Trouble in paradise

This week and for three weeks in total, I am back in the Dominican Republic, in the old familiar place where I have spent so much time. I thought that going there would cause me to feel happy, as it always has before. It didn’t.

The first sign of trouble was the point where I am used to having to cross a submerged section of road, normally ranging from ankle to knee deep. The road was dry at that point. Just downriver from the road crossing was the swimming hole where, after a long hot day of errands, I used to cool off by wading in up to my neck. It was a calf-deep puddle, and that only because the grounds maintenance guy had dug it out with a backhoe.

The cow meadows had been flowery on my last visit, and I conducted the butterfly surveys which resulted in my most recent published paper. Now, although I do not think that the cows are grazing any more heavily, the meadows are bare ground with tussocks of close-cropped grass and scattered Siam weed.

At first I thought that the butterflies were still going strong, because the roadsides still have lots of little yellows, Julia heliconians, and Gulf fritillaries; Caribbean crackers are frequently seen on tree trunks; and zebra heliconians and tiger mimic-queens pass by with some frequency. If anything, cloudless sulphurs are slightly more numerous. But then I realized that I was hardly seeing any Calisto, and had not seen any malachites – both of which had been among the most abundant butterflies. So far, no ceraunus blues, either.

I finally saw a malachite, up on the hill shaded with cacao and breadfruit – one, solitary malachite along a road where I expect to see at least a dozen in the time it takes me to walk it. I broke down and wept. It hurts to see everything so dried up.

I did see a couple more malachites later on, in my back garden shaded with mature fruit trees.

Some of the birds seem as conspicuous as ever – the Greater Antillean grackles and gray kingbirds are still frequently seen, the woodlands are full of the songs of black-whiskered vireos, and Antillean palm swifts still swoop in swarms over the neighborhood pool. Somehow, though, the birds overall seem sparse. Why have I seen no bananaquits? Trying to recall if I have seen any northern mockingbirds. Is it my imagination, or are the palmchat flocks smaller than usual?

I wept again when I saw the lemon tree that I used to climb for sweet lemons, now shrunk to less than half its previous size. When a tree visibly shrinks instead of grows, something is seriously wrong.

My neighbor tells me that it was not like this last year; that last year had abundant rain. My other neighbors, though, who have been in the neighborhood for all of the past 12 years, have never seen the river dry up. Now, maybe we’re just in a drought cycle and the rains will return in time. I hope they do. But with the constant news about climate change, there is always the question back of mind: what if they don’t? What if this is the new normal?


When I give talks in New Mexico, I mention climate predictions for the next 30-50 years. I attended a presentation that gave me the initial inspiration, where in it was suggested that Albuquerque’s climate will shift to match current day Las Cruces on current trajectories. So, I tell people to think about choosing cactus, shrubs, and trees from the southern part of the state rather than north (for example: creosote instead of sagebrush, oak instead of pinyon).

In the southwest USA, there is no denying the new normal. Whether it’s the “mega-drought” or shifting precipitation patterns or warmer winters or massive stands of dead Pinaceae, it’s sadly happening in front of our eyes. Hopefully the river flows again for you, but it’s hard to find the positives on this topic.


That would be hard. Odds are there are going to be a lot of tears shed in a lot of places for similar reasons over the next few years.

On the other hand, you actually had the foresight (or the good fortune) to do a useful study before the river ran dry and the lemon tree puckered up, which means that there is a baseline for you (and others) to contribute something of substance to the discussion, however heartbreaking the data might be for you. So thanks for that.

Anyway, as Joe Hill said (sort of), prior to his execution, “Don’t mourn. Organize.”


Western Cape is locked in the other extreme. Floods. Roads closed. Bridges washed away. People who were away for the long weekend (nasty weather) and now cannot get back to the city.

This is our spring flower season. Prompted to think about the effect on flowering bulbs and annuals, their insects, their birds. A short window of a few weeks till next year - and it was a good flower year.


I think we should be careful not to project too much from climate change driven extremes especially in terms of wet vs dry. To clarify, i think things are becoming more extreme and that outweighs trends of wetter vs drier and sometimes even warmer vs colder. I don’t think it’s always best to plant things from south of where you are, at least not exclusively. With increased extremes, it will be hotter overall, but the extreme cold will still occur sometimes, and will kill things not adapted to that.

I think the priority should be, protect intact ecosystems as much as possible, and in cases of restoration, landscaping, and extreme ecosystem collapse where there just aren’t native species surviving, genetic and species diversity of appropriate species native to as nearby as possible are key. We may sometimes be helping plants move poleward/upward but i dont think it should be our first go to.

Anyway, my town was hit by very extreme floods this year. It was over two months ago and our town still ahs most of its stores closed. The last two years had been very dry. Unfortunately, while precipitation has increased overall, we have to plan for both worse floods and worse drought, because precipitation extremes plus more heat sometimes can tip us to drought even if median precip increases overall when looked at on a decadal scale.


This fits my experience too, last winter was the warmest in the 14 years I’ve lived here, now to be clear where, I am the ground is covered in snow uninterrupted from late Dec or early Jan until sometime in march, but this year there were patches of green!! grass interspersed with patches of snow (green like new growth, not the dead grass you normally see at first melt in March) in February! Yet there was also the coldest night since I’ve lived here, at -34C (-29F) and in March there was tons of snow


When I was a young boy in grade school (15 years ago or so), we would always get many feet of snow where I grew up (New York), and the snowplow would construct a giant mound of snow that the children would climb on and play king of the hill and sometimes sled down.

Now, these past 3 years, we’re lucky to get even an inch of snow at all. Most of the winter the ground is completely bare of snow, we’ve had at least 3 ‘Green Christmases’ in a row.

I feel like humanity is the frog in the pot, who refuses to jump out even as the temperature slowly climbs higher and higher, until we eventually cook ourselves. Hopefully we can change our ways before the worst of the damage comes to fruition. Its already too late for so many species and ecosystems unfortunately.


never been there. These are tropical Islands. I guess there is dry season over there right now. Naturally, when it is dry, the butterflies may be lesser. I imagine these places generally have typhoons passing through to USA, and rain is ample. I read about Yucatan Peninsula, this place will be dry. and Dominican republic is probably not too far away. When I hear trouble, I’m thinking political problems, like gang mass killings happening in Haiti. The movement of that heat/moisture energy is very hard to predict. They were fretting that the reservoirs in USA were very dry last year, Now those reservoirs are filled up. Hawaii big fires could be due to the heat waves. China has massive floods this year.
Back to the Caribbeans. These islands have a lot of creatures and plants to see.
I was growing some orchids called Equitant oncidiums, very colour orchids that originate from the Caribbeans. However, the wild forms will be very subtle. Twig epiphytes. Good for a picture.

Personally, the only positive I see right now is I’ll probably be deceased before things really unravel. And since I don’t have kids, I won’t be leaving them to a mess. Yeah that’s grim but maybe I’m wrong and the new normal won’t be so bad. One can hope.


Here is one, from many years ago.

Perhaps. I was here through a dry season, although my butterfly survey did not include the month of September. Still, when my neighbors who have been here 12 years say that they have never seen the river dry up before, that says something to me.

I spent many happy hours at that swimming hole, and not just swimming. I used to watch the flocks of spice finches coming to bathe. (Yes, I know that they are nonnative here.) I used to experiment with which fruits the mountain mullets preferred. (I would have to consult my field journal to remember.) Once there was a West Indian whistling-duck there, the only one I have ever seen. I remember being alarmed to see a pair of Mozambique tilapias move in (they are one of the world’s worst invasive fishes); but then after a hurricane, they were gone, and I’m thinking that they were flushed out – I saw a moribund one down in a mangrove swamp a few days later. (They didn’t coevolve with hurricanes, but the native fishes did.) My avatar picture is at a point just a little further down, where there was another pool, although not as deep. I have so many memories of this spot, it hurts to see it like this.

I’m not too worried about the mountain mullet. They’re catadromous, so they will eventually recolonize once the river is suitable again. Likewise the yellownose shrimp, since they can survive in brackish or even saltwater as well as fresh, and can recolonize from the estuary if need be. It’s the native guppies I was worried about. I never did determine their species, and I don’t know how prone to single-watershed endemism guppies are. If an entire river drainage dries up, the guppies will be extirpated, because livebearers do not have a workaround for that. But the man with the backhoe might have saved them – in the dug-out remnant of the swimming hole, I can see guppies, although they look like possibly all juveniles. The concentration of slough amberwings (higher density than usual because they have so much smaller an area of water) makes me a bit concerned for those guppies, but I don’t see any dragonfly larvae so far.


I’ve just heard in the news. There is drought in Brazil due to El nino. Fishes in the Amazon river are dying in large numbers and the water is polluted.

Agree, though it isn’t something I have shared elsewhere. I am already 71 so in any case won’t have many more years out in the habitat. Climate change was definitely with us here especially from May to September: flooding, heat waves and forest fires like we have never seen before!

With the excessive heat my time outdoors had been cut back, but now that it’s cooler I have to be careful not to spend all my time out iNatting! Have been noticing that the bee counts are way up, and there have been several butterflies/moths new to me here.
Gotta take the good with the bad. :smiley:


I’m in Haiti and it has been a dry summer here but not like you’re describing. We have plenty of butterflies and our cistern is almost full. Hopefully you’re just in a drought cycle.

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I spent my school years in one place and my summers in another. In the city growing up we had consistently 3 or so big snowfalls with smaller ones interspersed between. Average yearly snowfall was 20+ inches. The last 4 years we’ve gotten 0.3 inches or less.

The more rural area I spent my summers has been decimated by Emerald Ash Borers. The forest is much less dense and there’s fallen trees everywhere. Amphibians and dragonflies, which used to be everywhere, are now a rarity.

Worst of all is how few people seem to notice, or even care when its pointed out to them


Climate grief is real. While some people have pointed out yours is one data point, I trust your sense that things are out of whack. I have been out in this area—central US and somewhat buffeted—for many years and the declines are real.

It’s hard to simultaneously hold a deep love of and curiosity about nature with the sense of loss. I cherish my generalist species because I have more hope for them. I keep my eye out for good news and actions I can take.

I’m sorry about your special place. Being out in nature is what I would normally recommend. I still do. And documenting is important. Keep bear witness, collecting data, and recording your observations. Keep encouraging new naturalists. Sometimes human systems do make radical shifts after long buildups.

I’m so sorry, Jason. Nature is incredibly resilient.


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