At the annual Monarch Watch tagging event Saturday morning, there was a lot of watching — but not so many monarchs.
This summer’s drought meant a much smaller population of the butterflies, and cloudy conditions early in the day weren’t ideal for them — they have to warm their bodies and are more active on sunny days, said Chip Taylor, director of the Kansas University-based Monarch Watch conservation group.
But Elijah Paden, 8, and Elliot Paden, 5, were determined.
“It’d just be fun if we got to catch one,” Elijah said of the orange-and-black butterflies, his mesh net flailing wildly.
Monarch Watch organizes the tagging at the Baker Wetlands to track migration through the United States and into Mexico for the winter. This is the group’s 21st year of tagging, and it’s been inviting the public to take part as an education tool and as “nice way to get a walk in the morning,” as dad John Paden put it.
Taylor said this year’s was the smallest he’d seen the monarch population in northeast Kansas, though he said he’d heard reports that the normally lesser northeast coast population was doing well. Usually the bulk of the migrating monarchs come from Canada or the northern states like Minnesota. But consistently dry conditions led to fewer flowering plants and milkweed, which the butterflies need to survive.
Maddy Beilfuss and JoAnn Maloney hadn’t tagged any after an hour in, at about 8:30 a.m. They were getting antsy — they needed to tag and record the information for five butterflies for a Blue Valley Northwest High School project.
They did admit they were learning, at least, and maybe that’s the most important part.
“I didn’t know about their migration — that they come from the north and to Mexico,” Beilfuss said. “If all else fails, we tagged one at school.”