The monarch migration is underway

First migrators ‘trickling in’ as prime time approaches

A female monarch left, and a male (note black “bump” on the line of lower hindwing) crowd in to pull nectar from Cowpen daisies in south Tulsa County Friday. Photo by Kelly J Bostian / KJBOutdoors

By KELLY BOSTIAN
For the CCOF

Monarch Watch Conservation Specialist Sandra Schwinn put the butterfly migration picture in sharp focus Friday.
“They seem to be suddenly coming out of the woodwork,” she said.
Fall migration pulses of the iconic and endangered butterflies winging from North America to Mexico typically are tied to northerly winds and weather fronts, but this late September boost seems to be an enjoyable anomaly.
State climatologist Gary McManus at Oklahoma Mesonet said the past three days’ winds have been light and mostly from the south. Winds won’t come around from the north until Wednesday or Thursday with the arrival of a weather front now in Canada, he said.
Monarch enthusiasts Thursday and Friday reported groups of butterflies from flower-heavy backyards and public parks like Gathering Place and Woodward Park in Tulsa and the Will Rogers Gardens in Oklahoma City.
“I think we’re seeing the front edge of them,” Schwinn said. “They could be here for a little while or move on. It’s hard to know in this case because they don’t have a north wind pushing them down, but we don’t have a strong south wind holding them up, either.”
With drought conditions across much of the state and wildflowers in shorter supply than usual, any park or yard with abundant flowers could provide a treat for monarch lovers for the next several days.
“Thursday we were at Gathering Place and they were just all over the place,” Schwinn said.
This is just the beginning of the migration, she said. Large roosts of monarchs are still reported in the Great Lakes region and upper Midwest, according to the journeynorth.org migration tracking website.
Whether monarchs will appear in a mass migration always is a crapshoot, she said.
“People remember a big migration in October 2018,” she said. “In that case, we had strong winds from the south that held up the migration for several days and then we had a sudden switch with storms rolling in and all those monarchs that were hunkered down caught that north wind and came through all at once.”
It has been a hard year for monarchs in the Midwest, with much of the area now in exceptional drought or at least drier than normal conditions. Monarchs were few and far between in Oklahoma this summer, Schwinn said.
“They must have just trickled in and it feels like they’re everywhere now,” she said.
A longtime observer of migrations through Oklahoma, Schwinn said her personal records show the earliest peak migration sightings on Sept. 28, and the latest on Oct. 18.
“Out of all the peak migration sightings for the last 14 years, only two were in September,” she said. “There are more to come this year.”
Information about monarch sightings in Oklahoma can be found on the migration map at journeynorth.org and on social media sites including Okies for Monarchs on Facebook and the Oklahoma Friends of Monarchs public Facebook group.

Kelly Bostian is an independent journalist writing for The Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to education and outreach on conservation issues facing Oklahomans. To learn more about what we do and to support Kelly’s work, see the About the CCOF page.

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