Do you love the first sight of snow drops or crocus or scilla? Are you watching the grass green up and watching willow branches turn yellow green? Have you got geese nesting on a pond near you? Senior citizens in Miami and Phoenix aren’t the only ones who venture north as the weather warms.
There are many waves of migration heading our way right now – whooping cranes, robins, humming birds, bald eagles, common loons, barn swallows, orioles and those might little monarchs. You can follow them on Journey North. Journey North is a nonprofit organization aimed at helping people tune into the global study of migration and seasonal change.
I was turned on to this map by Eric, a citizen scientist in Madison who has been submitting data for more than 10 years to the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project. He knows from experience that his yard full of various milkweed plants is going to be a Monarch Motel, and the perfect place to take a break and lay some eggs. He likes to know that those stout-hearted little butterflies that are winging up from Mexico.
It’s a harrowing trip. The Monarchs that make it to the Midwest have spent the winter in the mountains of Mexico. It’s touch and go for them down there. If the winter is too hot, they move around too much, deplete their lipid reserves and burn out before spring, or perhaps worse, they may be triggered to start north too soon only to freeze to death once they get here. To avoid that they flap up hill some 3,000 meters in altitude where they can more or less count on survival conditions in the high mountain forests. It will come as no surprise that these mountain forests where they gather together in colonies are currently being logged.
In March, they start to break diapause (a kind of dormancy to survive hard conditions) and get down to the business of heading north, mating and laying eggs as they go. A few of those eggs survive to hatch and go through larval stages. A few of those larvae form a chrysalis, and a few hatch out as freshly colored butterflies and head further north. They reach the northern edge of their range about June.
Eric said he can tell when he sees the few who have made the trip all the way from Mexico. They arrive at his milkweed patch ragged and faded. They lay their eggs and then move farther north.
It’s an amazing saga, but it’s just one chapter in the big fat book of animal migration. Journey North is one way to get a grasp on all these incredible journeys. I used to marvel at the Monarchs. I would see them and think, oh look! The Monarchs are here. I had no idea where they had come from. What a complex interwoven environment it takes to keep them coming. Now that I know more, I am in awe.
Eric is worried. “Of course I hear the news,” he says. “There is usually some event happening in Mexico that isn’t good for the monarchs, and you wonder if they are going to make it.”
Whether it is the logging or the creeping climate change that may make the wintering sites unsuitable within 50 years or all the perils that lay in their path, the monarchs and other migrating species surf the air currents and search the ground for shelter, experiencing the world in ways I cannot even begin to imagine.
The lucky ones will be blowing into Wisconsin in June. If you want to help them on their way, a good way to start is to check out Journey North.