Sunday, August 15, 2010

Monarchs are waiting in the upper elevations of AZ

Since early August monarchs were reported in Flagstaff, Springerville, Silver Creek Fish Hatchery near Show Low, Young, Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area, Arivaca Cienega, Sharpe Springs, Canelo Marsh, Bog's Hole - the higher and cooler elevations around Arizona. The numbers of monarchs seem smaller than a year ago, but they are present none-the-less, especially in locations with milkweed in bloom.

Threatening skies didn't keep the monarchs away
Female laying eggs
On the weekend of August 1st the skies were cloudy, but monarchs were still searching for nectar and milkweed to lay their eggs at Wenima Wildlife area near Springerville. We were surprised to see monarchs out when the skies were so threatening. Eight people joined the tagging event on Sunday morning to learn about monarchs and wait until the sun poked through drawing monarchs to sun and nectar. We only tagged three together but had a lot of fun learning the differences between males and females and other monarch traits and habits. The numbers of monarchs were low in the breeding community, we saw perhaps 10 or so. But the rainy weather and threatening weather could easily put a lid on their activity. On the way back to our cars we were lucky to see this female laying eggs on milkweed nearby.

A lone monarch danced through the soggy milkweed patches
On the way home Bob and I stopped at Silver Creek Fish Hatchery. Last year we spotted monarchs in a patch of goldenrods and Asclepias subverticillata milkweed across the tiny creek. But the heavy rains created massive flooding drawing water up to the parking lot. We drove to a nearby bridge and saw a lone male monarch patrolling the soggy milkweed.

After adding a tag she was ready to go!
On Friday, August 6, Bob, Scott and I headed down to Arivaca Cienega near the Mexican border. A month earlier one female monarch was spotted laying eggs on milkweed. We were hoping to see more today. Once again rain was in the area, but the sun peaked through soon after we arrived. Once again the number of monarchs were limited: We tagged two females. When one was released she was immediately ambushed by a male who eventually helicoptered up to a nearby willow tree. We spotted about eight monarchs in the massive milkweed fields.

Sunflowers were everywhere!
On Friday, August 13, Laura Miller and I drove up to Flagstaff to get a break from the heat and to see if we could find any monarchs. Flagstaff is an interesting place. There are rolling fields of sunflowers everywhere and patches of white flowerd Asclepias subverticillata woven through the yellow carpet. Yet monarchs are rarely reported. Today we visited Buffalo Park and Laura's keen eye spotted a monarch cruising above the flowers. We watch the monarch for close to 15 minutes flying huge circles above the milkweed and under the pine tree branches. Finally he went on his way. We couldn't get close enough to identify gender, but my guess is a male based on his patrolling behavior.

Monarch tagging events continue in the high country this upcoming Saturday, August 21, at 8:30 a.m. at Wenima Wildlife Area just outside of Springerville. Join in the fun of tagging monarch butterflies in the cool, refreshing weather of the higher elevations of Arizona.

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