I’m surprised I’m not one of those migratory people like many in our latitudes. I don’t have a summer home here and a winter home down in Florida, Texas or Arizona. Perhaps I should since migratory creatures always top my list of favorite fish and wildlife species. My favorite birds to hunt have always been ducks, my favorite fish to catch have always been salmon.
Migration – the perfect solution to the Earth’s axial tilt in relation to the sun creating verdant summers half the year and frozen deserts in the same place the rest of the year. Each duck I see brings with it a story. Each one is see each fall is halfway from where it was born or nested. Each one spotted it the spring is on a journey far away to who knows where.
Thoughts like this were flitting through my mind one afternoon in mid-September as I lay on my back, shotgun held loosely across my torso, basically enjoying a sunny afternoon. My excuse for being there, and thus the shotgun at hand, was to shoot or shoot at a few doves.
Alas, for me the hunter, doves are also migratory and the feeding flocks present a few days earlier were gone, migrated south with one of the incipient autumn’s first cold fronts. The northerlies blowing across the field however brought pleasing temperatures (for humans) and laying on my back was how I watched a migration I knew about but never paid much attention to – and certainly never spent time enjoying.
As I scanned the dove-empty skies a monarch butterfly fluttered by, propelled as much by the north breeze as it’s orange, oversized wings. Then another and another – the sky was filled with monarchs.
They were not quite flying in flocks, but sometimes I could see just one or two passing overhead. At other times a dozen or more from 30 or 40 feet of altitude, to small fluttering dots hundreds of feet in the air. All heading to their wintering areas far to the south.
Butterfly biologists say the ones migrating through much of the Midwest migrate far to the south in Mexico. New England monarchs may head to Florida and the western-grown flutter-bugs could go to California or Arizona. In fact, it’s a wintering California monarch that brought this topic to mind.
Butterfly lovers, especially the one’s enamored of the migratory monarch are concerned about their dwindling population. Without getting too far into the weeds with the minutia of the monarch butterfly life cycle, the existence of monarch butterflies depends on the existence of the once common milkweed. In short, they lay their eggs only on milkweed plants, the monarch caterpillars feed on milkweed and they pupate on milkweeds.
Milkweeds are (or are deemed to be “weeds”) and humans have been fighting weeds since the first agricultural seed was planted. Milkweeds, have been casualties in this cultural war on weeds, and monarchs, along with milkweeds are becoming less numerous.
That’s the back-story of how a monarch butterfly, born and raised in Idaho became famous enough to become a one day Internet sensation. It was important enough the people who encountered it gave the bug a name, wrote it’s story, took it’s picture and why it eventually popped up on my computer screen.
Monet was the name that Melinda Lowe bestowed on the caterpillar she began rearing August 14, 2017 in her Idaho home. Lowe is a participant in an ongoing monarch study being conducted by Washington State University. “I had a specially-built butterfly cage constructed for her where she grew fat and happy eating freshly-picked showy milkweed leaves,” said Lowe.
After emerging from the chrysalis stage of her life as an adult butterfly, Lowe affixed an ultra-light tag to her wing, marking her with the number B1861, and released her into the wild “She immediately flew up and out of the yard and toward the west. Such a bittersweet moment,” Lowe said. Sounds sort of “schmaltzy” but, having banded hundreds of waterfowl and shorebirds, I know how she felt.
Jump ahead to March 2, just a few weeks ago and 662 miles later (as the butterfly flies), and B1861 was rescued from a swimming pool in Santa Barbara, California. The homeowner noticed the marking tag, contacted the WSU scientist with the information and released the now dry and healthy monarch, seemingly none-the-worst by it’s near death experience. Monet was the longest lived butterfly in the study and the first one found migrating from Idaho to California.
It’s also the first time I’ve written an outdoor column about butterflies, but I admit, since that September day I spent entertained by the monarch migration passing over my dove hunting spot, I make the effort to preserve the few milkweeds growing on my property.