For a while Saturday morning, people pushed reminders of last week's tragedies in New York City and Washington to the back of their minds and experienced one of nature's gifts -- the migration of monarch butterflies.
About 350 people helped tag butterflies roosting in the Baker Wetlands as part of Kansas University's Monarch Watch. The 10-year-old program aids researchers in monitoring the butterflies' migration patterns as they travel to the mountains in Mexico for the winter and then their recovery there.
The Jayhawk Audubon Society has helped sponsor the event for two years.
Alison Reber, JAS president, said people realize the importance of the wetlands through the hands-on educational experience.
"It's particularly important with the events this past week to do something fun and rewarding," she said. "It's nice to see people smiling."
A group of students from Southwest Junior High School were indeed smiling after they caught and tagged several butterflies.
"I thought it was fun," said ninth-grader Ian Jones, 14. "It just sounded like a lot of fun chasing butterflies outside."
Monarch Watch involves about 2,000 schools across the United States and Canada and more than 100,000 students.
Earlier in the morning, a large group of students from Olathe East High School had tagged 400 butterflies within 30 minutes. The purpose of tagging -- a circular sticker with an identification number is placed on a wing -- is to track movement of monarchs in migration.
Alison Palermo, 15, an Olathe East 10th-grader, said she caught about 10 monarchs in her net.
"They're so high in the trees, and it's hard to catch them," she said. "I've never seen so many butterflies in my life."
This fall, Orley "Chip" Taylor, a KU professor of entomology, said people should see one of the largest migrations in several years, with the peak migration occurring Tuesday and Wednesday.
"It's turned out to be an extraordinary day," he said. "There are literally thousands of butterflies in a group of trees out there."
Taylor attributed the larger population to good spring conditions and fewer fire ants because of last year's hot and dry conditions. He said the ants like to prey on the monarch eggs and larvae.
"When the butterflies got into Texas this spring, they had excellent lush, green conditions," he said. "The fire ants also took a beating last year, and that helped out the monarchs."
Community members of all ages grabbed a net and participated in the event. Lawrence resident Chris Tilden brought his daughter, Caitlyn, 7, and her friend, Erica Lignell, 8, for the second year in a row.
"They did a really good job catching the butterflies this time," he said.
"It was awesome," his daughter added.
-- Staff writer Joy Ludwig can be reached at 832-7144.