2019201620152013 2007

SCAS Monarch Protection Project
- Going Strong Since 2007


Monarchs: Thanks Rick!

Monarchs matching, photo © M. Collier
Monarchs mating, photo © M. Collier
Click photos to enlarge

Wow, another season behind us, where did the summer go?

For many years Rick Bunting has paid for the Monarch tags which we use each fall. He did so again this year, Thank-you, Rick, for your generosity in supporting this project.

This was our 15th year tagging Monarchs and sending them along to their wintering grounds in Mexico. We work with the Monarch Watch program of the University of Kansas. This was their 30th year collecting data: over 2 million records of where, when, what sex, and if the Monarch was wild or reared. Of those numbers they have had 19,000 recoveries at the wintering sites.

Over the years we have tagged 2639 butterflies: 1389 males and 1250 females. As of last year, we have had three found in Mexico, one at Cerro Pelon and two at El Rosario. One was also spotted in Billingsley Alabama.
This year we sent 43 on their way: 20 males and 23 females. I hope they all had a safe trip to Mexico and, hopefully, we'll see their great-grand offspring back here next year. Can't wait. Renee Davis


Monarchs, Monarchs, and More Monarchs!

Adult Monarch, photo © Pat Cocot
Adult Monarch, photo © Pat Cocot
Click photos to enlarge

Wow, what a year. The Monarch butterfly, that we all love, has made a fantastic comeback this year. Sometimes we take it for granted that we will see those beautiful striped yellow, black,and green caterpillars eating away at the milkweeds on the roadsides and in the fields.

J shape just before Chrysalis, photo © Mary Collier
J shape just before Chrysalis
photo © Mary Collier
Click photos to enlarge

Late summer and early fall wouldn’t be the same without seeing those orange and black winged wonders floating around our shrubs and flowers. In 2013 the population crashed for many reasons. Use of pesticides, illegal logging at the wintering sites, and weather all have led to their decline at one time or another over the years. The lowest population occurred in the winter of 2013-2014, with only 1.65 acres of butterflies surveyed at the wintering sites. An average for 1994-2018 is 14 acres so you can see the drastic reduction.  Last year there were almost 15 acres surveyed. The most ever was close to 45 acres. Who knows what this year will bring!

Monarch chrysalis formed (left); Adult ready to hatch (right), photos © Mary Collier
   Chrysalis        Adult ready
  formed            to hatch
photos © Mary Collier
Click photos to enlarge

This year though, has us all smiling and keeping our fingers crossed. The numbers are up tremendously in the east, with a slight upward trend in the central states. If we can make it through this winter with no major freezes in Mexico, the population will be stable for now. Ruth McKeon and I made our usual trek around Bethel and the Beechwoods collecting caterpillars to raise and tag. Sullivan Audubon has sponsored this tagging project since 2007. We collected over 700 caterpillars in a month. Most were taken from a hay field that was mowed shortly after we made two sweeps of the area, two weeks apart, so we saved their lives!

In 2019, with 25 tags donated by Stu Alexander and 500 tags purchased by Sullivan Audubon, we sent 525 tagged Monarchs, 300 males and 225 females on their way to Mexico. All the rest were released untagged. Over the past 13 years I have tagged 1141 females and 1265 males making a total of 2406 butterflies. Wow! We have had three of them found on the wintering grounds in Mexico.

Newly hatched adult—abdomen full of fluid to pump into wings (L), same adult with wings fully open (R), photos © Mary Collier
Newly hatched adult—abdomen full of fluid to pump
into wings (L), same adult with wings fully open (R)
photo by Mary Collier
Click photos to enlarge

They started reaching Mexico at the end of October in time for the celebration of the Day of the Dead. An explanation of the holiday is as follows. Estela Romero from Monarch Watch reports:

Tagged Monarch, photo © Kate Hyden
Tagged Monarch
© Kate Hyden
Click photo to enlarge

Monarchs, the souls of our dead relatives, are once again coming to visit us hopefully by the 1st and 2nd of November. We families are preparing our altars at our homes amidst a rather intimate, family time, where the spirit of our dear dead relatives create special connections. Monarchs appearing in the sky will be our dead relatives arriving. Once we see the Monarchs and their majestic flight spiral down to us, this will signal that we should attend our ancestors to celebrate our great reunion. We will all break out in fest and celebration both at our homes and overnight at our bright ornamented cemeteries, with joy, colour, music, singing, fantastic anecdotes and the delicious meals and drinks they used to love when being still with us.

I am having my own celebration, I feel good that Sullivan Audubon sponsors this worthwhile project and we are able to send so many Monarchs on their way. This was our best year yet and I’ll raise my glass to many more! 

Renee Davis
Warblings, Winter 2016-17


A Great Year For Sullivan Monarchs

As you all know, Monarchs have been struggling for the past four years. I would like to say that many people in Sullivan County have made a difference for their recovery!

Six classrooms in the Jeffersonville campus of Sullivan West School raised and released 40 butterflies, 22 males and 18 females. The students love this project and I believe they learn so much about nature's miracles and environmental necessities for living things. My most sincere and biggest thank-yous go out to Kelly Erlwein, Karen Kerhley, Michel Brockner, Dinese Gabel, Meg Armstrong and Lisa Hoffman for their teaching of life cycles and requirements of these fragile creatures. They teach about the big picture of these butterflies, food, nectar, habitat, migration and not just about a caterpillar eating milkweed. The children are so involved in this project and it is wonderful to see their enthusiasm. Through them there is a future for the Monarch.

Charlie Hadden and Heather made a family commitment to Monarchs this year. Nicole,Tony, Gary, Emily and Timmy searched fields and found 21 caterpillars. They successfully collected, raised and released 13 females and 8 males. Way to go guys!

Ruth McKeon, at times with the help of Diane Van Wagner and Ruth Shursky, brought in over 50 caterpillars for me to raise. She walked countless miles through fields full of milkweed in her search for caterpillars. I joined her a couple of times and I have to laugh at some of the predicaments we get ourselves into. We stopped at a large farm on Rt. 17B in Bethel and I asked the farmer’s wife for permission to enter her fields. She looked at me in a puzzled way and said “You want to go into my fields, look at my milkweed, and collect caterpillars?” After a minute of thinking she said “Go right ahead!” We saved several caterpillars and I tagged several adults in that field that day. Next week the field was mowed for hay. One other field that Ruth and I searched in the 80 degree heat and we came up with 60 caterpillars in a little over an hour.

August and September kept me busy feeding caterpillars and cleaning up frass (caterpillar poop). Luckily I have milkweed growing in my fields so I didn’t have to go far to collect stems twice a day. It’s amazing how much they eat! September and October kept me busy tagging all of the adults. Over 100 were tagged each month with a few stragglers in November. One late female I sent south in a plastic box with Tom Lundrigan (at left) and a pair were sent south with Mike Erlwein.

I tagged 213 Monarchs this year, 117 females and 96 males. Hopefully they all make it to Mexico and have a good winter for they are the foundation for next year’s crop of Monarchs.

Renee Davis
Warblings, Winter 2016-17


How Monarch Butterfly #TPN333 Got An Airplane Ride to Texas

Fall 2015 was very exciting in the butterfly world of Sullivan County. Monarchs showed an increase in abundance over last year.  Although the reports were very few in June and July, reports in August made up a lot of ground. 
This year I decided to raise as many caterpillars as I could to do my share.  Ruth McKeon helped me out just as she did last year.  As a reminder, Ruth and I harvested over 15 lbs. of milkweed seeds last fall.  It was fun while we were doing it, but it is a project we would not want to face again.  Several other people donated time and seeds which brought our total up to 17 lbs. of seeds that we donated to Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas.  They thanked us for a great donation and especially because the seeds were very clean.  Not often do they receive them ready to plant.  Much time is wasted cleaning the floss from the seeds.  Ruth and I saved all our floss, on our property, in our noses, on our clothes, in our houses and barns, and some is even in our cars! We’re still dealing with the white floss floating around.  I don’t think we’ll ever be rid of it. 

Monarch chrysalises, photo by Ruth McKeon

Valerie Freer, Marge Gorton and I found our first fall Monarch caterpillars (the ones that migrate to Mexico) in the airport field in Wurtsboro in September.  That started the ball rolling.  Ruth then started checking her enormous stand of milkweed and almost daily started dropping off caterpillars to me at Agway.  She collected well over fifty of the little guys.  My fields also produced many caterpillars and all the milkweed needed to raise all those hungry mouths, and I mean they were hungry! When all was finished in October, I had tagged 108 butterflies, 25 of them were in the wild and all the rest were captive raised.  Three classrooms at Jeffersonville Elementary school raised 11 healthy beauties. Unfortunately I had 9 succumb to the dreaded Monarch disease OE (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha) and several others never made it, but overall I think we did well in raising the caterpillars.

The last Monarch took its time in hatching.  October 25th to be exact.  Fortunately, I was on my way to Texas on the 28th so #TPN333 got a free ride!  I saved her almost 2000 miles that she didn’t have to fly! I released her at the Edinburg Wetlands butterfly garden in Texas.  I fed her while she was in my custody but when she got on the native Crusita she enjoyed the drink.  She remained in the garden for about an hour and then she was gone.  I feel good that she was in good shape when released and hopefully will start the new batch of Monarchs next year.

Renee Davis
Warblings, Winter 2015-16


Monarch Butterflies 2013

I'm looking forward to tagging Monarchs this year. Hopefully 2013 will be a better year than 2012---BUT---(sometimes I hate buts)----they have an uphill battle this year. In March the World Wildlife Fund-Mexico in collaboration with Mexico's National Commission of Natural Protection held a press conference to announce the result of this year's overwintering population in the forests of Mexico. It was the lowest it has ever been since record keeping started in 1975. Experts say the area occupied was 1.19 hectares, or approximately the size of two football fields. Not much is it.

Many factors are attributed to the decline: weather, parasites and illegal logging in their wintering grounds. The experts agree that one major cause is the use of Genetically Engineered crops in the midwest. GE crops have DNA that is introduced from a completely unrelated organism. In this case laboratory crerated pesticides and herbicides are introduced into corn and soybeans. These plants do not occur in nature. With the push for development of biofuels, 25.5 million more acres of GE, Round-Up ready corn were planted in 2012. This herbicide tolerant corn, which is then sprayed with Round-Up, has led to the elimination of milkweed in these fields. No milkweed-no Monarchs.

In Sullivan County we normally see Monarchs the end of May. This year they were reported the first week of July, a month late. Up and down the east coast and throughout the midwest complaints of no Monarchs, or very few and very late, are sadly the norm for this year.

SCAS is grateful to Rick Bunting for covering the cost of the tags for the last three years. We buy 200 tags from Monarch Watch, affiliated with the University Of Kansas. I start tagging Monarchs the end of August and continue throughout September and sometimes into October. Weather has a lot to do with tagging. I would love to have you join me on any day that I will be tagging, but if there is any doubt of wind or weather, please call me to confirm, 482-5044 before 7 pm. In the article about our butterfly count, I said I watched a Monarch lay 30 eggs----so there is hope. Keep your fingers crossed that these little beauties will adapt and make a comeback.

Renee Davis
Warblings, Fall 2013


Project Update, Fall 2007

Sullivan County Audubon Society joined the University of Kansas’ Monarch Watch project this year. We purchased 125 tags and started tagging monarchs on their southward migration on Sept 8th. Afton Lazier, Arlene Borko and Ruth Shursky were along with me to tag our first (and only!) on that day. It got better after that. Marge Gorton and Lois Head helped me tag some of our winged wonders from Youngsville to Glen Spey.

Monarch Tag
Monarch Tag

Valerie Freer, Mary Collier, Arlene, Ruth and I found one of the best spots to capture the migrating butterflies was by the Wurtsboro Airport in a field full of goldenrod. On September 22nd at that location we put nets in the hands of Barbara and Gary Bell and sent them out to “gather” up the harvest. We tagged 42 that day and used up the last of our tags. I have to say I felt terrible watching monarchs go by and not having any tags to put on them. Stu Alexander came to the rescue and gave us 25 of his tags that he purchased. We used them up on Oct 4th.   

As I am writing this article the monarchs are still moving south through our area but in far lower numbers than a month ago. John Haas has done a terrific job keeping track of them at the hawkwatch. Our highest day for the county was September 19th with 170 flying by. Total individuals for September were 939, and that will rise when I get reports from other observers.  In October so far we have had 278 fly by; that number will also rise when other reports are submitted. The month is not over yet and this year we have counted 1217 passing by. Imagine how many we have missed!

I hope that all of our 150 tagged beauties make it to Mexico, have a great winter and start the northward migration next spring. They are the building blocks of the future and of the ones that we will be tagging next year, I can’t wait!!!!

Renee Davis
Warblings, November-December 2007


A Tagged Frost Valley Monarch
A Tagged Frost Valley

Announcement, Summer 2007

This year Sullivan Audubon is participating in the 16th fall season of monarch tagging sponsored by Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas. Our tagging efforts, and the subsequent recoveries of tagged butterflies, contribute to our overall understanding of the dynamics of the monarch population. One of our long term goals is to assure the perpetuation of the monarch migration in eastern North America. To accomplish this goal, we need to monitor the monarch population and educate the public and the policy makers to all factors, human caused and natural, which affect the monarch population. By participating in this program and educating others about monarchs, and the conservation issues associated with this species, we will help in the efforts to maintain the monarch migration.

Monarchs are doing well. The over wintering population in Mexico is a little below average but the numbers are good just the same. The eastern portion of the country was excellent with many observers claiming that there were more monarchs than any time in the last 30 to 40 years. Without the contribution of these eastern monarchs, the over wintering populations in Mexico would be quite low.

Most of the tagged monarchs recovered within the United States and Canada are found dead by people who know nothing about Monarch Watch or the tagging program. The majority of the recovered tags are obtained in Mexico. Guides visit the wintering areas and are paid 50 pesos (about $5.00 US) for each tag. The recovery data is posted on www.MonarchWatch.org.

For more information on this project visit Monarch Watch’s website listed above. Better yet, come to one of our tagging sessions this fall!

Monarch Watch Newsletter
Renee Davis, July 2007 


Attaching the Tag to a Monarch
Attaching the Tag

Monarch Tagging at Frost Valley

We had a huge migrating brood of Monarchs at Frost Valley that began 8/28, a week or two early.  Frost Valley YMCA family campers started tagging with a program that day.  That evening roosting behavior was witnessed and documented for the first time.  Almost 120 Monarchs were tagged by 9/10 with little effort.  Our meadow conservation program may have had some effect on the huge numbers but it seems a combination of favorable factors, and the species will to rebound, making this an exceptional migration season.  Our final count of 173 tagged Monarchs includes 24 from Herkimer County, 14 from Wurtsboro, and 10 reared adults.  Valerie and I shared our Monarch enthusiasm with many kids and adults. 

Stu Alexander
Warblings, November-December 2007