Saturday morning as I worked to prepare my garden for the arrival of our recent tropical storm, I noticed a distinct lack of bird song. I heard crickets, cicadas and other insects, but very few birds. The only exception was a juvenile cardinal who scolded me until I filled his feeder. I saw a single hummingbird, a frequent visitor to my garden, flit among the flowers briefly, then fly off not to be seen again for the rest of the day.
I finished my chores just as a light rain began to fall, and at that point noticed there was not only an absence of bird song but an absence of birds entirely. Then it occurred to me: I had seen not a single butterfly, a common visitor to my garden, all day.
So where do butterflies and other creatures go to survive violent weather? This was a question emailed to me at about 10:30 on Saturday evening, close to the height of the storm.
All weather affects nature—hot, cold, wet, dry—it all matters in the cycles of life we see all around us.
"Storms are a part of nature and as such, birds and butterflies have largely adapted," explained Justine Schaeffer, naturalist at Cromwell Valley Park. "While some will perish in severe weather, most will survive to propagate a new generation."
"Some flying creatures will be blown off course and may end up in strange locations. Many birders report seeing birds that are not generally found in our area due to storms," Schaeffer said.
If blown astray, most bats, birds and butterflies will find their way back to their home range. Even if blown off course during migration, they will simply readjust their compasses and continue, according to Schaeffer. Sadly, for inland species that are carried out to sea, the story may not end quite as happily.
Birds, like other flying animals and insects, survive severe weather by finding a sheltered place. A thicket of shrubs, a hole in a tree, a wood pile or rock outcropping are places favored by wild animals to ride out storms.
"Eastern red cedars, with their dense protective outer branches, are a great hiding place for birds who sometimes use them to roost in groups," said Schaeffer.
Butterflies can often be found clinging to the underside of leaves in a downpour. For a butterfly, dodging raindrops can be much like dodging falling bowling balls would be for a person. Having the safety of a leaf under which to hide can be the difference between life and death.
"Joe Pye weed is a great butterfly plant for not only the flowers from which they eat, but for the leaves that provide them protection from the rain. Turn over a leaf during a storm and you may well find a butterfly," said Schaeffer.
For many butterfly species, breeding is a season-long occurrence. Most local species spend 2-4 weeks in their adult or final life stage. Even if most of the butterflies of a single species die in a storm, emerging butterflies will live and thrive.
Planting a wildlife garden that provides food, water, nesting sites or host plants and shelter is the best way to help wildlife cope with all of life's difficulties, including dangerous weather.
"Being a bit slower to trim back or thin out shrubs is a good way to provide shelter for wildlife," Schaeffer explained. "And woodpiles—if you have a place to allow a woodpile to simple be on your property, you will find it hosts all kind of creatures, from butterflies and insects of every kind to reptiles and even chipmunks and birds."
On Sunday morning, a lovely, perfect viceroy butterfly floated through my gardens, feeding from various favorite nectar plants. The hummingbirds returned, busily visiting flowers and feeders between hunting insects, and the garden was once again filled with the songs of birds.