For Release September 18, 2005

Migration Magic

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

When the first cold front of September comes blowing through, as it did last week, things start to really happen with bugs, birds and plants. The days are growing shorter rapidly now and this change get's a lot of birds and insects anxious to be moving south. So when those hot dry winds from the south get turned around with a cold front, some species start moving out and others start moving in.

Many of you have probably noticed an increase in the number of monarch butterflies. Our summer resident monarchs started moving out last week and many from the north started moving through on their way to Mexico. If, some evening soon, you notice a lot of monarchs moving into a tree in a sheltered area, go out and try to see where they are going. If you are lucky you'll see them landing on a limb with a lot of dead leaves. But if you look closer, you'll see that those dead leaves are actually monarchs that have already landed for the night. These nighttime roosting areas can sometimes hold hundreds of butterflies. If you get out early the next morning, as the sun comes up, you'll be able to watch the butterflies start to warm up, opening and closing their wings before they decide it's time to continue south.

The north wind last week marked a drastic shift in the bird populations in the area. Many species that were present on Tuesday, were gone on Wednesday morning. As the winds shifted to the north Tuesday evening, many of our summer resident species headed south. On cloudy nights, in September and October, when there is a gentle north wind, you can go out and actually here the birds moving south, conversing with each other, as they fly through the night, with a series of chips, zeeps, tseeps and other indescribable sounds.

Most of the purple martins left a couple of weeks ago. Swallows and flycatchers are leaving even as you read this. Gull numbers are increasing rapidly and before long, Milford Lake will hold a couple hundred thousand Franklin's Gulls. They'll canvass the region on a daily basis looking for grasshoppers, insects of any kind, scraps in parking lots or small fish at the lake. Get out to Milford Lake at sunrise and you can have quite a sight as thousands of gulls start to stir around and move out on their daily foraging trips.

Blue jays have become much more visible and vocal in recent days. While we have blue jays year round, we have a lot of northern jays moving through and many of them will be around all winter. Our winter populations of blue jays is probably higher than our summer populations. Many species gather together in loose groups during the winter and that will make jays, crows and blackbirds much more visible in the coming months. Many people think of migration as being something that happens in October and November because that's when the waterfowl start moving in and through. But waterfowl are some of the last bird species to migrate so they mark the end of the fall migration.

Things are going to start to happen fast now with plants. With or without a frost, tree leaves will be starting to take on autumnal hues soon. Any damage you see to tree leaves from late summer insects is inconsequential. Don't worry about it! Autumn is around the corner and winter is on its way. Enjoy the nice days while we have them!


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