Discovering monarchs: Assateague

Assateague Island is one of the sandy barrier islands bordering the eastern United States. Long and narrow, it spans the border between Maryland and Virginia. The southern portion of the island includes Assateague National Seashore, a constantly shifting strip managed by the National Park Service. The degree of change over time is made visible by the position of the lighthouse: Once marking the southern end of the island, it now sits a bit inland from the shore, and roughly five miles from the island’s current tip.

It was on Assateague that I first became aware of the migration of monarch butterflies. Years ago, I was visiting the shore over a Columbus Day weekend when I came upon an area covered with goldenrod in bloom. The goldenrod in turn was covered with monarchs. Even then, it would not have occurred to me to think of them as travelers bound for Mexico, had a fellow visitor not enlightened me. The particular spot where I saw them has since been washed over by storms and, given the westward shift of the shore, is probably now under water. Unfortunately, this was before every phone was a digital camera, and I have no photos. A more recent 2005-2007 insect survey of Assateague published by the National Park Service lists monarchs as common migrants. I hope that continues to be true.

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