Friday, June 25, 2010

Monarchs Arrive in Springerville!

Bob saw the smooth glide that gave it away first - a monarch looking for a tree to spend the night around 6 p.m. on Friday. It was one of those moments that takes your breath away as we stared and realized in wonder that monarchs were arriving at Winema Wildlife Area near Springerville far earlier than we expected. We saw her just a minute, but as she waltzed in front of the sun I could see she was threadbare and ragged, I could see right through her wings. She flew high to nearby trees and we climbed the fence and followed for a while as she danced between the branches looking for just the right spot. Then the local mosquitoes discovered us and we left.
Early Saturday morning we returned to Wenima and Bob searched the trees where we last saw her. Instead he saw a monarch speeding north just over the west meadow around 9:30. This was a monarch on a mission, fast, low, determined. About the same time I saw a male monarch flying high in an area we started calling, "Danaus Crossing" just near the path to the south meadow around 9:55. While the monarchs were few, large numbers of queens and mourning cloaks were everywhere.

The challenge to finding monarchs was finding nectar. Everything was rolling green but there were very few flowers. On the road in we saw Asclepias latifolia about 18 inches tall with some starting to bloom. Asclepias subverticillata was about 12 to 18 inches tall, some with buds, most without. In the north meadow we found Aslepias speciosia about 2 to 3 feet tall just starting to bloom. The ground was a carpet of field bindweed and a few dandelions were around, even a very few thistles, but most were not in bloom.

 In late morning we discovered "Danaus Crossing", an area near the South Meadow where queens streamed from nearby willows to nectar on Indian Hemp, Apocynum cannabinum, a member of the Dogbane family. It wasn't unusual to see 6 to 8 queens nectaring at one time with mourning cloaks dancing around them. Around 3 p.m. two male monarchs joined their fun and started to patrol the area driving off the queens and other butterflies trying to nectar. The two males flew high, swooping like a roller coaster now and then, and fast. Their color looked pretty fresh and new. Bob almost caught the two in his net at one time, but they flew high and away.

Early Sunday morning we arrived to see three queens gently swooping up and down the milkweed laying eggs in the south meadow and the meadow near the parking lot. We watched as they found the smallest and freshest Asclepias subverticillata to lay their eggs. We walked through "Danaus crossing" and noticed a weathered, faded, shredded female monarch nectaring on Indian Hemp near the banks of the Little Colorado River. She was an easy catch in her feeble condition. We were a little in awe realizing she was likely the lady monarch who layed eggs that would be the foundation of the summer population at Wenima. We didn't know if we should even tag her, but we did (#325U) in case another female was around to tell them apart. We also tested her for O.e., a disease monarch and queen butterflies can get. After placing her back where we originally found her, she rested on the flower quite a while before flying away. (7:55 a.m., 70 degrees).

It looks like the monarch butterflies are just starting to move into Winema on the Eastern border of Arizona. There are far more queens and mourning cloaks in the area. We can verify for certain two males and one female plus one monarch of unknown gender racing over the meadow. (We don't know how many others were repeat sightings, but the numbers are very small.) Right now Indian Hemp is their only nectar source, but the vast amount of A. subverticillata should beginning blooming in the next few weeks. Hundreds of sunflowers one to two feet tall are all around.

Wondering how far monarchs had moved into Arizona, we stopped at Silver Creek Fish Hatchery outside of Show Low on the way home where we saw monarchs last August. No monarchs this time. Goldenrods were about 2 feet tall with no flowers, Aslepias subverticillata about 18 inches tall with no buds yet and Aslepias Speciosia about 24 to 36 inches tall, some starting to bloom. Earilier on the way up we stopped at Sharpe Creek Campground near Christopher Creek where we found Asclepias asperula in bloom, but no signs of any larval activity or monarchs.

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