Monday, August 23, 2010

Monarch Tagging in Springerville

Sunflowers were everywhere you looked!
Bob and I spent five days in the White Mountains last week. The monsoon rains are very abundant this year and some areas even had local flooding.  The entire region is lush and green with roadsides and meadows a blanket of yellow sunflowers, goldenrod and twinkling Asclepias subverticillata urging monarchs to visit. Soon the "leaders of the pack" of the Fall migration will find a feast to fuel their journey through the state.

We visited Wenima Wildlife Area north of Springerville twice, once to recon the area then finally for a monarch tagging event on Saturday. While we usually like to wait until the migratory generation ecloses, we also tag monarchs now to monitor their movements around the state.

We found two faded females laying eggs, one in the field just north of the parking area and another in the north meadow. In general monarchs were scarce, unlike the abundant numbers spotted just a year ago. Bob and I were hoping this was just a fluke on Thursday, but had the same experience on Saturday when Roger Baker drove up from Phoenix and joined Dee and Rich Tuminello from Eager for a monarch tagging event we led for the Southwest Monarch Study. Dee and Rich told us about the heavy rains, even hail, in the entire region, much more intense than previous years. The grasshopper population was incredible, almost like a plague. Ants, a known monarch egg predator, were everywhere.

Roger Baker searching the meadows.
The meadows were lush and tall from the recent rains but we searched and searched all morning.

While the number of monarchs were low, Roger, Dee and Rich had keen eyes and we netted a few monarchs to tag. Most were very tattered and faded, likely from the intense weather they experienced.
We noted the monarch's condition, gender,time of day, weather conditions, then placed a small blue Southwest Monarch Study and the discal cell of their wing.

We found this damaged monarch patrolling a small milkweed patch near the parking area. Most of his wing was missing, yet he was driving off any queen or male monarch that tried to approach "his" milkweed and eagerly looked for a mate despite his ragged condition.

Gail, Dee & Rich Tuminello, and Roger Baker
We may not have found as many monarch butterflies as we had hoped to tag, but we had a grand time anyway! The weather and the abundant flowers were just perfect and we all learned a lot about the monarch migration.

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