The number of Monarch butterflies out in the Front Garden seems to have peaked. For a while there were 6 or 7 at any typical moment, just recently it’s dropped to 3 or 4. I take this to mean that the core of the southern Monarch migration has passed through our area. Within a week or two they will be gone altogether.

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Monarch spreading its wings on Joe Pye Weed

Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch divides the yearly Monarch migration into 6 overlapping stages:

  • Overwintering in Mexico (late October to early April);
  • Migrating north through Mexico (late February through April);
  • Breeding in the US (March and April);
  • “Recolonization” of the area north of the 37th parallel (a line very close to the southern borders of Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, and Kansas) – May to early June;
  • Summer breeding (June to August);
  • Fall migration back to Mexico (August to October).

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It’s funny to think that during the migration, it’s most likely different individual Monarchs that I’m seeing in the garden every day.

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2 Monarchs share the Mexican Sunflowers among the Golden Glow blooms (Rudbeckia laciniata)

In his August newsletter, Chip Taylor expressed uncharacteristic optimism about the Monarch population trends for the coming months. He said that “Stage 5 recolonization has been excellent with respect to both timing and numbers” – though much less so in the Northeast.

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He predicted an overwintering population in Mexico covering 5-6 hectares, in the same ballpark as last winter but high in the context of the last dozen years.

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I’ve tried in vain to get a good group photo of multiple Monarchs but they do not cooperate. A pair is the best I can do.

So, there is some cause to feel guardedly optimistic for the near term.

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Monarch on Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia).

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This year Monarchs’ late summer favorites have been Mexican Sunflower, Zinnias, and Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum).

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This fall I’ll be planting some Meadow Blazing Star (Liatris ligulistylis). Based on the photographs posted by friends, this plant is an absolute Monarch magnet, so I’m excited to add it to our garden.

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Here’s a Monarch sharing a flower with a Painted Lady. They look like they’re out on a date!

The Monarch migration in Eastern North America remains highly precarious, so gardeners and others should keep adding native Milkweeds to their gardens. In the meantime, it is inspiring to watch this butterfly as it journeys once again to its winter home, setting the stage for next summer’s return.

37 Comments on “The Once and Future Monarchs

  1. I just released one of the my last monarchs this morning. Wished it well on its journey south!

  2. Love that last photo! I can’t believe some of the roost photos and videos people are sharing! Last weekend, there was even a major roost down at the Wisconsin state capitol! We seem to see monarchs right up until the first hard freeze. Their numbers dwindle, however, after the first frost. I can remember seeing quite a few one year at Olbrich gardens in early October. I can’t believe I found a caterpillar yesterday!

  3. Monarch Watch says the peak of the migration for our latitude — roughly 29N — is mid-October. I know there were remarkable sightings last year. I’ll have to keep track of them myself during this migration.

  4. Nice–and hopeful–post. Lovely photos, I’m looking forward to some flitting through in the next month or so, before they head to Mexico.

  5. This weekend starts the peak Monarch migration in our area. We are going to a Monarch Festival this Saturday to watch them catch and tag Monarchs. I think it will be interesting.

  6. This is such a hopeful story & a credit to the efforts made in the US to increase the amount of Monarch butterflies. Great photos .. especially the last one.

  7. Your Monarchs are such beautiful butterflies and you have some wonderful photos of them. You seem to have some magnets for them already. 🙂 I also find it fascinating to watch our migrating butterflies and birds making tremendous journeys simply by instinct.

      • Those who witness it say it is spectacular. I avoid the blue gum groves when the butterflies are swarming, mainly because I do not want to run over those on the warm pavement of the roadways. I suppose I should see it directly eventually. I could have walked in from where I used to live.

  8. Just wonderful photos, I did enjoy them. How lucky you are to see such a beautiful butterfly. I wish we had them. I am always in awe of butterfly migrations, it’s astonishing to think it’s even possible.xxx

  9. I began something this year that I’ve never done before I’m actually tracking the number of monarch butterfly sawdust in my yard each day. I call it my HMBY post. I even bought a milkweed from my local Big Box hardware store so that I could try to attract more. I have a neighbor that has a registered monarch waystation and she gave me some seed from the milkweed she had which is a different variety. I’m hoping by next year I’ll be fully stocked and ready to attract more.

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