Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Monarch Butterflies Find a Winter Oasis in the Desert

Monarch butterflies are streaming into their winter havens in California and Mexico as the sun's angle signals them home. Once again monarchs are also arriving in increasing numbers at the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area and the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Where these monarchs come from is a mystery. Likely they left late on their migration journey or recently eclosed in the area and realized it was time to find a safe place to spend the winter.

Last year volunteers planted 20 Desert Milkweed, Asclepias subulata, near the waterfall at Rio Salado where wintering monarchs frequent. This year both monarchs and queens are reveling in the milkweed and enjoying the habitat. Monarch butterflies are in for a real treat - Rio Salado is the recipient of Audubon's Pennies for the Planet campaign this year! Donations will increase the monarch habitat by planting more varieties of native milkweed with an effective watering system, creating signs about the monarch life cycle and the importance of the local habitat as a safe winter haven for monarchs and forming a docent program to offer continuing information about Rio Salado on weekends. You can find more information to participate in the campaign at the above link or on the Pennies for the Planet FACEBOOK page.  You can also contact me for information about the history of monarchs at Rio Salado or how you can join in the planting festivities in the months ahead. Contact Gail


 Helping the monarchs at Rio Salado is tough work! Tom and others take turns watering the Desert Milkweed by hand throughout the summer months when temperatures neared 115. We hoped when we planted the milkweed that a drip watering system could be added, but with budget restraints and the poor economy slicing city budgets, it was impossible to meet this goal. So five volunteers rotated the responsibility to water, often taking buckets of water from the nearby creek.

It wasn't easy, but we all felt it was worth it! And, that worked until a break in the pump that feeds the water occurred stopping the water. Then we had to haul in gallons of water from home in our cars and trek the water in - exhausting in the heat of summer. But we were determined. We kept our eyes focused on Fall and wings of orange fluttering in the air!  Our dream is to increase the number of milkweed and to create an effective watering system with funding from the Pennies for the Planet campaign to help the monarch butterflies that visit Rio Salado. We hope you will join us in this fun and exciting project!