Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: Early butterfly may have been a mourning cloak

STACY COLE July 26. 2013 7:47PM

After an early morning summer shower, daylight brightened as the rain clouds passed beyond the hills. I watched a butterfly that had been waiting for the driving drench to cease. It still held its wings tight upwards as it clutched a sturdy weed stalk. Moments later, sensing security once more, it released itself with unfolded wings, quivered above its former refuge, then suddenly hastened onward in its search for nectar. ...

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It was a pleasure to receive a letter from Michelle Mensinger of Derry, president of the New Hampshire Federation of Garden Clubs, Inc., and bird and butterfly chair of the New England Region of Garden Clubs that read: "In regards to your June 29th article regarding butterflies. I think that the butterfly that your New Boston reader, who questioned why he or she saw a butterfly on April 1st, was a mourning cloak butterfly.

I have studied butterflies and moths for 50 years. As an old naturalist and butterfly lover, I know from personal experience, mourning cloak butterflies are one of the only butterflies that over-winter in New England. The mourning cloak is medium large in size and purple-black with a yellow-gold edge — very beautiful. This butterfly will over-winter in a shed, garage or in the bark of trees. It will emerge and fly in early spring if the weather is warm. I have seen it fly when snow has not melted. Every spring I look forward to this beautiful butterfly on an unusually warm winter day or early spring afternoon in March or April. Also, I wish to add — mourning cloak butterfly's favorite food is tree sap, especially birch sap. I hope this helps your reader."

In a post-script, Ms. Mensinger was highly complimentary of the Union Leader newspaper!

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Another reader, Ms. Lorrie O'Connor, UNHCE Coordinator, School Garden Initiative, also wrote in response to our April 29 column. Her letter read in part: "I retired 5 years ago after 31 years in education. I have since become a Cooperative Extension Master Gardener. I was part way through my training program when I knew what my Special Project would be. I decided that I wanted to help schools in Rockingham County establish gardens linked to curriculum.

"That was 3 years ago. It has been wildly successful!

"Gardens for children is the current 'thing' in environmental education, health and wellness, healthy eating, etc. We have worked with pre-school through high school. Students love gardens, especially pre-school and elementary grades. Getting them and keeping them engaged is not a problem. Teachers usually support the idea but struggle to fit it into the many demands already crowding the school day. We make it happen by working closely with teachers by providing knowledge and resources they need to be successful. We co-teach with them when that is what they request.

"In New Hampshire schools, second graders study butterflies as part of their science curriculum. We help and encourage teachers to start butterfly gardens to provide hands-on experience for their students."

As one who has spent a great part of my life working in agriculture, I believe gardening is one of the best opportunities for students to study the world around them. Gardening gives them not only an understanding of growing plants, but while working, they have a great place to watch and appreciate butterflies, birds and other forms of animal life. If any of our readers wish to volunteer in the garden initiative program please contact UNH Cooperative Extension at 679-5616.

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Since we recently have mentioned wildflowers, especially lady's slippers, letters have arrived about them.

A Canterbury reader wrote in part: "I look forward to your columns, especially your June 22 article regarding a reader's sighting of a white lady's slipper. I see one annually at my family cemetery. I was born and raised in Chocorua. I visit the Chocorua cemetery regularly to honor family members and friends. Each Memorial Day weekend I am greeted with 15-20 pink and one spectacular white lady slipper in a shaded section behind the plot of some dear friends. The flowers are nested along a stone wall and are so beautiful. Their beauty and location are so fitting as our family friends brought so much joy to my life. Thank you for sharing the lady's slipper story so that I also could share mine!"An Andover reader wrote in part: "At the bottom of the slope behind the house we had a giant weeping willow, fully 2 feet in diameter. Every spring there would be 3-4 lady's slippers under its branches. A gust of wind from a late east storm blew! CRASH! Never a lady's slipper since!"

Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey, 03446.

Nature Talks

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