Monarchs on the Move

Butterfly migration season is starting to reach the High Plains of Texas. We’re on the western edge of the main migration route most years, because of our lack of watering sources. A few years, notably 2011 and 1995, it was so dry that we had two or three monarch butterflies at most. The rest stayed well to the east or west.

However, this year I’m starting to see monarchs and their associates, queens, viceroys, and fritillaries. The first true monarch butterfly appeared two weeks ago, fluttering around the crimson salvia. Then it moved on. I saw a few more on my way to work, and on Friday, one was pestering the butterfly bush near the driveway. I suspect the first part of the main wave will arrive late this week, following a powerhouse cold front that’s supposed to bring lots of rain and drop temperatures by, oh, thirty degrees.

I haven’t checked yet to see where the butterflies have been reported. That is the most up-to-date site, and I try to report in when I remember.

Map from, used under Fair Use, Creative Commons 3.0.

Redquarters has butterfly gardens, although we also have cardinals who have discovered that we have butterfly gardens. The swallowtails especially seem to be popular snacks with the cardinals, but we manage to get a few butterflies every year. Cabbage butterflies, alas, do well, as do sulfur butterflies, and moths. We do have milkweed, lots of milkweed, but no monarchs have thus far taken up the offer that I know of. So we have to wait for the migrations. Monarchs and hummingbirds* seem to mooch. They stop by, tank up, and then depart.

Monarchs overwinter in Mexico and California,although the last few years, the severe cold in Mexico has really hurt their numbers. Then the butterflies migrate north, following the Interior Flyway also used by birds, to reach their summer breeding grounds. Come October or so, when the first big cold-fronts power down from Canada, the monarchs start moving south again. These are the next generation, not the originals, for the most part.

Soon, the large orange and black visitors will pester the salvia, do their best to rip the butterfly bushes out of the ground, and flutter dramatically whenever I park or move the pick-up. Then they will continue on their way south. The geese and ducks will follow them, and goldfinches and junkos will move in for the winter. The seasons are changing, will we or nil we, just has they have for so long.

*We get hummingbirds until the neighbors’ trumpet vines bloom. Then the birds hang out there. The only year we had a resident hummingbird was when fence repairs took out the closest trumpet vines. Mother has been known to mutter darkly about trumpet vines, broad-leaf herbicides, and the dark of night. Thus far, we just plant more salvia and similar flowers.

14 thoughts on “Monarchs on the Move

  1. Monarch Watch? As in, “Wherefore must we watch the King, lest our gain be lost”?
    … Oh. The other kind.
    Hmmm, looks like the migration pattern includes the Future Residence. We’ll have to include a butterfly garden in the new landscaping. Another thing to put on the to-do list for spring!
    (The Current Residence is semi-convenient to the winter habitat at Natural Bridges, where the bridges may have eroded away but the seasonal butterflies abide.)

    • Chuckle Chuckle

      Yah, when I saw the title I wondered if we’re getting a snippet from a story with Kings in it. 😆

  2. Reminds me that I need to work the flower and herb bed adjacent to the garden. Some weeds and invaders need clearing from the bee balm, and a couple perennials (including the bee balm) need movement or thinning. The butterflies love the bee balm and butterfly bushes, along with all the pollinators.

    The goldfinches left a week ago, and the echinacea bed still looks outraged by rampant seed feeding. Feeding juncos in the winter, then goldfinches in spring. Well, it’s a convenient excuse to not cut stalks down until next year’s flowers are up.

  3. I always enjoy your wildlife postings but I’ve learnt to google whenever you do one as I either have not heard of the birds or am not sure that it’s the bird I’m thinking of (given the way that bird names are re-used across the world for different species), Naturally the markings on your goldfinches turn out to be nothing like those on the birds that I’n currently looking at on our feeders (my no doubt biased opinion is that the European Goldfinch is prettier) while Junko appears to be a manga character (with Wikipedia using the spelling junco for the bird). Still I did work out what you are talking about.

    I also googled “trumpet vine” and ended up uncertain whether to suggest you plant your own to keep your hummingbirds or to endorse your Mother’s plan, though the pictures of the flowers looked pretty.

    And Monarch’s are famous enough that even I did not have to google them.

    • If you want to attract hummingbirds, trumpet vines work very well. Out here, they are not a native species, and they tend to spread quickly, enough so that after four or five years, the weight of the plant can tear down sections of a six-foot-tall wooden fence, if the fence has not been properly secured.

      At Redquarters we don’t have room or need for a trumpet vine, and butterflies don’t care for it as much as they do other plants.

      Junko is probably a local variant on junco (“snowbird” is another name, which will probably bring up images of people driving trailers [caravans] from northern states to southern states.)

  4. Here in New England, the monarch butterflies had a very bad couple of years, four or five years ago now. I recall going one entire year without seeing a single monarch. However, they’ve been coming back slowly, and this year I’ve seen more migrating monarchs than in the last three or four combined.

  5. One of the best mis-spellings I’ve ever seen was from a student at a school in Natchitoches, Louisiana. I happened to be visiting one day, and found a teacher doubled over with laughter in the staff lounge. When I asked what was so funny, she showed me a student’s quiz. Below a picture of a monarch butterfly was the penciled-in identification: “Menarche butterfly”.

    I had to take a few minutes to stop giggling before I went about my business . . .


  6. Advice on a good place to get milkweed?

    The only place I’ve found flesh-space won’t say if it is the kind that Monarchs can eat, and I’m reluctant to spend $45 on a big bucket of “butterfly plant” even if they would.

    • (yes, I did contact the local ag folks, and the forestry guys, and the folks doing the “hey look aren’t Monarchs cool” thing at the Iowa state fair. I now have six little packets of seeds that, when you go past the big Monarch sticker on them, are generic “wildflower pollinator mix” seeds; at least I can be fairly sure it’s not mostly baby’s breath….)

      • We got ours from a local nursery that specializes in native plants. They don’t ship. I’d ask neighbors and see if anyone has a milkweed plant you can get seeds from. Trying to transplant them is a bit fraught, because of their really long roots (at least the ones native from central Nebraska west.)

    • Milkweed? Focus on the “weed” part. It grows wild on field and road edges, with large pods of easily dispersed parachute seeds. Check on the web for a good description from a reputable plant site, and bring a plastic bag to collect a couple ripe and dry pods.

      A local butterfly group or wild/ native plants group would be good to ask. Someone may be willing or eager to split a planting, or sell a smaller plant. It grows fast.

      • Corn or soybean fields, here– and the sides of the road are mowed, so they don’t survive well. I do keep an eye out, I THINK I’d recognize it, but no luck.

        Most of the stuff in our area is saturated with….well, bullshitters. (summary of the sense I’m using it in found here)

        The folks who don’t actually know anything, but won’t shut up with sharing their made-up knowledge, and get upset if you even allude to it failing.
        I’m really not up to another power struggle where I’m the social sacrifice, again. 😦

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