to See Monarch Migration During a Strong North Wind
By Elizabeth Howard
I discovered a massive migration on Friday, August 29, 2003 in Glencoe,
Minnesota. I would have missed it entirely had I not remembered Bill Calvert's
tip for watching the migration during a north wind:
through binoculars and under clouds
"Use binoculars and look beneath the clouds. The butterflies travel
way up high and are easier to see against a white backdrop."
Monarchs were flooding southward on the strong north wind, blowing some
20+ mph. It took a minute or two to train my eye. Then, suddenly, I saw
them. They were zipping by as fast as the wind. I counted 86 in 5 minutes.
They darted across my field of vision in just 5-6 seconds. (In contrast,
I saw an average of 7 per minute while driving along the highway.)
takes a minute to train the eye
The trick was seeing the first one; it seemed to take a minute or two.
I focussed the binoculars on the edge of a cloud and waited patiently.
Before long, a relatively low monarch flew by. Then others at higher and
higher altitudes came into view. Those highest were tiny dots, so there
must have been others too high to be seen even with binoculars. All were
traveling in exactly the same direction. They looked like tiny paper airplanes
folded identically, with wings pitched for an effortless glide. Had they
had vapor trails behind them, like passing jets, their lines of travel
would have been parallel.
I took my binoculars down, to look with my naked eye, the entire scene
vanished. I could not see anything but clouds and blue sky!
fun to share the view
I had parked on a quiet dirt road and was using the open car door to steady
my hands. At one point a gruff old farmer stopped in his pickup and asked
suspiciously if I needed directions. "I'm watching butterflies!"
I said exuberantly, pointing at the empty sky."They're migrating
to Mexico! Do you want to see?" He broke into a smile, got out of
his truck, and we watched together for awhile. (He became, in a word,
chatty: "Oh my! There they are! I see them! Why do they fly so high?
Does it take much energy to float like that? How long does it take to
get to Mexico?" etc.)
As I drove
back to the city I couldn't believe the migration was still taking place
right over my head. I stopped twice to look again. There they were, silently
streaming by like shooting stars. As I drove on, I wondered about other
everyday miracles that take place beyond our notice.
I also saw
many southbound dragonflies, and tree swallows hawking other insects riding
high on the winds.
forget your binoculars!
Be sure to pack your binoculars the next time you go looking for migrating
monarchs! I would have missed the show without mine.