Archive for the 'Great Migration' Category

Cape May to Chincoteague

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Sad to leave Cape May, we would have loved to have spent more time there exploring the delightful gardens and seeing all the Victorian houses. They have been well restored, it is a fascinating place. I love the way that American communities do not have fences on their boundaries – nothing say THIS is mine and THAT is yours – so that your plants can fall into their garden, and theirs yours too. Here in Cape May the butterfly or wilderness gardens spilled into the roadway, giving the area a delightfully natural look.

Cape May is a popular holiday destination for those who love Nature. There were plenty of families around – this was the last week of the long summer school holidays. We found a Dusk Market and bought our dinner, chicken in a bun with cole slaw and squeezed lemonade for me, very cooling. Talked to the locals, friendly people.

We were interested in the motel we stayed at – some of the motels advertised ‘efficiencies’ and we are not accustomed to what these are. Evidently, it is an open plan motel room, no side-rooms. But this motel had two beds, a bathroom, a TV, table and chairs, and a fridge. Nothing to cook with, boil water even. Strange! No cuppa for us that night. No breakfast the next morning.

We had a last look around at some more delightful gardens, and then boarded the ferry for the 1-1/2 hour cruise across the Delaware River, chatting to a charming couple from Virginia, a retired golf pro. They had been north to Atlantic City for a gambling weekend.

I decided to buy a GPS to make our navigation easier. It would be useful in finding schools when I get back to work, one doesn’t waste petrol these days by getting lost! Once we had it installed and working, it was very useful taking us to Chincoteague. It didn’t like it when we went off course to explore the northern end of Assateague Island though. I was determined to see some of the wild ponies and we got up real close.

We enjoyed the trip down here, through more verdant tree-line roads. We still have not seen any “real” farms yet – mostly horticulture and orchards. Over here “farmers” means (to a Kiwi) market gardeners, orchardists or horticulturalists. We did see a few corrals/fields with horses in them, but I doubt these were real horse farms.

Last night we met with Tracey from the local tourism commission, and had a delightful dinner with her. The fresh fish to die for – if you come to Chincoteague make sure you eat at Bill’s restaurant, the food and service was fantastic.

During the day we saw some fascinating birds and also a large (Monarch-size) lemon butterfly – but know nothing about them. Today, in Chincoteague, we’re going to learn more about the wilderness of the area. That will be fun!

Don’t forget to check out the photographs.

Cape May

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Erik took us to the Hertz rental car depot. It was a grubby portable home, the offices were grubby and the car was grubby. Amy spoke so quickly it was hard to understand, but mentioning various sums of money it seemed that our account had not been fully paid as we were led to believe. She showed us to the little green Ford Focus and, guided by Erik, we set off across Washington township for the main road south.
Erik waved us goodbye. It wasn’t as difficult as I anticipated, driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. With Mary navigating we negotiated the traffic, not sure if this was a freeway or expressway, but keeping pace with the other vehicles seemed to be a good ploy rather than dividing the mph by five and multiplying by eight to see what pace we were going.
Through acres of greenery we drove. On both sides of the road verdant trees grew – oak, liquidamber, maple perhaps. A few more months and the colours would be glorious… and then they would be bare throughout the winter.
Behind the trees lay we knew not what. Could it be wilderness? Or farmland? Jersey was the ‘garden state’ which meant that vegetables and fruit were grown around here. We didn’t imagine the gfarms had much in the way of livestock.
It was an easy journey through to Cape May, which proclaimed it was a city. I had agreed to talk to Cape May children at 2pm at the library as part of their ‘Catch the Reading Bug’ program. We found the library and met an interesting group who later told me they enjoyed my talk; they were pleased to learn things about NZ they hadn’t previously known. Some of them had known nothing.
The town was packed with tourists. Mary and I drove down to the beach and enjoyed the view of the Atlantic and the cooling seaside breeze. There were plenty of Monarchs, egglaying and nectaring – also on several occasions we saw a large lemon-coloured butterfly, about the size of a Monarch.
Many people had planted habitat – it was great to see. Beach houses had colour-filled gardens to the edge of the road, no fences separating the habitat. This was something we notice about US gardens – very few have fences delineating their boundaries. Lots of colour Buddleias – and the tree that was flowering to perfection was the Crepe Myrtle.
Mary is a great companion, identifying so many plants that I don’t know. I particularly love to hear ‘stories’ about plants, their history, their relationships, their latin names.
A sign proclaimed that a Farmers Market was being held in Cape May; we found it and bought our tea – barbecued pork in a bun, cole slaw, and sweetcorn. Yum! I topped mine with a freshly squeezed lemonade from a lemonade stand. We sampled summer fruit and found our way back to the car.
We checked into a small motel, having bought our breakfast needs, only to find the unit sported a fridge, a TV and beds but very little more – no kettle, no cutlery, no plates or bowls. It looks like we’ll get breakfast on the road tomorrow.

Nooooooo Jersey

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

Where have the last three days gone? The people have been so hospitable to us… We have:

– Gone out for dinner at a ‘Clam Bar’, tasted the local beer, clam chowder and various seafood delights.

– Been taken on a tour of Philadelphia, seen the Liberty Bell and where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed. Learned a lot about the history of the USA. Philadelphia is the capital of Pennsylvania, on the Delaware River and northern edge of NJ. Many NJ people commute in to Phily for work.

– Met an Australian and Julia Roberts’ younger sister, who didn’t know that Richard Pearse – a Kiwi – was ACTUALLY the first man to fly in the world.

– Seen the beautiful city centre.

– Visited the Reading Terminal Market, where we savoured various foods. My choice was a turkey “and two sides” – roast turkey with mashed potato, roasted peppers, gravy and cranberry jelly. And of course the local beer. Mary had a roast beef sandwich.

– Eaten many more local foods that night at dinner, with the guests from Peru and an exchange of international good humour, all at Paula and Brian’s home.

– R&R with Joyce and then Kris and Eric

– Visited the home and garden in the woods of a 90+ WWII vet, and learned so much about nature from him… he has probably forgotten more than I know. A wonderful hour or so in his garden. (See the photos)

– Dinner at Blue Carolina, where we had firstly a salad, and then tasted the mix of smoked meats – turkey, ribs and wings. And another beer for me!

Thank you Joyce, Paula and Brian, Kris and Eric, Bob and Carol for your wonderful hospitality, and all the other fantastic, generous and kind people we have met. We have so enjoyed our visit. It’s been fun, we have had a lot of laughs.

And now today we’re off in our Hertz rental car to drive south to Cape May.

Please take a look at our photographs,


Monday, August 25th, 2008

Some of you are asking for photographs – so I have uploaded a selection to My login is NZMBT – it used to stand for the MB New Zealand Trust, but now it’s “NZ Mesdames Butterflies Travelling” I guess! But to make it easy, you can just click here to get there!

Monarch Teacher Network

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

This has been the most wonderful three days. The people, about sixty of them, training together have shared fantastic experiences using Monarchs in their classrooms – from pre-school right through the primary school (they talk in grades, but I can’t get my head around it).

There were also two teachers from Peru, where they will be introducing MTN when they go back home, at their school and further afield.

There was a huge range of ideas to share on getting children involved with raising Monarchs, learning about milkweed and of course assisting in the migration. Much was made of their relationship with Mexico, and the ways in which American children can be made aware of children growing up in Mexico. The feedback from the teachers, talking about their experiences working with children was awesome.

At most of these schools Monarchs are raised and released. School is just about to go back for the new school year, and the children will benefit from the experiences and inspiration the teachers have just gained. Some children will be encouraged to make handcrafted Monarchs during an art activity and send them via mail to a sister school in Mexico. In a few months, after the winter, the Mexican children will send similar Monarchs back north.

Some classes make quilts, decorating individual squares, and send them to Mexico. Others have parades and invite the community to get involved. Gardens are planted for the Monarchs – and other birds and butterflies too. The Monarchs are the catalyst, the great ‘trigger’ of this environmental awareness.

Many of the teachers explained how there could be some reluctance among older children, or the tougher boys, to be involved with butterflies – but how after they see the pleasure that the other kids in the class are getting from the activity, they get involved too. It just takes one caterpillar wriggling into its chrysalis, or one butterfly unfolding itself and drying its wings… And this was evident at the course, when someone watching the wildlife in the cages we’d made, called out “Pupa alert” and everyone instantly crowded around the table to witness another emergence.


We learned how to make great desktop ‘cages’ for caterpillars, and gathered fresh milkweed and critters from a piece of land, probably ten acres, across the other side of the road. We learned to look carefully at a plant and see what other wildlife was using it as a host. The milkweed community is a fascinating ‘structure’ – we can learn so much about biodiversity from this most ancient of plants.

Mary and I have seen how lucky we are not to have milkweed beetles and milkweed bugs in NZ. Also, we’ve been warned about poison ivy and poison oak as we trip around outside. We’ve been amazed at how noisy the cicadas are, and revelled in the summer heat over here. But the sun doesn’t seem to burn…

It’s the height of summer here in the northern hemisphere. Around here, New Jersey, there are many deciduous trees, lush and green, properties are mainly unfenced, and one gets the impression as you drive around that you’re on the outskirts of a city, sort of like you’re leaving Cambridge and about to get into a rural area… but the landscape doesn’t change. One minute it’s residential, then light industrial, residential again, light industrial, a shopping centre, more homes… Very few fences. No farm animals, occasional vegetables or orchards. Cars are very much like they are at home – a wide range of different makes and ages.

Peaches and summer fruit are to die for. Last night we ate at a ‘clam bar’ and enjoyed their clam chowder and other fresh seafood. NZ mussels were on the menu too. Their beer was great, but one was enough.

The people have been so hospitable, it’s made our stay so pleasant. Everyone we meet has been so kind and helpful. Many have apologised for their international reputation, saying ‘what must we (the rest of the world) think of them’. They don’t talk politics, although it’s top of mind on the news of course with the elections so close.

Today (Saturday) we are off to Philadelphia to look around that city, and see such things as the Liberty Bell.

I have taken lots of photographs, and will upload them to, user name NZMBT, when I get a better connection. Right now I’m using the wireless connection of ‘someone around here’, but it doesn’t let me do too much…

Monarch Teacher Network Day 2

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

This has been full on, but a fantastic learning experience. I don’t have time to write up my blog, but fortunately the local newspaper published a story and some photographs on line.

You can see that here:

Courier Post

Monarch Teacher Network, Philadelphia

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

Mary and I flew across to the other side (of the USA) at night, and arrived about an hour before our MTN course.

Teaching and Learning with Monarch Butterflies” was being held at a teacher resource centre run by EIRC in Gloucester county, near Philadelphia.

The three-day course is half over, and already we have gained a wealth of knowledge… we are about to go out to see some school butterfly gardens.

More later…

Day 3, south of San Francisco

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

An eventful but very satisfying day.

We had hoped to visit an overwintering site – but how to do it? One was several hours’ drive south of San Francisco – and not too far away a specialist in growing Asclepias, the host plants for Monarchs. It seemed like a good opportunity, but the logistics of hiring a car and navigating out of the city…

To the rescue came Rita, a fellow 5W member. 5W is short for ‘Women Welcome Women WorldWide’, a networking group established for women who travel alone and are keen to host or be hosted by women who enjoy meeting other cultures and sharing travel experiences. Rita lived south of the city and when I had phoned her to ask the logistics of visiting Natural Bridges and Pete Michel, the butterfly gardener, she got into action. Emails flew between her and me, and we were welcome to catch the train south to near where she lived, and she would drive us over the hills to Natural Bridges, and later into the mountains to visit Pete.

In the end it was a party of five women who met up at the Lawrence Railway Station and piled into her Dodge truck. We stocked up on chocolate and coffees, we found a loo, and then we were on our way to Natural Bridges.

We were amazed at the colourful oleanders and Crepe Myrtles, flowering at their peak, but the rest of the countryside was burnt brown, with remnants of the bushfires evident alongside the freeway.

Natural Bridges is world-renowned for its yearly migration of monarch butterflies – you can see thousands during the butterflies’ peak season (mid-October to late January).

Chris, one of the rangers and who is in charge of the visitor programme was working with some preschoolers on educating them regarding weeds and planting seeds to provide more habitat, but soon welcomed us and showed us around, talked about the Monarch’s habitat and how they measured the size of the colony each year. We walked down to the currently empty Eucalyptus trees, awaiting the Monarchs’ return. Underneath the boardwalk was a mix of blackberry and poison oak, a sprawling weed which was a disaster to touch, highly toxic causing itches and bad rashes. However, it offered habitat for various critters so was left as ground cover.

Chris explained how Eucalyptus was a very unpopular plant as it had become a weed species – but at the reserve they respected it as it was more successful as a shelter belt than the Monterey pine, which was suffering from a virus and not faring too well.

We spent a fascinating few hours at the reserve, very much in admiration of their docent scheme and visitor facilities. It was great to be able to exchange information and learn different things about their Monarchs.

The scarcity of birds and insects surprised me – at home the outdoors would be buzzing with bees and bumble-bees, and garden birds… but suddenly I spotted a hummingbird outside the window nectaring on a bush! What a thrill – my first hummingbird.

And then it was off to Aromas, on the other side of the mountains, 40 kilometres south-east, and the property of Pete and Sandi Michel, who had established a nursery ten years ago to help the Monarch butterfly. Their 1.4ha (3.5 acres) site has been developed with a view to protecting the environment.

Pete told us that there are about 1,200 species of Asclepias in the world, and it is in fact one of the oldest plants, as such having a primitive reproductive system – pollinia rather than pollen. They are intent on encouraging the twelve species native to California, but the most prolific one they had available was OUR Swan plant, that and its larger form. (Gomphocarpus fruticosus, and G. physocarpus).

Once again, it seemed strange that here, in the height of the summer, there were no caterpillars to be seen, and throughout the whole day we saw three butterflies, a Cabbage White in someone’s garden as we drove by, and here in the butterfly garden, a lone Monarch came and went, and a Painted Lady briefly passed by. But it was windy, perhaps the reason.

We left them at 7pm, after an incredibly friendly and interesting discussion and tour of the garden. We learned lots, and we hope they did from us too.

We were a tired threesome who arrived back in San Francisco on the Cal-train about 9.30pm; and Kathryn had still to pack as she left for Philadelphia early the next morning.


Arrival in San Francisco

Monday, August 18th, 2008

We have arrived!

I am sure it must have been easier on our bodies, flying twelve hours on a plane, countless movies to watch on our individual screens – everyone chose a different title – fed and watered at very regular intervals. Imagine a tiny insect flying that great distance – I suspect much, much longer. Amazing!

Air New Zealand’s service was fantastic. Beautiful food (supper and breakfast), and very tolerant, patient crew. Great NZ hospitality. We were delighted to hear that the All Blacks had won 19:0, and at last that five medals had been scored at the Games.

We all had great difficulty filling in the forms needed when you arrive… LOL. Mary was asleep when they were handed out, and with great difficulty I retrieved glasses from my bag in the overhead locker and filled out the green one and the white one. The crew had explained that it was very important that you fill them out correctly, no mistakes, no crossings out, but they would be around with more forms if you stuffed up. I filled mine out in about two seconds flat, and smiled smugly at sleeping Mary. She, of course, stuffed up. Not once, but twice. I (very tolerantly) suggested she follow my example. She pointed out my mistakes. I had the wrong words on the wrong lines. Thank you Mary.

I pressed the bell and got another form. I filled it out again, and noticed another mistake. I pressed the bell and got another form. And again, I stuffed up. The next time the steward gave me forms, he said I was doing such a great job, that he would give me TWO green cards.

At the arrivals counter, the smiling official pointed out that we’d all left areas blank. Even Kathryn Rowe, with her advanced education, had not got it right! She said that her pupils would laugh at her. But at least we had not made mistakes or crossings out (by this time), just caused a few more trees to be chopped down.

We had left on NZ Saturday evening and arrived Saturday lunchtime. No problems with jet lag yet… Found our shuttle and had a guided tour of the SF International Airport, courtesy of the driver, who wanted to get a full complement of passengers before he made the ½ hour trip into the city, understandably. He had a long argument with whoever authorised him to pick up passengers – there were various shuttles touting for rides – and an even longer altercation with one of the passengers when she disembarked and couldn’t pay the fare. But finally we got to our hotel.

The Renoir Hotel’s an old brick building right on the edge of the ‘urban renewal’ zone, so when you walk a couple of blocks through litter and one or two ‘bodies’ or homeless people you’re into the vibrant area of the city, tourists squeezing into trams or trolley buses to get down to Fishermen’s Wharf. They’ve heard that’s the place to go!

We walked and gawked, looking for a shop so my laptop could talk to the world. No success, so we walked even further and found a Taco Belle, realising we hadn’t had any lunch and that was causing the rumblings in our tums. No seats anywhere to be seen, but we found a huge garden sculpture and perched ourselves on that, sampling tacos and pesquadillos and other Mexican fare, yum!

I am a notorious jay-walker, and finds quick ways across the road between the cars, but you can’t do that here… well you can if you remember to look the other way, and the drivers do like to BEEEP at you. Mary will get used to that… but says she won’t pay fines or undertake prison rescues.

Finally we joined the tourists on a tram. “Watch out for pickpockets”, the man called to all as we climbed aboard.

Mary got two tickets, $1 each, and we could get back on and off any time between 9pm that day. Tourists squeezed into every nook and cranny, hanging onto straps as the tram jerked its way down Market Street. Stop-start-stop-start, the vehicle had only two speeds, GO or WHOA, so we were constantly being jerked one way or the other. We got a seat, and slid from side to side, playing bumper boats with our neighbour’s bums. Next time on I said to Mary that we’d sit facing the front, but now we were either thrown into the back of our seats like the crash-dummies on the TV commercial, or sliding forward off them.

I was out like a light, constant beeps and bumps, scares and sirens didn’t prevent me from getting a great night’s sleep.

Flying away …

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

Madam Butterfly is flitting off to the USA…

I will be in the company of Mary Parkinson, from Tauranga, another Butterfly Lady, responsible for much of the hard work behind the Te Puna Quarry Park Butterfly Garden.

We hope to be keeping our blog up to date daily, telling you about our adventures… about what we learn, what we see. Please check back here often and add your comments!