Last week, monarchs clustered in trees for the night near Broughton. Roosts were reported near Cecil and Payne, too. (Photo/Kylee Baumlee)

I have a love/hate relationship with this time of year. I love the cooling temperatures and the different feel the air has. The skies seem to be bluer, and the scent of fall is unmistakable. But I know what is to follow and of that, I am not a fan.

Due to some health issues, cold makes my body hurt. Winter makes me long for the days when I can walk out the back door without a coat or shoes. Oh, snow is beautiful, and I like that I can experience it every year. I want it for Christmas, but by mid-January, I’m well over it.

Circling back to the joys of fall, one of those is happening right this very minute. It’s migration season for the monarch butterfly and we are currently in the peak of it at 41°N latitude. Perhaps you’re aware in a personal way, by hosting clusters of the orange and black butterflies in the trees on your property.

A group of butterflies is called a kaleidoscope and that might be the best descriptor of a collection of organisms ever. Butterflies have been said to be flying flowers and it is easy to see why.

Last week, it was brought to my attention that there were several overnight roosts in the county. Monarchs do not travel at night because it is usually too cold for them to fly as the night temperatures drop in fall. They also need rest as they make the long journey to Central Mexico, so they bed down for the night in trees.

This final generation of monarchs will live much longer than their parents and grandparents. The usual life of an adult monarch is four to six weeks. However, these migrators will live as long as eight months. They are not genetically different from each other, but environmental cues affect their lifespan and dictate the migration. Their reproductive ability is put on pause until spring, allowing them to live longer.

Just where the monarchs go for the winter was not always known. South, yes, but just where was not known until 1975. Dr. Fred Urquhart, a scientist from the University of Toronto, conducted a tagging system for many years. His efforts, along with assistance from private citizens, ultimately led to the discovery of their overwintering location in Central Mexico.

Since 1992, yearly tagging during migration has been administered by Monarch Watch, a scientific research program at the University of Kansas. Each tag is about as big around as the end of a pencil eraser and attaches to the discal cell of the hind wing with the same adhesive used on postage stamps. Citizen scientists, like you and me, help by placing tags on the migrators.

The tags carry unique identification numbers which when found and reported to Monarch Watch, allows information about the migration route and timing to be logged. I have participated in the tagging program since 2015. Three of the monarchs I tagged here were eventually located in the overwintering location in Mexico, representing a journey of about 2,000 miles.

As the sun sets each day, look around you. If you see a few monarchs flying, watch where they eventually go. Look for other monarchs in the trees. They blend in well, so they are easy to miss. They will rest there for the night, continuing their journey south when their wings have been warmed enough by the following morning’s sun.

We are fortunate to live in the migratory flyway and be able to witness one of the world’s best natural wonders.