Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Monarchs arrive in Chandler!

Monarch butterflies aren't fond of the heat. Or, so they say. Last weekend we sizzled with record breaking high temps in the Phoenix area of 109, 111 and 106. Tuesday "chilled" into the low 100's. Around 1:30 I was packing my computer for an overnight trip to Southeast Arizona for a presentation at the Southeast Butterfly Association and a monarch tagging trip with the docents at the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum. I glanced up to looked out the window  and thought I was seeing things. Butterflies were busily hopping from flower to flower and there were several queens visiting the milkweed. But what grabbed my eye, though, was the jewel of the butterfly world, my first monarch of the season!

Well, so much for running out the door. I just had to savor this rare visitor. It was 100 degrees and he was resting in the shade on a milkweed plant or from a nearby hanging plant. Bob was home sick but was able to take a wonderful photo of him. We have worked hard over the last few years developing a monarch habitat and it was wonderful to enjoy his presence gliding around the yard, driving off the queens and even another male monarch that visited on Thursday afternoon for a short time. This new little one had a hole in his right wing and was ravishing Desert and Tropical Milkweed when they engaged in a tussle, scuffling high up over the house. Only the original large male returned and stayed another day.

While the monarch stayed in our yard we saw him nectaring on a variety of milkweed flowers, bluemist, lantanta and sweet almond bush.

Even with the high temperatures this week, monarchs are slowly moving in to the Phoenix area. Tomorrow, September 29, begins the peak time of migration for monarch butterflies in the Phoenix area. So keep on eye for large wings of orange in the air! The migration window lasts until October 11th, but remember there will be straglers around for likely another month moving through. For more information about how the peak migration time is determined, see this link: Peak Migration Dates

Yesterday Bob and I tagged a monarch at the Rio Salado Restoration Habitat near Central in downtown Phoenix. He was a weathered male and we found him in the riverbottom nectaring on a Chaste Tree. Much of the monarch over-wintering habitat is suffering from lack of water due to a major break in the watering system that feeds the waterfall. Instead we found this monarch in the river channel where it was significantly cooler. We did spot a queen caterpillar on the Desert Milkweed near the habitat.

Towards the late afternoon we visited the ASU Polytech Campus in Mesa and found the first monarchs entering the area. There were buckets of queen butterflies, but we spotted this monarch cruising through the milkweed patch, nectaring on Desert Milkweed and resting on a mesquite tree.

Bob & I love leading monarch tagging trips. Recently we were in Ajo for the International Day of Peace and had a wonderful time sharing the joy of monarch butterflies - who know no borders. Two weeks ago students from Scottsdale Community College joined us on a tagging expedition to Canelo in SE Arizona. Last week the docents at the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum opened my eyes to a new tagging experience at Canelo - tagging monarchs in the rain! Most people would have cancelled the trip with rain streaming in our faces. But this was a tough crew! They donned raincoats, sloshed in the marsh - and tagged eight monarchs! Yes, we did a bit of butterfly rescue, too. Monarchs wandered from the safety of the canopy of nearby trees to nectar when it drizzled. When a downpour stuck they were stranded, thrown to the tall grasses.We gently picked them up and placed them in the safety of nearby trees, away from a predator's harm. Wonder if tagging hurts monarchs? See this delightful explanation by Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch: How to tag a monarch

Its a busy time for watching and enjoying monarchs! Savor these special jewels of the butterfly world and let us know if you see one.

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