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Monarch migration moves into county

Staff writer

A gentle wave of orange is spilling its way into Marion County this week, as the leading edge of the annual monarch butterfly migration is upon us.

The monarchs are on their way to Mexico for the winter, having spent the spring and summer living and reproducing in the U.S. and southern Canada.

Migrating monarchs begin arriving in Marion County every year in early September, and the migration is typically at its peak between mid- September and early October.

“The best time to see them has always been Old Settlers weekend,” said Tootsie Snelling, former Marion County Lake resident who now lives near Cedar Point.

“I’ve had years when I’ve had hundreds of them in my cedar trees,” said J.D. Bauman of rural Marion.

Recent sightings of migrating monarchs in Kansas reported by observers on the Journey North website have been primarily north of Interstate 70, but monarchs have been seen at Marion County Lake and Marion Reservoir in the past few days.

Gardens with cultivated flowers such as alyssum, impatiens, marigolds, asters, zinnias, and phlox are likely to attract monarchs, although with their need for nectar they may turn to other flowers as well.

Wild patches of flowering plants, such as tall thistle, willowleaf aster, and common sunflower spread throughout the county will attract monarchs as well. Varieties of milkweed are the most preferred wildflower for monarchs, but blooms are scarce this time of year.

Snelling believes this year’s migration may be down compared to many other years, due to the effect dry weather and scorching heat has had on wildflowers.

“I’m afraid this year’s going to be bad, as dry as it has been,” she said. “It’s been a bad year for seeing them in the pastures.”

Snelling predicts the main path of migration this year will be farther east, where greater rainfall has been more favorable for wildflower growth.

Monarch numbers have also been on the decline in recent years due to changes in U.S. habitat, and adverse winter conditions in Mexico, though they appear to have rebounded some this year.

Looking for “directional flight” patterns is the key to distinguishing migrating monarchs from those that make Kansas home during spring and summer months.

While wind conditions will affect flight patterns on a given day, migrating monarchs fly south. Sources vary in estimating how far a typical monarch flies in a day, but a monarch making the longest trip of more than 3,000 miles would have to average about 50 miles per day to arrive on schedule in the Mexican mountains.

Last modified Sept. 7, 2011

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