Monday, July 5, 2010

Monarchs Arrive in Arivaca -- and a Surprise!

We just couldn't wait. After the surprising find of monarch butterflies in Springerville in mid-June, we kept wondering, did they arrive early at Arivaca Cienega nestled near the Mexican border, too? Laura and I hopped in the car early Friday morning to find out.

Monarch butterflies in Arizona usually are spotted first in the Southern cienegas. So we drove down, even though we knew the day would slam us with searing temperatures.

As we gathered our monitoring gear in the parking lot, a queen butterfly fluttered by in greeting. The boardwalk was lined with just a few flowers here and there, but butterflies of different varieties still found them.

The fields looked prolific, the grasses knee high, and abundant, rich Asclepias subverticillata, Horsetail Milkweed, was buried in hidden thickets. This monarch favorite was less advanced than the ones we noticed at Springerville. Less than 1/8 had flower buds, most were lush green and growing, a foot to 18 inches high. In a few more weeks it will become a rolling carpet of white flowers with male monarchs patrolling the pockets. But for today, the meadows looked surprisingly empty.

Laura and I walked the fields, hoping for a glimpse of royalty. We spotted several queens, but it wasn't until we hit the East fence boundary that we saw the bright orange and familiar glide in a nearby Asclepias subverticillata patch. Her scooping flight signalled egg-laying, so we watched her find just the right milkweed to lay her egg. Then she flew up and waltzed to the Southern meadow and out of sight.

We walked the fields searching known milkweed patches and explored Willow trees where monarchs and queens love to roost. While we spotted over 15 queens, we never saw another monarch. The temperatures rose to the upper 90's and the humidity was high, but that didn't seem to bother the queens. So, officially we spotted one female monarch in very good condition and color laying eggs on Asclepias subverticillata in the East-centeral edge of the meadow on Friday. Surprisingly, no males patrolling milkweed were seen anywhere.

 Nectar sources were in short supply. We found a few Bidens beginning to open here and there and they were always covered with hungry butterflies. A few elderberries were in bloom, but it didn't seem the butterflies were interested.

One lone Smartweed was blooming. Butterflies were abundant, but nectar limited. Soon that will change.

On Saturday, Bob and I headed up to the Rim country for cool temperatures and 4th of July fairs. We stopped in Pine for a bit and stumbled on this cute house off a main local road.

Knowing how hot it was back home in Phoenix, Bob and I thought we'd pull off a forest road, pull out our chairs and sit in the forest for a while. When we stopped our car, I saw some yellow flowers in the distance and thought it would be the perfect rest spot. Surprise - the yellow flowers were Asclepias tuberosa, also knows as Butterflyweed, in bloom! We found over 35 plants in the area, most just starting to flower, some just a small stem beginning to grow.

Curious, I took our dog for a walk in nearby meadows looking for the tell-tale yellow flowers. I didn't find any more nearby, but what I did find was simply amazing! In a sunny, narrow meadow stood a stand of Asclepias englemanniana, Englemann's Milkweed. I've been looking for this milkweed for the past year, and here were 12 plants right in front of me. Most had thick buds, none in bloom yet. Soon. Monarch butterflies use both Asclepias tuberosa and Asclepias englemanniana as host plants in Arizona.

A simply great weekend!

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