2009-10-08 / Features

Carroll Residents Tag, Release Monarch Butterflies

By Bryan Schutt CARROLL COUNTY TIMES

WESTMINSTER, Md. (AP) – Stalking along Lake Hashawha, Liz Welliver kept her eyes focused on the lily pads.

As she shouted “Matt come here, Matt come here!’’ two monarch butterflies fluttered up from the water and zigzagged through the air, carried along by a gentle breeze, and headed toward a new landing spot amid uncut-grasses and weeds.

Welliver sprinted across the grass with Matt Gentzel alongside, swooping at the unpredictable flight patterns of the monarchs.

Like a seasoned veteran, Welliver waited for them to land, flipped her net on top of one and transferred it to a carrying case with the help of Gentzel, then tracked down the elusive second.

Helping a monarch tracking project, the two represented one step of the Bear Branch Nature Center Monarch Madness Festival procedure of capturing, tagging and then releasing the migratory monarchs, educating locals in the process.

Barely a minute later, the pair of Winters Mill students, Welliver, 16, and Gentzel, 17, were at it again, capturing another duo of the butterflies.

It was an incredible string of luck.

Brian Campbell, park naturalist, expected only 100 to be caught and tagged in what’s been a slow year for the Monarch Watch tagging program. In years past, the program averaged 200 to 300 catches.

Still, it didn’t stop hundreds from streaming to the nature center and dozens of eager families hoping to release their own.

Mary Hoy, an outdoor school teacher at Hashawha, worked the tagging tent most of the afternoon at the festival, releasing dozens of traceable monarchs that had been previously caught by volunteers like Welliver and Gentzel.

She also had been checking the health of the insects in collaboration with the University of Georgia. Monarchs have been plagued with a parasite, which Hoy said she tested for.

Along with the catch, tag and release program, visitors were educated on everything monarch, from their eating habits to their migratory patterns.

Bear Branch naturalist Jessica Tucker said the monarch’s vegetation of choice are plants like goldenrod, thistle, New England Aster and Joe Pye Weed. The center has specifically planted said plants to provide a stopping ground for the butterflies as they migrate from the Canadian border all the way to Mexico.

One festival-tagged monarch made the entire journey last year and was found in March at El Rosario, Mexico, Campbell said. It was a wild female that was caught last September during the event.

Westminster resident Maxine Sterner said the mysterious and amazing life cycle of the monarchs attracted her to the festival.

“I wish I could go to Mexico to see them when they get there,’’ she said. “They’re so beautiful and that they can go on that journey, it’s fascinating.’’

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