What a difference an inch of rain makes!   Two weeks ago we described a dreary Llano River scene: receding waters, parched riverbanks, drought-stricken tree roosts, and an absence of nectar that suggested a disappointing forecast for this year’s Monarch butterfly migration.

Monarch butterflies mating

Monarch butterflies mating, taking a break from their “courtship flight” on the Llano River

The drought continues, but we’re more hopeful now.  The Llano River has rebounded with recent rains.   That inch in the rain gauge rewarded us this weekend with plenty of pollinators–bees, wasps, hummingbirds, and butterflies.  Red Admirals, Sulphurs, Fritillaries and Skippers all showed up–and yes, a slew of Monarch butterflies.
With winds out of the south, roosting premigratory Monarchs were trapped on our stretch of river between Mason and Junction, Texas.  They nectared on Frostweed, Swamp Milkweed, Goldenrod and Water Hemlock–the latter their apparent favorite.[slideshow] At least 150 Monarchs roosted in the evenings in pecan tree limbs on our riverbottom. During the day, they took turns nectaring and resting on our neighbors’ recently cleared cedar piles.   Mounds of ashe juniper provided a cozy respite from winds gusting to 25 miles per hour.
We witnessed three courtship flights, including the one pictured above.  Male Monarchs typically will seize a female, taking her by force into flight as she literally gets “carried away.”  The mating can last for hours.  We recovered several dozen eggs (now incubating in our kitchen) and tagged 23 Monarchs before sending them on their way to Mexico. Most were in good shape.
The weekend left us hopeful for a more robust migration than this year’s drought and wildfires had us thinking only two weeks ago.