Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Monarch butterflies clustered along the Llano River this weekend, clinging to pecan tree branches as strong winds from the south kept them in place, temporarily halting their journey south toward Mexico and making easy work for Monarch taggers.
On Friday, winds shifted temporarily, blowing out of the north. Temperatures dropped 40 degrees–from 93 to 53. The shift blew in a fresh crop of the migrating creatures. Then early Saturday morning a dramatic thunderstorm dumped 1 – 4 inches of rain in the Texas Hill Country, knocking out electrical power and bringing heavy cloud cover that kept the butterflies once again in place for the day.
“Last night was great,” Jenny Singleton texted regarding Friday night. Singleton, our friend and fellow Monarch butterfly enthusiast, first introduced me to Monarch butterflies back in 2006 when she invited me to her Texas Hill Country ranch to “tag some Monarch butterflies” along with a group of her friends and family.
The tradition continues today during peak migration each year. I’ve borrowed the practice as well, inviting friends and family to celebrate my October 13 birthday at the ranch, tagging butterflies along the Llano. I’m lucky my birthday falls right in the middle of peak migration season, which this year runs October 10-22 for our latitude.
“Nothing tonight,” Singleton texted on Saturday. “Why? Too cold?” she asked, echoing my own thoughts about schizophrenic weather conditions.
As the sun returned on Sunday, Monarchs started moving again, clustering into groups of 20 -50 and making for a fantastic day of tagging.
The butterflies bunched up to stay warm and protect themselves from the wind, occasionally busting off the trees when the sun was just right, floating and flitting in the gorgeous autumn day. The pattern made for full nets, sometimes swooping 20 in one swing. See the video above and you’ll get the idea.
Our team from Austin and San Antonio recorded more than 300 of the stymied migrants as peak migration kicked into gear right on schedule for the Texas Funnel. Singleton tagged 271 over four days this weekend, compared to 333 last year, and categorized the weekend as “disappointing.” Keep in mind this is a woman who has tagged more than 1,000 butterflies in a single weekend. “Crazy weather” was to blame for what she considered low tagging numbers in Hext, Texas, just 30 miles away from our stretch of river.
With big winds out of the south followed by thunderstorms, cold temps and then a blast from the north, conditions made for “Perfect migrating, not great for tagging,” said Singleton.
The story was different for us. Monarchs hugged the trees, protected by a limestone escarpment and a linear grove of pecans, making for easy–and often loaded–net swoops. All in all, a “Monarch-u-mental” weekend of butterfly fun, and a hopeful sign for a Monarch butterfly rebound. We’ll be back for more on Friday.NOTE: Have you taken our Milkweed Poll? Please do. Three questions, only takes a minute. GRACIAS! Please do it now, here’s the link.
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