[This is another post in the series, Summer in Wisconsin: Woodlands, Wetlands, Monarchs, and Rocks.” What began as one of several items for a “roundup” of summer notes, has grown into five separate blogposts, published one at a time in this first and second week of August. You can access all the Summer in Wisconsin series by clicking on those words; they are listed among the categories at the end of each post.]
Is This a Better Year for Monarchs?
It’s the height of summer in Wisconsin, and this is the perfect time to look for Monarch butterflies. I plan to visit soon, two special Door County locations that may currently be hosting numerous butterflies (more about these later).
According to my own, completely unscientific survey, Monarchs seem more plentiful this summer – even in small parks and back yards, than in recent summers. My own observations seem to be bolstered anecdotally by others I’ve talked to as well.
However, Julie, the naturalist at the website, LakeLedgeNaturalist.com, cautioned me that when it comes to Monarchs, “the answers always tend to be complex and multifaceted.” And no wonder, when you consider with Monarchs, you are dealing with millions of individual butterflies – big numbers, yet this is a population commonly understood to be in decline.
From the NWF: The “Battle for the Butterflies”
The National Wildlife Foundation is a good source for stories about the plight of the Monarchs, and I found this one, “The Battle for the Butterflies,” [ http://www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/Animals/Archives/2015/Battle-for-Butterflies.aspx ] from March 30th, this year, to be very helpful. A 2014-15 survey of their winter territory in Mexico, produced a count of over 56 million butterflies, “up 69% from the previous year’s survey, when the insects’ numbers fell to historic lows.”
While that’s welcome news, it is still a low count, according the scientists who study this. “The continent’s monarch population has declined more than 90% from its peak of nearly one billion butterflies in the mid-1990s,” this article states.
Monarch caterpillar on common milkweed; this phase in the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly is solely dependent on the Milkweed plant for life. (USFWS photo by Courtney Celley)
There does seem to be a robust and growing response to this threat to the species. One important part of that response, I believe, includes efforts to cultivate Milkweed and the nectar plants required by the Monarch population. Efforts on the part of private citizens, wildlife management professionals, and various public entities have resulted in thousands of such plantings that have come to be known as Monarch Waystations. As of May 31st this year, Monarch Watch, [ http://monarchwatch.org/waystations/ ], a butterfly research program based at the University of Kansas, reports they have registered 10,584 Monarch Waystations.
Where to Look for Monarchs
Efforts to turn the meadow adjacent to the nature center at Peninsula State Park into a Monarch Waystation were described this past November, by Kathleen Harris, naturalist at the park. Providing suitable space for milkweed and other native plants, the meadow is a positive response for Monarchs, Harris wrote in the Peninsula Pulse [ http://www.ppulse.com/Articles-Outside-in-Door-c-2014-11-05-118683.114136-For-the-Love-of-Monarchs.html ], adding, “In addition to planting diverse native species, park staff and volunteers have also removed unwanted plants.”
In addition to visiting the meadow at the nature center, and hoping to photograph Monarchs, I also plan to visit Bayshore Blufflands Nature Preserve, a property of the Door County Land Trust. Early in July, the Land Trust posted on their Facebook page, that Bayshore Blufflands had become “a Monarch haven! Fields are filled with Milkweed and buds that are just beginning to bloom . . . You can clearly see where caterpillars have been munching on leaves . . .”
The public can visit Bayshore Blufflands preserve at any time. You can find it at 5454 Bayshore Drive, 10 miles north of Sturgeon Bay.