Monarch migration

Fall is in the air and that means Monarchs – hundreds of thousands of Monarchs – have begun their journey to their overwintering grounds in Mexico. We’re hearing some good news from friends in New Jersey: Monarchs appear healthy and they’re already passing through the state. A quick look at Journey North shows that our east coast Monarchs have already reached northern Virginia. This is the map I tend to monitor— it gives me an idea about when we can expect Monarchs to reach northern Florida. If the timing is right, I can try to steal some time away from work to view the migration at St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge, one of the top five viewing sites for Monarch migration in the United States. (Be sure to check the refuge’s website before visiting this year though – COVID-19 has restricted operations.)

For those of you who wonder whether witnessing the migration is worth a 10-hour roundtrip trip, let me assure you that, at the height of the migration, it is. Wave upon wave of Monarchs grace the air, seeking nectar from seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) and other late-bloomers. There’s something magical just being in the presence of so many gorgeous butterflies as they seemingly just float by. Evening roosts – where Monarchs congregate in trees – are visually stunning. And, there’s always the possibility that you’ll see other butterflies like Viceroys and Queens. (See our October newsletter for tips on ways to distinguish these orange and black beauties from the iconic Monarch. If you’re not on our mailing list, you can sign up for it here.)

For our birding friends, St. Mark’s is also actively involved in recovery efforts to save the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. The refuge has established a goal of 71 active clusters and has an established Habitat Management Plan to help conserve this species as well as number of other threatened and endangered birds species including the piping plover and wood stork.

Not all Monarchs that fly through the northern part of the state continue to Mexico. It’s thought that some head south and join our permanent population. It’s important to include nectar sources for these and other butterflies throughout the winter months. If you don’t have any, or would like to include more in your garden, stop by and visit. We’d be happy to help.