Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sunny with a Chance of Butterflies

Botanica Gardens, Wichita

Today's forecast: Sunny with a chance of butterflies.

Today's suggestion: Look up!

The annual fall migration of the monarch butterflies has come to Kansas. On Saturday evening, I saw the first monarchs of the season when I walked to the sudan field.

(I didn't take this photo. I would have liked to have taken it, but I didn't.
I did take all other photos in this post.)

The butterflies arrived with a frontal system. They winged their way to Kansas along with cooler north winds Saturday evening.

I think we would all like to return to the cooler north winds instead of the blast-furnace south winds right about now. Surely the butterflies who are heading south would agree.

Butterflies are truly miraculous.

If nothing ever changed, there'd be no butterflies.
- Author Unknown

That's quite a reminder for this change-challenged person. They are the ultimate symbol of transformation. As George Carlin once quipped, "The caterpillar does all the work but the butterfly gets all the publicity."

I'm not sure that's true of monarch butterflies. It sounds like a lot of work to me to travel for two months, across thousands of miles, bucking wind and rain and predators. And it's all to get to a destination they've never visited before.

They begin the journey in their summer home in Canada and the northern regions of the U.S. They are headed for a mountain range 70 miles west of Mexico City in central Mexico, where they find the perfect habitat to survive November through March in the Oyamel forests. As many as 300 million spend the winter there. Wouldn't that be a sight to see?

It's not like ducks and geese which migrate year after year. They will only make this journey one time. So how do they know where to go? It is just another miracle of God's creation. Researchers say that it appears to be a combination of directional aids such as the magnetic pull of the earth, the position of the sun and the availability of milkweed, where the butterflies lay their eggs.

No matter the reason, they are a beautiful signal of fall.

They are, however, not the easiest to photograph, especially with the winds roaring the past few days. The butterflies tend to congregate high in the trees. And while they were visible to me again when I was walking yesterday morning, they were too far away for my little camera.

Take my word for it: They were there. I walked with my head up and watched them flutter among the treetops on the County Line. What a way to start the day!

(Not the best photo, but maybe you can get the idea.)

I thought yesterday afternoon I just might hit the butterfly jackpot. I was visiting my parents between a couple of meetings in Pratt. I asked if they'd seen the monarchs this year. A little after noon, my dad had seen thousands in the trees at Byers, a little town 3 1/2 miles from them. Around 3, we drove over to see if they were still there. A few flitted between the trees, but most of them were gone.

I have had better luck with other butterfly photos in the past.

I took these at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens when Jill lived in Nashville, TN. They're the right color, but they aren't Monarchs.

Someday, I want to go to Monarch Mania at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. At that event, participants catch and tag the monarchs, then release them to continue their travels. It's practically in my own backyard, but the timing always conflicts. The 2010 version was last Saturday, when I helped make apple butter at the church (more on that later). Other years, it's been game day in Manhattan.

So, until then, I'll just have to be content with remembering the delicate dance of the fluttering visitors in my mind's eye instead of a camera lens.

I got my own chance to "fly" last week in the Kansas State Fair's air tram. Could this be the way butterflies feel?

Probably not, since they have to fervently flap their wings and battle the elements. On the other hand, I just got to sit there and enjoy the view.

Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you."
Nataniel Hawthorne, 1804-1864

Wishing you happiness today ... and a monarch sighting!

Again, not a monarch, but a pretty butterfly, nonetheless.

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