The Monarch Rescue

Lessons Learned from a 7-year-old Naturalist

Three-winged Monarch butterfly

This weekend, while walking on a beach along Lake Michigan, we spotted a dozen or so dead monarch butterflies. Some were fully intact while others were missing 1 or 2 wings. This happens around the same time every year. The monarchs start making their way south for the winter and unfortunately some just don’t make it.

We collected a few of the wings to dry out and save (We never pass up a good specimen!) and started walking home. Along the way, we literally stumbled upon a monarch in the grass near the beach. We got down on our knees and took a closer look. The butterfly was missing a wing and appeared to be dead until my son tried to pick it up. It moved it’s wings, just barely, but enough to let us know that it had a little life left in it. “Can I take it home?” my son asked. “Since it can’t fly, I want to help fix it’s wing.” Thinking that this wouldn’t have a happy ending, we both reluctantly agreed to let him take it home, but cautioned that it would probably die by the time we got there.

Where did you learn that?

Dibwid's "hospital" room

Dibwid’s “hospital” room

As soon as we arrived home, my son jumped into action and started making a sugar water mixture for the butterfly. As luck would have it, he had recently been given a mesh butterfly nursery habitat, so he quickly set that up as well. My son carefully put the monarch in the mesh enclosure, added a little plate with a sponge and the sugar water mixture and headed out to the yard to pick some milkweed for the butterfly to eat.

Again, we cautioned him, “Just pick a few. The butterfly will probably die soon.” But that didn’t stop him. We was determined to nurse the monarch back to health, and that’s exactly what he did.

By the time we got back to the makeshift butterfly hospital, the monarch (now known affectionately as “Dibwid”) was sitting on the sponge dipping it’s proboscis into the sweet mixture. Even though Dibwid couldn’t fly, he (we determined the Dibwid is a male) hopped around and even flapped his wings.

I Stand Corrected

Dibwid resting in his hospital room

Dibwid resting in his hospital room

Three days later, Dibwid is still with us. My son takes him out for “air time” and “flower time.” Dibwid sits in his hands, hops around and exercises his wings. My son is still hoping that Dibwid will fly some day.

Now, I know better than to try to try to protect him from disappointment or warn him that the  monarch may never fly again. You just never know.

Video: Meet Dibwid, the three-winged Monarch.



Learn more about Monarch butterflies:

Supermoon Lunar Eclipse – September 27th

Blood moon lunar eclipse sequence

Just a reminder to look up in the sky tomorrow night. On Sunday, September 28th you’ll have the opportunity to view a supermoon lunar eclipse. This once-every-30-years event is sure to be spectacular.

What good is a walk without a collection? 

We picked up these little gems yesterday on our way home from school. What can you identify?

Items collected on a walk

From the top:

  • Ginkgo tree leaf
  • Acorns
  • Catalpa tree seed pods
  • Seed pod from a Flowering Dogwood
  • Mystery stick

What do you collect? 

Send us photos of your collections and we’ll post them here:


Happening Now: The Fall Equinox

Girl running through a field in autumn

The fall equinox marks the beginning of my favorite season. I love everything about fall: colorful leaves, chunky sweaters, pleasant days and cool nights. There’s nothing like leaving your bedroom window cracked open on a cool fall night. As my mom likes to say, “It’s great sleeping weather.”

But what is the fall equinox (also know as the September equinox or the autumnal equinox)? The short answer: it’s one of two days of the year that the Sun crosses over the celestial equator. In the Northern Hemisphere (where we live), the fall equinox happens at 8:21 a.m. (local time) every year on September 22nd, 23rd or 24th. This year, it’s happening on September 23rd.

The Big Tilt

The Earth orbits the Sun on its axis at a 23.5 degree tilt. Think of the Sun as an orange and the Earth as an apple. Imagine if you were to insert a kabob stick straight through the apple, from top to bottom. The stick represents the Earth’s axis. Now, tip the apple about an inch and a half to one side so the top of the stick points up at an angle. This is what the Earth looks like as it orbits around the orange, I mean, the Sun.

Twice a year—during the spring equinox and the fall equinox—the position of the Earth in relation to the Sun results in changes in the amount of light each hemisphere receives from the Sun. The Northern Hemisphere receives less light during the fall equinox while the Southern Hemisphere begins experiencing more of the Sun’s light and a warm up in weather.

What to Look For

Some changes are very noticeable—like trees dropping their leaves—while other changes are subtle. Let’s take a look at how our world (in the Northern Hemisphere) changes with the fall equinox.

  • In most places in the U.S., the temperatures begin to drop from hot summer days, to cool fall days, eventually giving way to chilly—sometimes frigid—temperatures in winter.
  • You’ll notice that the sky may still be dark when you wake up in the morning and the sun sets earlier in the evening. That’s because there are fewer hours of daylight as we transition into fall.
  • The birds that flew in last spring will begin migrating south to warmer habitats. Butterflies will do the same. (See you next year monarchs!)
  • If you have a pet cat or dog, you may notice that their fur begins to get thicker as they prepare for cooler temperatures. Animals in the wild bulk up for winter as well.
  • Leaves on trees will begin changing from green to yellow, red or brown, eventually dropping to the ground as trees go dormant for the winter.
  • Some trees will also drop seeds or seed pods: acorn, catalpa, chestnut, maple and honey locust are common seed-dropping trees in the Midwest.

Terms to Know

  • Celestial equator – The celestial equator is the invisible circle around the Earth, halfway between the two poles.
  • Northern hemisphere – The half of the Earth above the equator.
  • Southern hemisphere – The half of the Earth below the equator.

Fun Stuff

Try it at Home: Some people say that you can balance an egg on the equinox while others say you can do that any day of the year. Give it a try and let us know what happens.

Around the World: Check out this video for a more detailed explanation and learn about how people celebrate the coming of fall around the world.

Books, Books, Books: Snuggle up and read some great books about the change of seasons.

Hello, Harvest Moon

We Gather Together, Celebrating the Harvest Season 

Possum’s Harvest Moon

The Autumn Equinox


Identify It: Mexican Sunflower


Mexican Sunflowers are vibrant, sun-loving blooms that attract hummingbirds, butterflies and bumblebees. Their hearty stalks and flowers can stand up to scorching sun, heavy rain and even strong winds. They’re much smaller than typical sunflowers—only about 3 inches in diameter—and they don’t produce sunflower seeds. In fact, they’re actually more closely related to daisies than sunflowers.

We spotted this bumblebee hard at work collecting pollen from a Mexican Sunflower.

Scientific name: Tithonia rotundifolia ‘Torch’

What to look for:

  • 3’ – 6’ tall stalks
  • Deep orange petals and a yellow center
  • Dark green leaves with hairy undersides

Where: Native to Mexico and Central America, but can be found in warm, sunny climates throughout the U.S. (in fact, we snapped this one in our own yard).

When: Blooms from mid-summer to fall

Random Fact: Deer avoid them because of the hairy leaves.