Region home to five of Michigan’s six designated monarch zones
BY SALLY BARBER Special to the Record-Eagle TRAVERSE CITY —
The great monarch butterfly fall migration is on. Experts from Northern MI Monarch City USA communities share tips for witnessing the natural phenomenon.
Northern Michigan lies along Monarch Great Lakes migration routes and is home to five of the state’s six designated Monarch City USA municipalities. Designated communities actively support monarch conservation. Communities include: Elk Rapids, the first designated (2022), followed by Boyne City, Kalkaska, Melrose Township (Walloon Lake), and Beaver Island.
The end of August through September is prime time for the monarch “super-generation” 2,500-mile migration from northern territories to wintering grounds in Central Mexico. According to the Monarch Watch conservation group, the journeys involve four successive generations. The first and second generations migrate north in the spring. The third and the “super” longer-living fourth generation make the southern flight.
Witnessing the orange and black-winged beauties this fall may require planning, perseverance, and luck. Grand Traverse Butterfly House & Bug Zoo curator Cyndie Roach said it’s now rare to observe large clusters of migrating monarchs due to the 90 percent monarch population decline. Roach noted that Leelanau County near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore historically served as a migration stopover area.
Today, viewing monarchs there could be hit or miss. “Many citizen scientists in previous years reported either finding a surprise group sheltering together in newfound areas or finding the routine stops that were normal in the past no longer predictable,” she said. Boyne City Planning Commissioner Skylar MacNaughton, founder of Michigan Butterfly Habitats, was instrumental in helping the community earn its Monarch City USA designation. “It shows everybody we’re striving to do things differently,” he said. Boyne City efforts focus on creating pollinator habitats at local parks, including a 10-year plan for large-scale milkweed plantings, the only plant on which monarchs lay their eggs. McNaughton’s advice for observing migrating monarchs is to stay alert. “We all need to keep our eyes open and maybe discover new stopover points.”
Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy land specialist Angie Bouma said Great Lakes Coastal Marshes, like Arcadia Marsh Nature Preserve in Manistee County and Elberta Marsh in Benzie County are potential stopovers, as well as Mitchell Creek Meadows Nature Preserve in Grand Traverse County. “I’ve seen monarchs trickling into open, sunny places with native late summer blooming plants, like goldenrod,” Bouma said. Kalkaska earned its Monarch City USA designation earlier this year spearheaded by Kalkaska Conservation District and supported by Kalkaska’s Downtown Development Authority. Community initiatives include a rain garden and native plants attracting butterflies and pollinators. “It keeps us more mindful in the village to include as many nectar sources along landscaping as possible,” said District conservation specialist Renee Penny. Penny suggests those hunting for the super generation should look for them along riverbanks, especially the Manistee River in southern Kalkaska County, near Rainbow Jim Boat Launch in Springfield Township and Rugg Pond.
Beaver Island, the most recent Monarch USA listed community, is somewhat of a monarch sanctuary, said retired biologist and ecology professor Beth Leuck. “Everybody here is gung-ho monarchs,” she said. Leuck reports island monarch numbers are down this year, possibly due to summer’s dry weather. Historically, the migrating butterflies roosted along the bluff at the island’s south end. Citizens may help scientists monitor the monarch fall migration and species population trends by reporting sightings at www.journeynorth.org