My Friday the 13th birthday arrived with a weekend of good luck this year.
Family and friends gathered at the ranch for the ritual birthday tagging outing as clusters of Monarch butterflies appeared for a birthday chorus sung by chittering cicadas. A fifth instar caterpillar greeted me on my kayak rounds. Swamp milkweed pods, plump with seeds, perched ready to spread their wealth. And Monarch eggs, gathered from native milkweed stems, hatched within hours of collection.
Happy Monarch birthday weekend suggests a spectacular season. Photo by Monika Maeckle
All the good fortune bode well for my next twirl around the sun–and suggests a spectacular 2017 Monarch butterfly migration.
Plenty of nectar pitstops await. A variety of insects and butterflies, including hundreds of migrating Monarchs, enjoyed late season blooms that lined the Llano River banks in the glorious Texas Hill Country.
Elegant Swallowtails on Frostweed. Spangled Gulf fritillaries on Cowpen Daisy. Lemon yellow Sulphurs on past-their prime Goldenrods. Golden brown Queens fluttering on Late flowering boneset. Crickets, cicadas, gnats, and diverse bees populated the riverbanks. And Monarchs, pushed down from a cold front earlier this week, floated between pecan trees before gathering in small clusters. There, they awaited the next southbound wind that would give them a lift home.
With peak Monarch migration time for our latitude forecast for October 10-22, this is just the beginning. Many more Monarchs are heading our way.
The headwinds that have been holding butterflies back yielded in the Midwest this week, according to Journey North, the wildlife tracking initiative that keeps tabs on Monarchs and other wildlife. In her Thursday, October 12 bulletin, founder Elizabeth Howard noted “The migration’s leading edge advanced across Texas” this week. Howard will join us this Friday for our Butterflies Without Borders Symposium. (Tickets still available.)
“We live on Lake Travis in Austin, Texas,” Tammy Marshall told Journey North on October 10th. “We looked out the window and saw hundreds of butterflies right before sunset. They formed roosts in the trees. This morning we looked again and they were gone. What an amazing sight!”
Alexander, Robert and Cocoa Rivard on the Llano.
Swallowtail on Frostweed.
Happy birthday to me!
Cricket on Frostweed.
Fifth instar caterpillar on Swamp milkweed.
Nicolas Rivard, Gabriela Santiago, Brisket and Turkey netting Monarchs on the Llano.
Swamp milkweed pods.
Journey North reported migrating rabbles (yes, that’s the official word for groups of butterflies) in Canada, Kansas, the Atlantic Coast–even in the Big Apple.”In New York City this week, an incredible 600 monarchs were sighted in LaGuardia Corner Garden in the heart of Greenwich Village. Others were counted as they traveled by an office window on the 39th floor of a skyscraper.”
Throughout the Texas Hill Country, Monarchs were spotted in small clusters, a good sign for the next few weeks. On Friday, temperatures peaked in the 90s when we gathered for a birthday celebration. A quick hike to the river yielded hundreds of Monarchs settling in for the night. Gabriela Santiago and I netted and tagged about 40 in quick swoops and tagging sessions before the sun set. Gabriela even netted a Monarch pair locked in their impressive courtship flight.
Journey North has the peak migration moving into Texas this week. Graphic via Journey North.
On Saturday, the Rivard boys joined us with a custom net extender. Nicolas Rivard rigged a 16-foot tree trimming pole with a butterfly net that reached well into the tall pecan tree limbs. Soon the men were competing to see who could net the most butterflies in one swoop. The record: 16 butterflies–one butterfly netted per foot of pole. A coincedence?
With a dreamy sunset as a backdrop, 169 Monarchs were tagged by day’s end. By Sunday morning, a cold front that would drop temperatures into the 40s arrived with a dramatic rain shower. By the afternoon as winds picked up, the Monarchs were on their way again. We look forward to the next round of visitors.
Scientists and Monarch followers have been predicting a spectacular rebound season for 2017. Judging from everything witnessed on the Llano River this weekend, it appears the Texas Funnel is in for a big showing.
Hundreds of Monarchs will also make an appearance this Friday – Sunday at San Antonio’s 2017 Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival. Three days of art, science, education and celebration of our most iconic species will take flight at the Historic Pearl and around town. Please join us, details here.
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