Saturday, July 16, 2016

In Which Gender ID Proves Difficult at 12 mph

Beautiful blue sky and perfect weather made this a day to ride. My sister and I did a bit over 55 miles today, a decent RAGBRAI practice day. Here and below, images on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail north of Hiawatha and and Robins. Lot of traffic on the trail today.

Up until today, this summer’s bike rides have been missing one of the common, pretty sights of this season in Iowa.

There have been no Monarch Butterflies. I thought I was sort of imagining it, and then I read a story Friday in The Gazette. For some reason, they have not posted a link to it, although it was in the paper, but the story reported that, after a rough winter, the diminished Monarch population is spreading north much more slowly than normal this year—and have just started being seen in our area of the state.

So, on the Cedar River Trail just beyond Cedar Lake near the Quaker Oats plant, when I saw a Monarch flit by this afternoon, I did a quick stop. “Monarch break!” I shouted at my sister who was biking with me.

But she (the butterfly, not the sister) was too quick and my point-and-shoot digital camera too slow. Ms. Monarch got away, no picture taken. Monarchs are easy to spot, with their distinct size and orange color, and if you see one well enough to glimpse the back wings well, you can sex them quickly. If the back wings each has a visible, sizeable black irregular dot that would send you to the dermatologist if you saw it on your arm (the spot, not the butterfly, which would simply be a thrill to see on your arm), you are dealing with a male. No extra back blotches means female.

Milkweed near Cedar River Trail between Quaker Oats and Cedar Lake--actually, on the shores of the south finger of the lake. It was in this area that I saw a Monarch, but failed to catch its picture.
Ms. Cedar Lake was sans dots, hence a girl. My elation at finally seeing a Monarch was only slightly diminished by not having caught its image—mostly, I was just glad to see you, madam. Now, go find a boy butterfly and make some fertile eggs, please. We have plenty of Milkweed just waiting for your babies to munch.

Anyway, back to the biking. This was the second of two rides, today. The morning started with a breakfast date, in which my wife and I met my sister and her wife at Riley’s. Then, my wife, sister and I want on a ride of about 12 miles or so out to the trail at Lowe Park in Marion. I rode my new hybrid bike for this ride, and about 11 a.m., stopped at home to swap the new, as yet nameless bike, for Argent. I wanted to ride the longer ride today on my RAGBRAI bike.

My wife bid us a fond adieu, and we, my sister and I, were off. We went south as far as Tait Cummins Park on the Cedar River Trail, and then turned north. Lunch was a bit off trail—we cycled over to Burgerfeen. The first butterfly incident was before lunch.

Trained for RAGBRAI lunches by eating burgers here for lunch.

It wasn’t going to be the last. When we got to the north part of Hiawatha, just a little south of the Boyson Road trailhead, another Monarch crossed our path. My sister noticed it first (I don’t think she saw the Cedar Lake one) and pointed it out, but it was gone before I got my camera unzipped.

I could see it was a Monarch, but it also flitted by too quickly for me to identify the gender.

“I was going to say something about how difficult it is to sex Monarchs at 25 mph, but I decided it wasn’t appropriate,” my sister said.

True. It would have been totally inappropriate, because we were only going 12 mph.

We rode up to Lafayette, and while we rested there before the return journey—the gorgeous afternoon was getting warm enough to feel a bit toasty to bikers—the next incident took place. Another Monarch flitted by, again too quickly for gender identification and too quickly for me to unlimber my camera. I had to be content with a blurry image of a Cardinal that was yelling at some other Cardinal in the distance.

Cardinal in an Oak at Lafayette, yelling at some other distant Cardinal, heard but not seen. Cool, true, but not a Monarch Butterfly.

And so our ride was coming to an end. It was a gorgeous ride. I thoroughly enjoyed the morning outing with my wife, and also the second, longer RAGBRAI training ride with my sister.

No picture of a butterfly? No matter—I saw them, there are a few that have finally made it to Iowa, and I hope everyone is planting Milkweed this summer.

And then we got to the woodsy area just south of the Boyson Road trail head. And in the same spot as before, a butterfly decided to put in an appearance. I yelled, stopped, and got out my camera.

Monarchs are not particularly shy creatures. They have distinct coloring because they are meant to be seen—their youth, spent gorging themselves on the mildly toxic Milkweed plant, gives them a taste that birds hate, so being seen by birds who should know that this particular bright patch of protein is not worth the eating, is part of their identity. They don’t try to hide. But they are also quick, strong flyers. Trust me—I’ve been paced by a Monarch while I’m riding down the trail at 15 mph. They can move.

But there was some Milkweed by the trail that our Ms. Butterfly was apparently interested in, just long enough for me to get a few quick images before she flitted off. That butterfly can sure flutter by.

She wasn’t drinking, which would have distracted her more and kept her in one place longer and allowed me to get better images, but at least you can see her.

Welcome, Monarchs. May we see you and your kin next week on RAGBRAI. I’ll watch for the stands giving away Milkweed seed bombs and heave a few for you, if I can. Photos:

Look in the lower part of the image, center. And below, a blow up of that area of this photo.

Lady monarch on Milkweed leaf.

And again.

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