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Float Like This

Of hummingbirds and butterflies



While you were in the teeth-rattling -10 temperatures last week, Sue and I were basking in the balmy warmth of Las Vegas, Nevada.

(No, I don't gamble, but yes, we did go into downtown Vegas for an evening of enjoying the arts—no, not the strip clubs, but the exceptional Titanic exhibit for one—and had a wonderful time. That said, I have had it up to here with wall-to-wall humanity and am happy to be home.)

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving time with friends and family. My grandson Connor also entertained us with his unbelievable dexterity while flying his Vortex drone. His breath taking snap rolls, instant climb to 400 ft AGL, and then spit-second drop to ground level was an education in aerobatics. I have no problem seeing him following his dad's skills at flying an F-16.

(To think these flying events all started with Ross — just out of diapers — and his brother, Dean strapped into the backseat of my old '46 Piper Cub, when they discovered what the stick would do to the Cub when pulled back and thrust forward.)

Excellent cuisine, old hangar flying, and lots of pinochle were also the stuff of wonderful memories, as was the male Costa's hummingbird in the backyard, and touring some of the splendid natural history haunts of the Sin City neck-of-the-woods.

All week long that territorial Costa's chased every hummingbird that had the nerve to invade its territory scurrying for cover, and he was relentless. As those of us know who have feeders up for hummers here in summer, our resident rufus, calliope, and occasional Allen's are of the same frame of mind, chasing one another around like the fighter jets my son Ross watches over.

Even with the below-freezing nights, that hardy Costa's lad was back to watch over HIS feeders by 11 am. Hummingbirds have that awesome ability to go into a stupor when the temperature drops to freezing and below. Some, like Allen's, calliope, Costa's, rufus and others, can lower their body temperature, heartbeat, and breathing rate below normal and literally go to sleep—some for as long as three days—to avoid suffering in the cold.

Then there were the monarch butterflies alive and well in the 2,900-acre Clark County Wetlands Park. What a wonderful surprise that was! As we were pulling into the parking lot, Sue surprised us all when she almost shouted, "Hey! There's a monarch butterfly!" Sure enough, when we all got to looking, there it was, a fine adult monarch bouncing through the sky like it was the middle of summer.

Little did I know what was coming next. As we walked up into the Nature Preserve we were greeted by a museum that was perfect for getting to know what the park was all about. It was there that I met and had a great chin-wag with Sheila Glennie, program assistant for the park, who, when I asked about the monarch we saw flitting by, was not at all surprised and added, "I can show you some caterpillars if you'd like to see them."

Did I ever! I had it in my head that ALL the monarchs of the western flyway were basking in the warmth of the preserves in California by now, safe from winter, and slurping nectar from the various flowers along the coast.

Not so, as I discovered when Sheila took me down the elevator of the museum and out into a small demonstration garden. "There's our milkweed," she said, pointing, "and right at the top there's a caterpillar feeding on a clump of blossoms."

To begin with, I thought she was imaging things. All I could see was a clump of green stalks sticking up about knee-high, but without a single leaf, and a small lump of white at the top. "That's milkweed?" I asked incredulously.

With that, Sheila stepped off the trail and pointed to the obvious monarch caterpillar chomping away at the bundle of blossoms atop the stalk. "Yep, here's the caterpillar."

What an education I got from there on out! Not only did we see one caterpillar, but as we searched more we found several more caterpillars in different ages, all alive, healthy and stuffing milkweed blossoms down their gullet.

The Clark County Wetlands Park provides lush habitats for more than 300 species of plants and animals while improving the quality of the water supply. Recycled sewage water keeps it all going, and there's so much to do there you could spend a week and not see it all. On one of the (many) nature trails in the park, Sue spotted a soft-shelled turtle sunning itself.

Like the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, Clark County Wetlands Park's award-winning education programs teach youngsters and adults alike about local wildlife and the ecology of the Las Vegas Wash through engaging, interactive programs that promote a sense of place and a connection to nature.

And then there's another magnificent place to explore, The Valley of Fire, a geological wonderland. But you'll have to go and see that one for yourself. 

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