigs that might strengthen her soon to be nest.  In the time I sat waiting for her return, now with camera in hand, I noticed other birds were checking out Miss Kim II (fond nickname of the Lilac Tree). Several robins visited, barn swallows, and at least one tiny black-capped chickadee.  The swallow, or at least what I thought was a swallow, was really checking out the tree and sat in it for several minutes. The lady finch had returned, now only ten feet away, sitting on our deck railing, again with a mouthful of the newest nest components. She patiently sat, waiting for the other birds to leave. Again, I assumed she could see me, now the lady with the camera, and wanted to be sure I was there to do nothing more than take pictures.

Eventually, the purple finch flew back onto the very top branches of Miss Kim II, still holding her precious oral cargo. There, she very obviously checked around the yard for what I imagine she thought were any signs of potential predators. After looking thoroughly, I saw her fly into the tree once again to add to her nest.

There was a flurry of song bird activity in our yard this morning. My observations all started with noticing a very plump Eastern Blue Bird siting on our deck rail, in the very same spot the finch subsequently patiently waited to return to the popular, odiferous, and soon to bloom lilac tree.

The beauty of the birds, the color of the tree, and the persistence of the finch, all attracted my attention today. It’s the little things in life. Notice them.

The Great River Road – Three Hours By the Numbers.

The Great River Road – Three Hours By the Numbers.


Yesterday I drove I -35, otherwise known as The Great River Road that runs parallel to the Mighty Mississippi and divides the state borders of Minnesota and Iowa with Wisconsin.  There was a time in my life that I thought I would never see Bald Eagles or even Great Blue Herons other than the one that resided on a pond near my college campus. The Mississippi and surrounding bluffs are awash with wildlife this spring. It is a fitting Earth Day Post to write how much I reveled in the beautiful surrounds near my home yesterday. Having completed a writing challenge in March, I saw many clever ways to catalog observations rather than writing a narrative.  So, here we go:

On A Sunny Spring Day on the way to Iowa I saw:

Ten Trains Rolling

Nine Boats Rowing

Eight Cranes Standing

Seven Seagulls Gliding

Six Mallards Quacking

Five Barges Moving

Four Motorcycles Speeding

Three Great Blue Herons Wading

Two Eagles Soaring

One Turkey Vulture Perching





What a Hoot!

What a Hoot!

Friday, my boys were off from school for the Easter holiday break.  About mid-afternoon, I looked out our back window and saw a white patch in a tree at the edge of the field behind us. The landscape is slowly greening up but the trees have not leafed out yet so seeing something pure white mid-way up a tree was odd.  I wondered what it could be so I got out my binoculars and look a long look.  Ah, it was still too far away.  We have another pair of binoculars – a “real” pair, not the child’s pair I was using initially, so I dug those out of their resting place in the front closet.  Back at the window, the white “thing” was still in the tree, but its shape had shifted.  Now, I knew it was alive, just as I thought!

Staring, dialing in and out of focus using the binoculars, I stood at our living room window for 10-15 minutes, looking for clues about what was in that tree behind our house. This also required a lot of blinking, as my contacts did not respond to being shoved up against a glass lens as I peered into the eyepiece.  In the meantime, my fifteen year old asked what I was up to. When I told him, I spilled what had been on my mind.

“I think there might be a snowy owl in that tree back there, by the edge of the field,”  I told him, excitedly!

“Seriously? Mom.”  he replied, shaking his head. But, he got up off the couch to take a look.  My boys are used to my nature–based escapades and frequently indulge my thoughts, if only to prove me wrong, as time permits. At this point, I went to get my camera to try to zoom in close enough to prove it was indeed an owl, a snowy owl!

The camera didn’t help, but then my son said, “Do you want me to go out there and take a closer look?”

“Sure,” I said. “Take the binoculars with you.”


A few minutes later, he was waving to me.  I went outside, taking the camera with me, hopeful.  He shouted something. I couldn’t hear it.

“What is it?”  I shouted back.

“Well, it’s not an owl, mom. It’s our neighbor’s cat!”

A half hour spent – looking, wondering, snapping photos, enlisting the help of a reluctant teen and hoping, just to find out the white patch in the tree behind our house was our neighbor’s cat!

What a hoot!

Oh, yeah. Our neighbors do have a white cat. Obviously, I was hoping for something more exciting.