Saturday, 26 August 2017


Skip and I had fun during the eclipse. I made a pinhole viewer which was somewhat successful but the image was very small as the focal length was short - the depth of a Mary's Crackers box.

Skip heard somewhere that if you project the image through binoculars, there would be a good image. That was very successful. I don't know why the TV networks broadcasting the event didn't mention this easy method.

I stood with my back to the sun with the big end of the binoculars up and pointed over my shoulder and the small end downwards.

I projected the image onto the dark container that I keep deck equipment in.
The cool thing is that I could focus the binoculars to get a really sharp image. And it was a decent size, too.

We were pretty proud of ourselves that we were successfully nerdy.
We're all geeked up for the next eclipse on April 8, 2024.  We'll have our binoculars ready.

Shadow selfie...

Friday, 25 August 2017

Winding Down

After 12 days of multiple monarch eclosings and releases, today is the first day I didn't have a pupa eclosing. I have released 60 adults, have no eggs, have 4 larvae - three very close to pupating, and 11 remaining pupae. If all goes well, I will have raised and released 75 adults monarchs this year.

On Sunday, Christine brought two of her children over to see my operation. While showing them one of my milkweed patches, Nathan found a larva on a leaf.
After determining that he wanted to take it home, I broke the top part of the plant off and stuck the stem in a reservoir. He named it Jo(e) - (we won't know if it's a boy or a girl 'til it ecloses).
Christine messaged me two days later to say that Jo(e) had pupated so we're all looking forward to seeing it emerge. In the meantime they have found what they think are a couple more eggs which they're raising.

The butterflies emerge before noon. I keep them in the castle for a few more hours so their wings fully expand, dry, and get strong enough for flight. Here you can see an empty casing in the top foreground, a couple of darkening pupae, a larva on the top right, larvae on the floor hidden by milkweed, and 4 adults ready to be released.
Usually I unzip the door and just leave it open for the adults to fly out. More often than not I have to encourage them to leave. Often I take the butterfly to either the echinacea plant or a zinnia. They usually just sit there for a while, sometimes unfurling the proboscis and feeding. Then they fly away.
This is my last larva. It will be 9x this size before it pupates in a week or so.
The whole operation will be wrapped up 10 - 12 days after that, in plenty of time before our trip. If this last guy is still in a pupa when we leave, I have a friend who has agreed to release it.

This has been a very rewarding year for me - far exceeding my expectations. As I only released 4 last year, my goal this year was to really spend time looking for eggs and hopefully release 20 adults. Having 40 hungry caterpillars in various stages kept me hopping a couple of weeks ago - finding enough milkweed to feed them, and keeping the frass cleaned out of their various habitats. But I have really enjoyed feeling like I make a difference in their numbers.

The only down side was that Skip and I couldn't make any mini trips all summer. Next year, I will investigate having a couple of interested friends 'larva-sit' for us so we can have a bit more freedom.

Matchy Matchy

For our upcoming tour of Scandinavia, I've been searching all summer for a waterproof windbreaker that is a distinctive colour, big enough to allow layering underneath and long enough to cover my derrière if it rains. I finally found it at Sears for half price. BONUS!

However, I don't have any accessories that match the aqua colour so I've been trying to decide what scarf and hat to make for it.

I had knit this hat earlier this year. I like the Nordic style but didn't think the bright blue was quite right with the aqua coat colour.
I decided to re-knit it swapping the bright blue for aqua-coloured yarn that is just a shade or two darker. Not surprisingly I had it in my stash already. Fortunately, Mo provided me with the white yarn from her stash.
I found this tutorial via Pinterest on how to make a fringed scarf from woven plaid fabric. So off to Fabricland I went with my windbreaker in a bag to match the colours. This was the plaid that I came home with.
Now the pattern calls for 2 yards that you can get 2 scarves from. Being cheap thrifty, I bought one metre and will sew the two lengthwise halves together, then do the fringeing.

I also started a Nurmilintu scarf with Punta Yarns Mericash Hand Painted fingering yarn - again from my stash. I have enough to make a medium-sized asymmetric, triangular, garter stitch and lace scarf.
Once I have everything done, I'll decide what I'll actually take on the trip. Whatever gets left behind will still get worn as I use the jacket the rest of the year.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Prairie Cat Socks Completed

I finished these socks today.
They are very thick and warm.
The Kroy sock yarn is very durable and soft.
I like that I made them negative images of each other.
Because of the stranding, more than one ball of each colour is needed.

This is only the first pair of socks I've actually knit to completion this year!

Sunday, 13 August 2017

#12 and #15

#12 and #15 eclosed this afternoon. #13 and #14 are dark chrysalids and could emerge at any time.
I have 3 j-cats.

I think this one (#12) is a male. It's hard to get a good photo inside the castle. But I see a scent gland spot on the right hind wing.
This one was one of the two that attached themselves to the milkweed stem. I cut the stem on either side of the chrysalis and attached it to the ceiling of the castle with thread.
Just to the left of the centre j-cat is the darkened chrysalis of #13. There are about 31 more to go in there. I'll release them in a few hours after I know their wings are strong enough.
In the styrofoam cup at the bottom of this picture contains the pupa that I damaged attempting to relocate it to the castle. I tore the entire cremaster and silky threads off it. However, it has continued to develop and judging from the colour, should eclose in a day or so. I am keeping my fingers crossed that it will not have any deformities. I tried to glue a hanger onto it so I could suspend it from the ceiling of the castle but the chrysalis is so slippery, I was unable to find a non-toxic adhesive that would stick to it. White glue and different types of sticky tape just slid off. I have tipped the container on its side, hoping that when it emerges, the butterfly will hang from the edge of it and the wings can unfurl and strengthen normally.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

#35 - #54

All those eggs I collected mid-July are pupating from the larva stage. They seem to like the corner of the castle. The four on their own at the back are ones I relocated from other places where they were hanging. I have several others in other containers.
Directly above each one, I have a piece of masking tape with the chronological number and the date it pupated. When it ecloses, I'll easily be able to see that information, and quickly be able to tell how long it was in the chrysalis.
#12 - #14 pupated on August 2 so should eclose any day now. They have started getting darker.

I have several more active big larvae. With them and the other larvae, I should be able to release over 65 adults this year. I haven't brought in any new eggs in the last 4 days so that might be it for this season.

Prairie Cat Socks

I started this the other day on 2.5mm needles. I had most of the leg done when I realized it was just too snug. It's only 66 sts (multiples of 11 for the kitty cats).  I knit it again with 2.75mm needles and that solved the problem. 
The pattern calls for an afterthought heel but it is not my favourite - it's easy but a bit fiddly. Instead, I did a short row heel., starting it halfway along the 8 stocking stitch rows between kitty cat heads.
On the mate, I'm going to knit it reversing the colours.
BTW, this was just stash yarn - Kroy Socks 4-ply in Muslin and Glencheck colourways.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Not Surprisingly...

This is a little stitching project I've been working on.
I've had this little kit since visiting the Stitching Post with Jennifer a year ago May on the way to MDSWF.

It is stitched on perforated paper (card stock) using cross stitches, beadwork, and backstitches for the veining on the wings. The beads are the regular Mill Hill ones and Petite Mill Hill beads. The beading needle is a real pain to thread as the eye is so tiny. And, of course, I can't locate my fine wire threader.
Once all the stitching is done I will cut it out, one set of holes away from the stitching, all the way around. The kit comes with a magnet that can be glued on the back. I may just glue it onto some black felt. Now that I have the pattern, I could stitch it onto anything, either substituting floss for the beaded bits, or purchasing more beads for the project.

Starting Prairie Cat Socks

Last night, I started a pair of Prairie Cat Socks using contrasting colours of Kroy sock yarn that I had in my stash. There is stranded knitting alternating with 8 rounds of stocking stitch in one colour.
I am trying to keep my gauge loose so the stranded bits aren't too tight.

The sock is knit as a tube and then an afterthought heel is inserted after. Initially, I thought this might be a project for my Scandinavian trip next month but on second thought, I will probably start another sock project that will only require one ball of sock yarn.

#26 - #34

The monarchs have been keeping me busy. In the last 4 days, 8 larvae have pupated. This morning was number #34. Its last skin is still attached to the top of the chrysalis.
I'm not sure why they all want to attach to the same area of the castle. It's getting rather crowded there and I have 5 more j-cats in the area as well. They will likely pupate in the next day or so. 

#11 eclosed yesterday around noon and I released it at about 6pm. It was a female. I now have 19 pupae (15 in the castle), 5 j-cats and about 30 larvae in various instars.

I was reading a Pelee Paradise Sanctuary Monarch Weigh Station #10275  post on Facebook and noted that monarchs also like to eat the seed pods. I tried a small, immature one in the castle and it wasn't touched at all. Yesterday I tossed in a ripe one and see this morning that it has become quite popular with at least a couple of larvae. I will be looking for those now as they will last quite a bit longer than individual leaves.
Yes, there is a lot of poop in the castle. I do clean it out twice a day but the larvae are little eating machines and are constantly pooping.

It will be a few days before the next pupa ecloses - probably no sooner than August 12 - this Saturday. Then there will be a few each day.

From what I've read online, other people have noted that so far this has been an excellent year for raising monarchs. Basically, for our region, any butterflies released from the beginning of August onwards will be the generation that makes its way to Mexico for the winter.

I hope to remember to order tags for them next year. It is a very good way of  tracking the monarchs.

The tags are .9mm in diameter and are made from polypropyle with a non-toxic adhesive on the back.
"The tags are numbered specifically for each tagging season. The tagging method is quite simple - remove a tag from the backing, place it over the discal cell (the one that looks like a 'mitten')

and position the balls of your thumb and forefinger over the discal cells on both sides of the butterfly, press firmly for two seconds and release the butterfly after recording the tag number, release location  and other information on the data sheet."  The data is then entered on the Monarch Watch website.

If a butterfly is found with a tag, the 888 number can be called and the tag number and location can be reported. The distance travelled can then be easily determined based on the location of its initial release.

A few years back Skip and I attended a butterfly marking and release event in Orchard Hill north of Port Hope. It was there I learned about tagging monarchs. In attendance was Don Davis, who holds a Guinness World Record for the longest (at that time) butterfly migration.
He also had a certificate from Monarch Watch recognizing the marking and recapture of one of his butterflies released from that spot (Garden Hill) that was found at El Rosario, Michoacán, México.
Sadly, the tags are most often found on dead monarchs but hopefully it is after they've mated and laid a bunch of eggs.

At this same event, we got to see several other species of larvae munching away on different leaves and forming different chrysalids. I haven't had a chance to attend another event like this but hope to again.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Pupae #17 - #25

Halfway through July I was finding 5 - 10 eggs every day. They have been through the 5 instars (phases) and have started pupating. Two days ago there were 4 new pupae, 2 new ones yesterday and 7 today.

There are 9 in the foreground and 3 in the background. Picture was taken through the vinyl 'window' on the caterpillar castle so it's not really in focus. I notice a black spot on the tip of one of the pupae. I'm not sure what that is. Hopefully it won't impede its development.
The third larva in the Bug Bottle also pupated while we were out today.
This larva formed a chrysalis today.
I did have one near casualty. The other day, 2 pupae formed on the stem of some milkweed in the castle. I tried to peel one of them off and to my horror, tore the top of its cremaster right off. It left an opening in the top through which I could see it pulsating and some liquid oozing out. Rats! I hadn't waited long enough for the chrysalis to harden. I have isolated it in hopes it will survive.

Today, I checked and the opening in the top seems to have healed over and the beautiful gold spots have developed. My fingers are crossed that it will continue to develop normally. I will glue some type of hanger from the top and let it hang like the others so when it emerges, its wings can unfurl and expand like usual. I am cautiously optimistic. The casing is now very firm so it's safe to handle it.
If I find eggs on the tender leaves at the top of a milkweed plant, I usually lop off the top cluster of leaves and stick the stem in water. The larva then hatches and stays on what I call its 'birth plant' until it has either consumed most of it or the plant is too old or dried out.

Today I checked this one and found 2 larvae! I'm usually concerned that they'll eat each other at this early larval stage but they seem to be getting along OK so I'm leaving well enough alone.
I just cleaned out the bottom of the castle. This is about as frass (poop) free as it ever gets. I added two more big larvae today. Again, the picture is blurry as I took it through the vinyl window.
These guys are a couple of instars away from pupating. Often they'll climb up like this and stay there for hours.

Usually they are just getting ready to shed their skin and advance to the next phase. More than once, I've thought they were dead because they don't eat for move at all for hours, but next time I check, I find the shed skin below and they're moving around again  looking for food.
I have a few florists water reservoirs that help keep milkweed clusters fresher (pictured in the jar on the right). It also makes less work for me as the cats will feed on a cluster for several days.

I keep the milkweed leaves in the fridge so am easily able to provide food for the cats and do so at least once a day. It's keeping me busy and tied to home (other than day trips) but it is so interesting and fun to see the rapid development that it holds my interest. I do feel like I'm making a meaningful contribution to at least this species.

Pupa #10 has started to darken so it will probably emerge tomorrow morning.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Another Baby Bionic Gear Bag

I made another Baby Bionic Gear Bag for Jen's birthday. the two outer fabrics are hers - from Cotton and Steel.
The inner fabrics were from my stash. The pocket at the front folds out like a little tray.
I used some of this fabric that had knitting terms on it.
The BBGB has only one zipper pocket. The regular BGB has 3.
I feel ready to tackle the regular-sized one now.

I used a kitty cat charm for the bigger zipper pull.