I'll post more as Denise writes. She will be there until October 7.
Chincoteague Monarch Monitoring ProjectOct 1, 2011 09:32:57 AM
I arrived here at Chincoteague NWR on Thursday evening, but this morning was the first chance I had to walk beyond the roadblocks and barriers to see for myself how much damage the south end of Assateague Island sustained from Hurricane Irene. I (with the help of volunteers) have been planting seaside goldenrod for migrating monarchs in the interdune area along Tom's Cove every spring and fall for several years. It was planted in critical stopover areas where monarchs are funneled into the narrow section of the island. These are the areas where they come down to nectar in the late afternoon, where they often roost for the night, and where they make landfall after being blown out over the ocean on strong west winds and then make their way back when the winds shift. Today's walk was frustrating to say the least. Only about 20% of the planted seaside goldenrod plants remain in this area, on small elevated dunes. The only reason these plants survived is that they were planted in close proximity to the native American beach grass whose roots go deep and wide and stabilize the dunes. Hurricane Irene did more damage to this island than any other hurricane I have seen in my 15 years here. And there have been many.
This whole scenario is complicated by the fact that the refuge is in the final stages of its Comprehensive Conservation Plan. They have proposed 4 alternate plans and have solicited public comment on each. All but one plan propose drastic changes to the refuge, some of which will negatively impact monarch nectaring and roosting areas. I just learned that public comment had to be submitted by Oct 1 (which is today), [Mona's note: This has been extended until October 31] so it may be too late for your comments to be included in the tally, but it would still be helpful to let the refuge manager and staff know your thoughts. If you have time today and are so inclined would you please submit a comment on behalf of the east coast migratory monarchs that utilize the resources on this refuge? Your statement could be as simple as "Please continue to implement monarch management strategies as a part of your comprehensive management plan". Or if you wanted to be more specific, I have listed below the strategies that would greatly benefit fall migrating monarchs.
1. Continue widespread planting of seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) on dunes and in the interdune area along Tom's Cove and the causeway.
2. Preserve and manage the large bur-marigold (Bidens laevis) wetland areas along the service drive and D Dyke.
3. Continue monitoring of migratory monarchs through censusing and tagging, either with staff, interns, or volunteers.
4. Erect temporary snow fencing across overwash areas along Tom's cove as a wind buffer for migratory monarchs during their peak migration period-- the last week of September and the first week of October.
You may send comments to the Supervisory Wildlife Biologist: firstname.lastname@example.org
and you may also send comments to: email@example.com
and please put Chincoteague in the subject line. Or comments may be mailed to:
Comprehensive Conservation Plan/Environmental Impact Statement
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
PO Box 62
Chincoteague, VA 23336
Today the wind is from the West at 18mph. I was out on the beach at sunrise to see if any monarchs were in flight. I saw none. Usually strong west winds bring monarchs here from the mainland (western shore of the Chesapeake) and from the Delmarva Peninsula. But we had torrential rain last night as a cold front passed through, so any monarchs in the area were most likely waterlogged and will not take flight until they dry out. The sun is out now, so I will head back to see if there are any monarchs now. I will send another update later.
On behalf of monarchs, thanks for your support!
Chincoteague Monarch Monitoring ProjectOct 1, 2011 07:35:20 PM
First-- thanks so much to all of you who promptly wrote letters to support the monarch management plan on the refuge. Ilse discovered that the public comment period has been extended to Oct 31, so there is still time to write if you wish to do so.
11:30-noon: Winds shifted and came from NW at 11mph, full sun, temp 61 degrees F; ideal conditions for monarch migration at CNWR. During a five-mile driving census, only 5 monarchs were seen. All were in flight. Three of them were blown to the ocean's edge but were able to flap their way back to the Spartina grass in the saltmarsh and cling on to the grass blades. None of the remaining seaside goldenrod along Tom's Cove is in bloom, so the monarchs have no nectar on this part of the island. In the refuge's interior there are clumps of Solidago tenuifolia and S. graminifolia, but I did not see any monarchs nectaring on those species. There are also a few small areas of large bur-marigold (Bidens laevis) in the wet ditches, but nothing like in previous years. Usually when a hurricane dumps water in the freshwater impoundments, the Bidens wetlands are filled with acres of blooms. One of the refuge Biotechs told me today that because the refuge had been dry most of the summer, they were able to get the tractors in there to mow down the Bidens wetlands (don't ask me why because I cannot think of a single good reason). The timing must have been when the Bidens was in bud because it did not recover; and what is usually a "river of gold" is now just barren and brown. Sigh . . .
There is some good news to report. I gave a monarch talk to a group of 15 volunteers this afternoon on the beach. After all their questions were answered, they helped me plant 100 blooming seaside goldenrod plants along Tom's Cove. While they were planting, 2 monarchs came down and flew around several of the orange marker flags and everyone in the group got to see them. They were thrilled. Before leaving, they handed me a generous donation which I will use to purchase more seaside goldenrod from a local native plant nursery. My sincere thanks and appreciation go to Mona Miller, who sent the group to me. Now the migrating monarchs will have nectar in this critical location. Sunday's weather will also be favorable for monarch migration, so I hope the flowers will lure some monarchs who need a place to refuel.
All other migrations are right on schedule. There were huge swarms of green darners snatching saltmarsh mosquitoes. The tree swallows were swirling in flocks of thousands of individuals. Long skeins of Cormorants spread across the horizon. Peregrine falcons swooped down every so often to pluck a sanderling or plover from the beach. Common buckeyes flapped by at knee height in a seemingly endless stream. All wondrous and fascinating. But this place just isn't the same without all the monarchs.
Chincoteague Monarch Monitoring ProjectOct 2, 2011 08:35:14 AM
7am: Sunrise was hidden by low, heavy, black clouds. A light drizzle fell over most of Chincoteague but Assategue was dry. A few rays of sun beamed through the clouds, creating perfect conditions for a spectacular sight-- a full arc, double spectrum rainbow! Maybe a good omen? The temp was 45 degrees F with west winds at 18mph-- a nippy morning! No monarchs in flight, and no monarchs at any of the usual roost sites. I scanned the sky for one last look and it was alive with migrating osprey and bald eagles.
The cycles continue. All is how it should be, except for the migrating monarchs. Even with all the life around me, the island is silenced by their absence.
Chincoteague Monarch Monitoring ProjectOct 2, 2011 06:22:37 PM
12:30pm: Cloudy, temp 55 degrees F, wind NW at 10mph. This was a good migration day for the hawks. Merlins zipped through the refuge, along with Peregrines. The mid-day road census had just 6 monarchs. One was nectaring on Bidens laevis and the others were migrating along the beach. By late afternoon the wind shifted and was WNW at 15mph with temp dropping to 45 degrees. Periods of light rain continued until 6pm. This is the kind of bone-chilling weather that makes you want to light a fire in the fireplace and settle in for the night. These conditions will continue through Monday and into Tuesday morning. Tuesday afternoon may bring more monarchs with full sun, warmer temps and NW winds. One can only hope . . .
Chincoteague Monarch Monitoring ProjectOct 3, 2011 10:01:40 AM
7:30-9:30am: heavy cloud cover, 55 degrees F, wind WSW at 3mph. These may not sound like good conditions for monarch migration, but in the past I have seen monarchs migrating, flying right into the SW winds as long as the windspeed is low.
I walked south about a mile toward the hook of the island this morning at low tide, looking for any dead monarchs that the high tide may have deposited on the beach during the night. I found none. Nor did I see any migrating monarchs. However, hawks were on the move. In one binocular view I had a Peregrine, a merlin, and a kestrel. The merlin and Peregrine decided to dive on a willet, but they clashed and neither got the prize. With no NW tailwind to keep them aloft, all the hawks were seizing this opportunity to hunt. The ospreys hovered and made multiple dives for fish in Tom's Cove. And based on the fresh tracks in the sand, It had also been a busy feeding night for raccoons, opossums, and foxes. There were several piles of sand where they had hunted ghost crabs from their burrows, and piles of eggshells where they had feasted on diamondback terrapins still in the nest.
Up until this year, there were 6 overwash areas between the ocean and Tom's Cove (overwash-- referring to areas where the ocean waves at high tide spread from the ocean to the bay, creating vast expanses of flat sand with no vegetation at low tide). Now after Hurricane Irene, there are 15 overwash areas. Monarchs with sufficient fat reserves have been able to navigate through these overwash areas on W or NW winds less than 15mph, but now they will have even more areas to navigate without a wind buffer. Now more than ever, the installation of temporary snow fencing along the overwash areas is critical during monarch migration. Without it, there may be tragic consequences, that is, hundreds of thousands of monarchs may be blown out to sea and will need to use their fat reserves to flap against the wind to make it back to shore. In the past, the seaside goldenrod along the edges of these overwash areas provided instant nectar for depleted monarchs making landfall. Irene took much of the goldenrod. Plus, I am not sure why, other than there has been so little sun for many weeks now, but the goldenrod is still in tight bud. It should be entering peak bloom by now.
So, maybe it's fortunate that the the east coast fall migratory population of monarchs is low this year, because I would hate to watch and document thousands of monarchs being blown out to sea, or watch them trying to find nectar with no success. My hope is that winter storms will deposit much-needed sand in these areas, and the small dunes will reappear by spring. If that occurs, the next step will be to get more volunteers to plant American beach grass to stabilize the dunes in the spring; then I will feel more confident about planting seaside goldenrod on those dunes in the fall. I am in the process of setting up a facebook page to solicit more volunteer help and financial support in these endeavors. I will post more about when it is completed.
I had a lengthy discussion with several Chincoteague Island residents last night about the refuge's unwillingness to rebuild the primary dune and beach parking areas, as outlined in all 4 of their alternate conservation plans. The local residents (and businesses) are very angry and upset this, because it will affect tourism and their local economy. They have a plan amonst themselves that every time they drive out to the beach to go fishing at 5am, they will bring loads of sand in their pick-up trucks and will dump it to gradually recreate the primary dune. We all laughed about that, but I believe they are serious and will do it.
Chincoteague Monarch Monitoring Project