Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In the Heat of Summer a Look to the Fall Migration

Monsoon rains signal the monarch migration is just around the corner. What can we expect this year - and how can we create a refreshing stop for monarchs on their journey through the Arizona desert? Recently Dr. Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch shared his observations of the monarch population in their summer breeding grounds and his estimate for the Fall migration that begins in Canada around August 15.  Dr. Chip Taylor's blog. Monarchs numbers are thriving in the Eastern Dakotas through Michigan and the migration in these areas could exceed average. The news from the Northeastern United States is not as optimistic with rain and temperatures stunting the monarch life cycle. It appears the overall population of monarch butterflies is making a modest recovery from its record decline. But the numbers are still lower than average.

Last year the monarch migration shifted slightly to the West and we did see many monarchs throughout Arizona. The question remains if more monarchs were here than usual, or if more people were looking and reporting monarchs, especially in the Phoenix area. This year's monarch population is lower, so observations and reporting become crucial.

What can YOU do? Plant milkweed! Monarchs need milkweed as their host plant. Its not unusual for the front runners of the migration that arrive in early September to lay eggs on Desert Milkweed (Asclepias subulata), Narrowleaf or Arizona Milkweed (Asclepias angustifolia) and the non-native Tropical Milkweed or Bloodflower (Asclepias curassavica) in the Phoenix area. The summer rains refresh milkweeds with abundant new growth and flowers that monarchs crave.

Migrating monarchs also need rich nectar sources to fuel their long journey. The summer monsoon rains frame a perfect time to plant sunflowers and zinnias. Plant now and our summer heat plus rains will rush them to maturity just in time for the migration.

While monarchs love all zinnias, they especially favor the single ones if you can find them.


If you are tired of the heat and would like to help tag and monitor monarch butterflies, join the wildlife extravaganza planned in Springerville next weekend, July 31-August 1st. Saturday is the Arizona Game & Fish "High Country Hummer Festival" at Sipe Wildlife Area, a fun morning of catching and banding migrating Hummingbirds. If you are lucky your hand may be a hummer's launchpad back into the migration! On Sunday morning we meet at 8:30 at Wenima Wildlife Area to learn about breeding monarchs in Arizona and their migration. Then we'll try our hand at catching and tagging them so we can trace their movements. Maybe YOU will place the lucky blue tag on the monarch that travels to a new place we've never found monarchs before! Hotels are scarce in the Springerville-Eager area with these events, so make your reservation today.

You can find more information about tagging events on the Southwest Monarch Study Facebook page, scroll down to the "Events" column on the lower left. (You do not need to have a Facebook account to access this page.)

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