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Monarch fly-in

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A fly-in might be considered a gathering for pilots that takes place at a given airfield. The focus of the meeting might be a small gathering for breakfast at the airport diner, or perhaps a “hundred-dollar hamburger.” A larger gathering, such as what occurs at Oshkosh, WI every summer, attracts thousands. Some folks may drive to the field, especially if the weather is poor, but the majority of attendees fly in via small aircraft.

This summer, people have been seeing clusters of monarch butterflies near certain areas, usually where flowers are blooming. Monarchs seen in the fall are migrating to Mexico to their wintering grounds, and they need to feed along the way. Nectar from flowering plants provides the fuel they need for the long flight. Monarchs can be seen on wild plants, such as goldenrod, as well as late-blooming cultivated plants. The butterfly bush attracts a lot of monarchs and other pollinators.

There were eight monarchs in this bush, four of which can be seen in this frame. Some of the bushes had over a dozen individuals. Unlike the monarch larvae’s requirement for milkweed plants for food, the adult monarch can feed on the nectar from a variety of plant species; bright-colored flowers attract monarchs and many other species of pollinators. | Scott Rando

Occasionally, the presence of favorable plants coupled with weather conditions create small zones that draw in monarchs and cause them to stay for a period of time. You might call this activity a monarch “fly-in.” Such conditions existed on the first day of October at the Walker Lake Clubhouse in Shohola, PA.

Around noon, I walked down to the office area and spotted a number of monarchs flying around. On closer inspection, I counted at least 15 monarchs taking nectar at various flowers in the small garden on the east side of the building with several more on buffer-area plants. I looked up and saw another half dozen low in the sky and others higher up circling almost as if they were forming a “kettle,” trying to ride a thermal. It was then that I realized that the blacktop in the parking area had just been seal coated, and this surface in the sun was probably producing enough thermal activity for the monarchs to take advantage of.

There was a gentle breeze from the south this day, and that was giving the monarchs a bit of a headwind. As they cleared the tall trees and saw the flowers, and sensed a bit of respite that the trees on the windward side of the building provided, it made for an impromptu congregation of monarchs; a monarch fly-in, if you will.

This is all anecdotal of course, but if it were us humans instead of the monarchs at this little oasis, we would likely be sitting in the airport café, sipping birch beer and admiring the scenery. We would probably be shooting the breeze, and in between hanger tales, we would be trying to sneak in a call to weather, to see when this ferocious five-knot south wind will abate. Have a happy Indian summer!

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