Sunday, January 26, 2014

Monarch Butterflies at Buckskin State Park

Tagged monarch spotted in Lake Havasu 2-17-13

We spent last weekend at Buckskin State Park in Parker, AZ, along the Colorado River. When we last visited in November we were lucky to find migrating monarch butterflies. With our unusually warm winter this year we wondered if any monarchs would still be around. Just a year ago Keith Graves tagged a monarch in November at Rotary Park in Lake Havasu and on February 17th a local resident, Karen, found the tagged monarch. Naturally we were curious to see if we could spot any overwintering monarchs around this year.

Male monarc nectaring on Lantana
It didn’t take long. We arrived after 4 p.m. and Bob took a quick walk to stretch his legs before setting up camp. When he returned he was holding a monarch! Turns out a few monarchs were nectaring on a nearby lantana. We have a permit to tag monarchs at the Arizona State Parks so we were delighted to find one so easily. While tagging is usually done in the Fall to track the monarch migration, it can also help us learn if a monarch stays in an area. Every year the Southwest Monarch Study saves tags dedicated for winter tagging to help increase our understanding of monarch behavior.

Monarch in Willow Acacia, Acacia salicina
We were looking forward to learning how many monarchs were in the area on Saturday. The night temps were on the chilly side in the low 40’s. Nearby mountains shelter the rising sun, so it wasn’t until late morning before temperatures warmed and monarchs slowly began to appear. Like last November, they still favored the Willow Acacia trees, Acacia salicina, as night roosts and many trees still had limited blooms for nectar, an ideal “bed and breakfast.” 

Male monarch on Ficus, Microcarpa retusa
We also spotted monarchs in nearby Ficus, Microcarpa retusa, as well. All in all there were approximately 25 monarchs in the area. This time we only saw two Painted Ladies and didn’t see any Queen butterflies. Monarchs ruled. Daytime temperatures were in the low to mid 70’s, perfect for butterfly activity. 

Campers Vera Walters and Cathie Hartin help tag a monarch
A few monarchs were hungrily feeding at large lantana bushes that were no longer in their prime, but still suitable nectar on Saturday afternoon. I just netted one monarch to tag, when Vera Walters and Cathie Hartin walked over to help. They both visited the overwintering monarchs in Mexico a few years ago and were surprised and excited to see monarchs at Buckskin State Park. 

Bill Williams River Natural Wildlife Area
Bob and I also drove up to Bill Williams River Natural Wildlife Area. The ranger on duty mentioned that the area was extremely dry with the deep drought, but even so we were surprised at how desolate the riverbed was on our hike. Most of the trees had died back and there were only limited pockets of green foliage of Seep Willow, Baccharis salicifolia without any blooms. We didn’t see any butterflies of any kind.

Sweet Bush, Bebbia juncea
We continued to Lake Havasu to check Rotary Park and other riparian areas around town. Nothing was in bloom but we did see one monarch flying north along Highway 95. There was abundant Sweet Bush, Bebbia juncea, all along the road that surprisingly had pockets of good blooms, but no butterflies of any kind. 

Monarch well camouflaged in the dead leaves
From our quick trip up the Colorado, the monarchs were following the nectar – and this year the nectar was at Buckskin State Park to the delight of everyone from around the United States and Canada camping.

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