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Point Pelee National Park

Monarch Butterfly Migration

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Thursday, Sep 19

Jenny and I arrived at an RV Park in Wheatley, Ontario, about 20 km from Point Pelee National Park in the early afternoon. We get the camp set-up and head off for our first visit to the park.

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Point Pelee juts into Lake Erie near the city of Leamington. Several million Monarchs will cross Lake Erie from the tip of Point Pelee. Here is a picture of us at the southernmost point on the mainland of Canada. From here the butterflies can island hop their way across the lake to Ohio on their way south to over-wintering sites in Mexico.

The migration is that it is weather dependent. The Monarchs need a wind from the north to help propel them across the lake. When the wind blows from the south, the butterflies tend to remain inland, feasting on nectar from the abundant flowers. It also helps if there is a couple of cool nights to get them in the mood to head south.

First, a bit about Monarchs. The male has two dots on his wings...I guess that is how the girls decide who to mate with.

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They love nectar as food to fuel their travels:

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We arrive here in a warm spell, with winds from the south, about the exact opposite needs for a migration to occur. On our first visit to the point, we see exactly 4 Monarchs. We came here for a week to allow for exactly this kind of scenario. There are plenty of things to do here in Sothern Ontario to keep us occupied until the weather turns.

Friday and Saturday are going to be hot, with temperatures of 28 Celsius or better, and humidex values to the mid 30’s. For us, finally some warmth in the air. For the past 4 weeks we have been traveling through such cold and damp to that most meals have been consumed inside the trailer. On a normal summer, we eat outdoors, at the picnic table most days. Not so much this year. It has been 3 weeks since we even bothered to put the table cloth out! This will be a treat for us.

Friday, Sep 20

A beautiful morning, warm and sunny. Not a breeze in the air. Our day started with a leisurely breakfast, at the picnic table, followed by a walk through the campground. We want to do some local exploring during the day, and attend a lecture by a noted author at the National Park in the evening, and hopefully see some Monarchs at the point.

Here is a shot of TaJ at the Wheatley Campground.

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In the early afternoon we head for Kingsville, about 20 kilometers west of Leamington. It is a lovely town and we park and walk for about 90 minutes, through neighbourhoods and along the lake shore. Along the way, we came upon the statue of Jack Miner who created a migrating bird sanctuary nearby that is still in operation today.

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Once back downtown the Grove Brewery is right there in front of us, so we stop in to sample a flight of beer. A Cream Ale, a Stout and an IPA. It has been a hot afternoon for us, walking about the town and the stop is refreshing, as well as tasty.

On our way to Point Pelee we stopped for an early supper of lake perch and chips. Delicious. Our day has been filled with lots of good stuff already but we have not seen a Monarch.

The lecture at Point Pelee is very good, highlighting the relationship between the Monarch and the Milkweed plant. Monarchs lay their eggs exclusively on the Milkweed plant. By consuming Milkweed the caterpillar and its subsequent butterfly are toxic to predators. Birds have learned not to eat these butterflies as they will make them vomit. The life cycle and the migration are discussed, as well as how endangered the Monarch has become over the past 50 years.

We learn that there were two flocks of Monarchs that left the area for Pelee Island today. About 5000 flew from the Kingsville area and another 3500 flew from Holiday Beach, about 35 kilometers west of Leamington. On days when there are no winds, like today, the Monarchs feel safe in heading across the open water to Pelee Island. There are no Monarchs at the point today. ☹

Sunday, Sep 22

We move from Wheatley to an RV Park in Leamington, just 12 kilometers from the visitor centre. This will allow us to get up early and head down to the point for dawn and dusk, when the Monarchs are most active. The visitor centre is 2 ½ kilometers from the point and the shuttle only runs during the main hours of the day, so we will be getting our exercise.

Sturgeon Woods Campground is large, mostly seasonal sites. We book in for 4 nights. The washrooms are just so-so, we’d rate them a 2 out of 5. We will have much of the place to ourselves as the park has emptied out after the weekend. We can work around less than exceptional washrooms. Our site is open and it is a warm, sunny day. We get out our auxiliary fan for the first time since we left home.

The warm weather does not bode well for seeing Monarchs migrate. The word on the street here is they have moved on as they arrived. The weather so far has been beneficial to their flight south, with light winds and warm temperatures.

We talked to a couple from Leamington who were treated to an overnight stay by about 10000 Monarchs. They were sitting on their deck, near dusk, when a horde of butterflies landed in the trees just off their deck. They stayed the night and then took off at dawn. They got some very good photos.

Monday, Sep 23

The wind howled overnight. At 1:00am we had to go out and put our awning away. The wind was blowing from the south-west and we hope this will force butterflies to accumulate on the tip to await a change in the wind.

Jenny’s Kobo e-reader has died, after about 6 years and 250 books. We head into Windsor, to the Indigo book store to get a replacement, and to do a bit of looking around. There is no reason to go to Pelee until this afternoon, when the winds will begin to diminish.

In the afternoon, we walked the Marsh boardwalk which is a hot-bed of activity during the spring bird migration. Over 350 species of bird migrate through Point Pelee in the spring and fall and it is a birders paradise. Today, for us, it is a nice walk. The wind is still blowing hard on the west side, but, on the east side marsh, it is calm.

We come across this butterfly. It is called a Question Mark

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We catch the last trolley to the point from the Visitor Centre. The trolleys run until 4:00pm. After that, they open the road so you can drive most of the way to the point. We walk out to the tip to get this picture. The waves are massive and run completely over the tip at points.

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On our way back, we begin to see Monarchs once we get past the trolley stop. By the time we reach the Visitor Centre, we have seen about a dozen and gotten pictures of a few of them. At 8:00pm, park staff post on the Point’s Facebook page that 225 Monarchs have clustered in a tree near the trolley stop.

Tuesday, Sep 24

We focus on the tip area of the point today. The wind has died down, but is still blowing from the south west. We see Monarchs launching themselves into the wind and riding off to the south east, kind of banking along the wind like a sailboat does.

In the evening, we spent two hours at the tip watching the Monarchs cuddle up for the night. They cluster on two trees in particular. We get some very decent pictures. We follow Darlene, who has been counting Monarchs here for years as she does her nightly count. She is a wealth of knowledge on where they may congregate in the evenings.

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At the end of the night, she posts her count of Monarchs that cluster. Today that total is 190, and we swear we have seen every one of them. While not a huge number, it is the most we have seen on this trip. I recall an evening back in the 1970’s when there were over 200,000 Monarchs on one visit to the park.

As this bog is posted, we still have one more night here.

Posted by Rooseboom-Scott 06:57 Archived in Canada Tagged point-pelee_national_park monarch_butterflies

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