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It’s all about energy this morning.  I stepped outside to recharge my batteries and found painted lady butterflies everywhere. This time to year the painted ladies (Vanessa cardui) are migrating south, with rest stops in places like Phoenix where they can bask in the sun and drink lot’s of nectar from the pretty flowers everyone plants.

It’s in the low 50’s this morning, so the first butterflies I saw were basking on a wall with their wings directed to catch the sun. They are like mini-solar panels.

painted lady

Why are they basking? Insects bask in the sun to warm the flights muscles prior to flying.

I knew where there were some lantana plants in the sun, so I went to see what was going on there.

painted lady

More painted lady butterflies basking and drinking nectar. They weren’t cooperative at first, but after sitting still on a cold sidewalk for a few minutes, I was able to get a few good shots.

painted lady

painted lady

painted lady

Here's one basking on a Texas sage.

painted lady

Seeing all these beautiful butterflies was a real charge for me. I hope other people notice them too.

If you are interested in learning more, or if you see painted ladies migrating and you'd like to participate in a study, check out the 2008 Vanessa Migration Project. Updated 2019:  The study is now at Iowa State

If your kids had fun with the "Putting the Leaves on the Trees" activity last week, check this post from the Urban Science Adventures website, called Urban Wildlife Watch: Ash Trees.

fallen-leaves on groundHave the leaves come off the trees in your area yet? If so, it’s a great time to take your children out and try to put the leaves back on the trees.

Of course, not literally. Instead, find leaves on the ground and try to figure out which tree they came from.

All you need is a good tree identification guide that shows both leaf shape and bark patterns. First identify the leaf by it's shape and then find the tree by it's bark pattern and general shape.

You might start with some trees you know just to see how it works. Remember that leaves blow around. Look for nuts and seeds to match with the trees that produced them, as well. Children really enjoy this if you treat it like a game.

During a quiet moment, have your children take a good look at the trees. Once the trees have lost their leaves, other aspects of their structure are revealed. The texture of the bark, the shape of the branches, even the leaf scars on the twigs. Compare different trees. Close your eyes and feel the bark. Listen. Smell the wood. Do trees smell differently?

You can also take some paper and crayons along and let your child make a few bark rubbings. Place the paper on the trunk of a tree and rub the crayon over the surface. The bumps and grooves in the bark will be revealed. Hold the paper as firmly as possible for the best results. You can also trace the outline of dried leaves from the same tree.

If you don’t have one, here are some examples of tree identification guides. Have fun!

Trees, Leaves & Bark (Take-Along Guide) (Paperback) by Diane Burns

Winter Tree Finder by May T. Watts and Tom Watts

Winter Botany by William Trelease. A cool book on a cool topic!

Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification, Revised and Updated by C. Frank Brockman. Rebecca Marrilees

Eastern Trees (Peterson Field Guides) by George A. Petrides, Roger Tory Peterson (Illustrator, Series Editor)