By Roberta Katz-Messenger

The very popular butterfly program with Ruth Andre and a forest ecology and fire restoration mangement walk with John Andre was enjoyed by 32 participants. Docents Roberta Katz-Messenger and Steve Messenger were also on hand to help facilitate the day’s activities.


Ruth Andre, trained in environmental education and recently retired from teaching did a captivating presentation of live butterflies, their pupae, larva, eggs and host plants.


We saw the egg of a Red-Spotted Purple butterfly, a glistening mound on a leaf tip under one of the cabin’s microscopes. Ruth released gravid Monarch butterflies onto their host plants and in due time, we watched entrance as they laid eggs on the milkweed plant. One of the children spotted the orange and black wing of a Monarch inside a chrysalis about to release its guest.


The children helped show everyone and then released Variegated Fritillary, Spicebush Swallowtail, Great Spangled Fritillary, Giant Swallowtail, Zebra Swallowtail and Pipevine Swallowtail. The larva of a Black Swallowtail, rolled discretely in its host plant leaf, entertained with a show of its armament of tiny twin red tentacles and pungent spray.

John Andre, retired from the U.S. Forest Service and an expert in prescribed burns, vegetation, birds and more, led a trail walk through the parched woods. He described the use of fire by Indians to manage their forest and fascinating techniques of examining “catface” burn scars of ancient trees and stumps to assess frequency of fire. “Witness trees” identified and recorded in early surveys assist researchers in understanding the composition of old forest, their current condition and the effects of these changes.


These data helped formulate current prescribed burn frequency. While controlled burning thins the forest to fewer trees per acre, it also creates conditions for healthy understory growth for many species most of which are beneficial to man and wildlife alike. In view of current dangerously dry conditions, John’s presentation was especially of interest.


Among the discoveries: few birds and creatures were out in the dry heat, but a lizard, bluejays and great blue heron were spotted plus lots of dragonflies.

As we returned to the cabin, the children spotted the Monarch chrysalis splitting apart, and as we all watched, it emerged and stretched its wings in their gentle care.

It was a fun and enjoyable day for all!