Five Super Stops on Monarch Migration Trail
At national wildlife refuges along the monarch migration trail, excitement builds early. Every fall, monarch butterflies fly thousands of miles from as far north as Canada to overwinter in Mexico. When swarms of monarchs pause en route to rest and feed on nectar-bearing plants, admirers will be ready to see them blanket trees and shrubs in orange and black.
Here are some prime viewing spots in five states. All events are free.
If all goes right, St. Marks’ Butterfly Festival (this year, on Saturday, October 26) will coincide with peak monarch arrival on Florida’s Panhandle ─ when swarms of the tired butterflies drop down and feed on blossoming salt bushes and goldenrod. Then they wait for the wind to shift offshore and carry them to Mexico.
St. Marks Refuge’s festival offers butterfly tagging demonstrations, guided butterfly walks, butterfly talks, butterfly crafts for children and van tours to where butterflies are feeding.
Butterflies are also a focus of the annual Eastern Shore of Virginia Birding and Wildlife Festival, scheduled this year for Friday, October 11 through Sunday, October 13.
Butterfly tagging and butterfly walks are among planned activities of the refuge’s National Wildlife Refuge Week celebration on Saturday, October 12, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Doeskin Ranch.
The butterflies tend to come in waves, based on weather patterns. Migrating monarchs feed on asters and goldenrod and other wildflowers that bloom throughout the refuge in the central Kansas wetlands. If winds frustrate butterfly hunters, visitors can catch monarchs inside an enclosed butterfly pavilion.
During the day, look for monarchs in wildflower areas. Toward evening, the best viewing areas are sheltered places that are cool and damp. Monarchs are expected in Kansas in mid to late September.
You catch the butterflies; refuge staff tag them. They’ll also record your name so they can send you a certificate if your butterfly is found in Mexico.
Some frequently asked questions:
Q: When will the butterflies arrive this year?
Q: What are the prospects for good monarch viewing this year?
A: Clouded. According to the MonarchWatch website, the overwintering monarch population in Mexico for 2012-2013 was the smallest ever recorded. Spring monarch sightings were also down compared to past years since 2005. Together with other trends, particularly the decline in milkweed habitat in the U.S. and Mexico, this doesn’t bode well.
However, there may be surprises. Monarch migration patterns respond to a host of factors, not always in easily predictable ways. Patterns may also vary by region.
Rob Iski, outdoor recreation planner for Balcones Canyonlands Refuge in Texas, says viewing there “could be better than last year since rainfall coverage has improved this year in the country's midsection.”
MonarchWatch anticipates monarchs will arrive late to northern breeding areas this fall.
Q: How do the butterflies travel south?
Q: Do the same butterflies return from Mexico when the winter is over?