The massive movement of butterflies has been called by some as “one of the most spectacular natural phenomena in the world.” Since we began tagging monarchs in 2012 and recording their numbers, this has been a record year for monarch abundance at Goose Pond Sanctuary during their fall migration to Mexico.
Sue first noticed the monarchs roosting in the large spruce trees in our yard on September 4, and we ended up counting 800 monarchs that morning. Three days later, we had a sighting that we will long remember of 1,800 monarchs all in the western most spruce tree where they were trying to be protected from the east winds.
Monarchs do not move much in the roost until the sun appears. However, sometimes a monarch flies by and the nearby monarchs welcome or signal to the monarch by opening their wings with a brilliant orange. They usually fly to nearby white cedar, dogwoods, and other shrubs, open their wings and dry off before heading to the prairies for nectaring.
We have conducted eight roost counts that include the Kampen Road residence, the spruce/white cedars in the Jackson winter cover unit, and the spruce at the Manthe farm on Goose Pond Road. Today we found 1,600 and yesterday’s count was 1,500. See more roost photos in Arlene Koziol’s photo album here.
In addition to having high roost counts, we are finding large numbers of monarchs in the prairie and many to tag.
Recently we walked about one-half mile on trails through the prairie and counted monarchs within 40 feet of the trail. We ended up with 42 monarchs per acre. It is an impressive to see the prairies ablaze with yellow flowers and brilliant orange monarchs.
On a recent day Arlene Koziol, her grand daughter Ella, and Mark found JD Arnston near the Browne Prairie parking lot tagging a large number of monarchs. We thought that this might be a day for seven-year-old Ella to see if she could set a “world record” for releasing monarchs.
We set up our tagging operation by the Browne Prairie bench and in one-hour J D netted 69 monarchs within a half an acre of prairie! Mark placed the tag on a toothpick and handed it to Ella. Mark then removed the monarch from the net, tagged it, had Ella determine the sex (she was 100% accurate), and then she released it saying to each “have a safe journey to Mexico.” Arlene recorded the data. This was a day Ella will never forget. She later sent us a thank you note and an excellent drawing of a monarch and a milkweed. Ella’s record of releasing 69 monarchs in one hour will be hard to beat.
We also had 17 people on a monarch tagging field trip and they ended up tagging 215 monarchs in about one hour and forty-five minutes.
The yellow color in the prairies is mostly from stiff, Canada, and showy goldenrod, along with patches of sawtooth sunflowers. The monarchs have been nectaring on all those species.
Monarch butterflies are easy to find in Goose Pond prairies right now so come and see them for yourself! As a bonus you many see many of the 95 great egrets that are still with us.
Written by Mark Martin and Susan Foote-Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary resident co-managers
Cover photo by Arlene Koziol