Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Following the Monarch Trail


Male monarch Asclepias subverticillata

We weren’t sure what we would find. Every summer we enjoy following the monarch trail around Arizona. By July monarchs usually arrive and establish breeding colonies in the higher elevations. After the record low overwintering population in Mexico and lower numbers in California, what would we see?

Monarch larva Asclepias speciosa
While the rest of the country is seeing a plunge in monarch sightings as well as eggs, larvae and pupae, what we’ve seen so far in Arizona gives hope. Bob and I’ve visited Springerville/Eager as well as Pinetop/Lakeside in the White Mountains twice over the last three weeks and the number of monarchs is steadily increasing. Plus, we were still seeing female monarchs laying eggs a week ago. As the milkweeds are now beginning to senesce as Fall draws near, seed pods are growing. Yet, many new sprigs are breaking ground to the delight of female monarchs still depositing eggs.

Even more promising are large meadows packed with sunflowers swaying with summer’s playful breezes. Rolling dips and gentle hills are one enormous quilt of rich nectar to fuel the monarch’s migration drawing nigh. Our abundant monsoon this year is coaxing dormant seeds to new life.

The White Mountains aren’t alone. The Southeast portion of our state also is blossoming in butterflies and monarchs as their premier season progresses. Sierra Vista and Canelo both are rich in milkweeds, nectar and monarchs – a good harbinger for the migration coming our way soon.