The Monarchs have not left Texoma yet. There are a few more opportunities to take some photos of the butterflies at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge before the insects end their migration south.
Butterfly day at the refuge will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. There will be guided walks through the refuge's butterfly garden led by Garden Docents, a Monarch butterfly ragging demonstration, and storybook walk through the forest.
The event is free of charge, but refuge patrons will be asked for a small donation for the lunch.
”For several years we have had a Super Saturday,” Sue Malnory of the Friends of Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge said. “This is our second Saturday nature program, on steroids. Originally we had a variety of nature activities for each Super Saturday, but it was an all-day program rather than just one presentation. At the most recent Super Saturday, we decided to choose a theme, it was held in December 2015 and featured the wintering geese, thus 'Geese by Golly.' This year we are holding Butterfly Day as our Super Saturday and all the day's activities will be on the butterfly theme. ”
During Super Saturday, patrons can also look at butterflies under the microscope, participate in rock painting demonstrations, stop wildflower seeds, and participate in crafts for all ages. Thee will also be several presentations including ones on milkweeds and the Monarch migration.
“The Monarch migration is so miraculous, that people are naturally drawn to this butterfly,” Malnory said. “It takes four generations for the Monarch to go from Mexico to Canada. Most monarchs will live only a few weeks, but the generation that emerges in late summer and early fall is different. These butterflies are born to travel and may live for eight or nine months to accomplish their lengthy migration all the way back to overwinter in Mexico. Scientists think the monarchs use the position of the sun and the changing weather to know when it's time for their long journey.”
There have been confirmed sightings of approximately 80 different species of butterflies at Hagerman and the Monarch is just one of those species, Malnory said.
“Late summer is prime time for butterflies in North Texas, and we expect to see Monarchs coming through on their fall migration, heading to Mexico, for the next few weeks,” she said. “ Monarchs are important pollinators and also are a food source for birds, small animals and other insects, despite their toxic properties. Monarchs are the canary in the coal mine; they are extra sensitive to environmental changes and serve as a warning of the dangers faced by other pollinators and wildlife that share the same habitat.”
Monarch caterpillars are picky eaters, Malnory said. They will only plant they eat, the milkweed, will be one of the topics the conservationists will be talking about Saturday.
It gives both the caterpillar and the resulting butterfly protective toxic properties,” she said. “Some other butterflies such as the Viceroy mimic the appearance of the Monarch and are thus avoided by potential predators, even though they lack the toxic qualities.”
There will be 25 photographs of butterflies on exhibit at Hagerman until Nov. 6. The photos were taken by members of the Friends of Hagerman Nature Photography Club.
“The refuge is my happy place,” Master Naturalist and Hagerman Photography Club Member Laurie Sheppard said. “I know people who use cellphones, which really do not take the best photos all the way up to the high powered digital cameras to take pictures are the refuge. I have even seen people use 600 mm lens with a fancy hundred or thousand dollar camera to take pictures.”
Sheppard prefers to use something with a zoom or a lens with a long focal length.
“If you want to take pictures of massive groups of butterflies, go to the butterfly garden,” she said. “You will have no problem finding butterflies of all sizes there.”
When it comes to butterfly photography, Sheppard said, be very aware of your surroundings.
“Look for small things though too,” she said. “You may think that you are looking at a dead leaf, but its a butterfly. Some are just that small and dainty looking.”
Sheppard also has tips for setting up for the perfect shot.
“When it comes to taking the photo, get the sun behind you,” she said. “Get on eye level with the subject if you can. If you do not get a good angle then you may not even be able to see the butterfly in the shot because their wings can turn and they completely disappear.”
The butterflies can be found in places where there are a lot of flowers, Sheppard said.
“You can hardly miss the butterflies,” she said. “Find the contrast with the flowers and you will get a good shot. The flowers are of all colors and the blue flowers look good with the orange Monarchs. Color contrasts can make any great shot.”
Recently when Sheppard was on the refuge, she saw about 16 different species in 20 to 30 minutes. She said she saw at least 100 different butterflies.
“On butterfly day, there will be a lot of people at the refuge to help you identify what you see,” she said. “They will also be able to tell you interesting things about butterflies.”
Sheppard discovered the refuge for herself in 2009.
“The butterfly garden is 3 to 4 years old and every year attracts new butterflies,” she said. “I have made a concerted effort to see what we have. The migrants have been great this year and in past years. Garden just concentrates the butterflies together.”
Keep your eyes open. Butterflies will be everywhere Saturday.
“If on foot, move slowly and watch out for shadows,” Sheppard said. “The butterflies are not always in the sunshine. Some like the edge of the woods. Some get minerals from white rock roads and some like to get moisture from mud.”