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monarch butterflies and blazing star blossoms

Photo essay: The magic of the monarchs

October 15, 2019  |  Topics: Places, Spotlight

Story and photos by Eddee Daniel

The broad hillside is awash in wildflowers. Dense patches of blossoming boneset are interspersed with gleaming goldenrod and tall sawtooth sunflowers that bounce and sway in the wind. It is exquisite, delightful and enough in itself to warrant a walk alongside the noisy bustle of I-41 in Wauwatosa. But then, as I stroll up the path into the midst of the flowers, a veritable cloud of monarch butterflies begins to rise around me and transforms the merely beautiful into something far more wondrous and magical.

Monarch butterflies on boneset blossoms next to the freeway
Monarchs on boneset

It is stunning! And all the more so considering how often I’ve been in this place before. I’ve visited the Monarch Trail on the Milwaukee County Grounds many times over the years. I’ve been enchanted by the clusters of fluttering monarchs that settle in the trees to roost during the annual migration. I’d even been in this same spot earlier this season, witnessed mating praying mantises as well as butterflies, and glimpsed a wide variety of other creatures along the way. I imagined I had seen it all. But nothing has prepared me for this!

Praying mantises mating on a boneset flower
Praying mantises mating

As I continue up the trail more and more brightly patterned butterflies in their distinctive orange and black raiment rise to dance around my head. There must be hundreds of them, maybe thousands! Mouth agape, I forget (for a bit) to raise my camera. I feel as though I’m in a snow globe full of butterflies that has been shaken.

After a few minutes of reverie, I am joined by an exuberant “Butterfly Barb” Agnew, who looks as if she might take flight herself at any moment. I watch—and finally remember my camera—as monarchs circle round her, too.

A woman in a field of flowering boneset with monarch butterflies fluttering around her head
“Butterfly Barb” and a following of monarchs

(I also managed to get a bit of video of the spectacle, which gives a better sense of it than a still image. You can view it on Youtube.)

I have Barb to thank for alerting me to this day, which surely must be the peak of the migration. (But we wonder all the same!) We all have her to thank, of course, for the development and maintenance of the Monarch Trail. Unlike myself, she comes out here every day during the migration…in order to count. She has help from other Friends of the Monarch Trail. They assure me that it is not my imagination, that this really is an especially strong showing, perhaps the best since the establishment of the Trail.

Monarchs settling in to roost for the night
Monarchs settling in to roost for the night

Last year was a good enough year that we were all hopeful about this year’s prospects. I invite you, dear reader, to revisit the post I submitted then, which gave a brief history of the Monarch Trail, along with the photos. This year I’ll let the photos do the talking. Enjoy!

Photo essay

Monarchs and blazing star blossoms
Red meadowhawk dragonfly
Red meadowhawk dragonfly
a group of people on a trail in an oak grove
Visitors to the Monarch Trail in the oak grove
Red admiral butterfly on boneset
Red admiral butterfly on boneset
a family walking on a trail through a field of wildflowers
A family enjoying the Monarch Trail
Sunflowers tossing in the breeze
Sunflowers tossing in the breeze
Hummingbird clearwing moth on anise hyssop blossoms
Hummingbird clearwing moth on anise hyssop blossoms
Monarch on boneset silhouetted by the sunset
Monarch silhouetted by the sunset

Related story:

Monarch migration underway on the Milwaukee County Grounds in Wauwatosa.

You can see more of Eddee Daniel’s photos of the Monarch Trail 2019 and a comprehensive selection from the Milwaukee County Grounds on Flickr. You also can view the video on Youtube.

To learn more about the Monarch Trail and to subscribe to their newsletters, go to Friends of the Monarch Trail.

Eddee Daniel is a long-time supporter of Friends of the Monarch Trail as well as a Preserve Our Parks board member.