Some time ago I found out that St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge (east end of Florida’s Panhandle) stages a Monarch Butterfly Festival in October. I knew sooner or later I would want to go and check it out, but I was not living in Florida at that time. Then I came across another article on the Internet of migrating Monarchs in Florida and the article listed St. Mark’s as one of the places to visit. Now that I live in Florida, it was time to check it out.
We decided to spend several days and head through the Big Bend area of Florida as it is called. We found that St. Mark’s is divided into three units and we only visited the most popular one.
St. Mark’s Monarch Butterfly Festival is held the fourth Saturday in October. Knowing that festivals can be busy, we travel a day ahead and check it out to avoid the crowds. I also wanted to see their lighthouse. We visited the Visitor’s Center and a visitor’s log located inside stated that the Monarchs were everywhere and the entry was dated October 16th. This area is where we saw the workers/volunteers setting up small tents for the festival. From there we meandered down the seven mile road to the lighthouse making several stops and going out on some of the trails. As we drove closer to the lighthouse, we began to see Monarchs. There were goldenrod plants and salt marsh plants that the Monarchs were nectaring on. The salt marsh was the favorite by far. As we approached the lighthouse, there were many more Monarchs concentrated in that area. We climbed a ramp next to the lighthouse and looked down upon several salt marsh bushes and just watched the Monarchs. Out in the distance was a pond and a number of white birds, that may have been Ibis. The park attracts many species of birds and is a good birding spot.
We walked east from the lighthouse and along the entire Gulf area, salt marsh buses were there and each shrub had 5-8 Monarchs. I had wanted to get closer to the area with the white birds. We came upon a sandy area to notice tiny crabs all over the place. They run when you walk toward them, but I managed to take some photos. We finally came upon a sign that stopped access, so we could not get any closer to the white birds. It would have been nice to have a blind in that area. We went back to the lighthouse and headed west and it was bush after bush filled with Monarchs along both sides of the path. One side was the salt marsh bush and the other side was goldenrod. I would say we walked ½ mile and it did continue from there. We also saw other butterflies; Sulphurs, Buckeyes, some Skippers to include the Silver Spotted Skipper and the Gulf Fritillaries were among the Monarchs. It was a sight worth seeing and I haven’t seen that many butterflies in one area in a long time. It reminded me of when I was growing up and the population was less and we had open fields filled with butterflies.
We stayed overnight and the next day we went to the festival. We had booked a van tour of the marsh for early in the day. Little did I know that a butterfly walk was held at the same time as I would have liked to have gone on the walk. The van tour went into the marsh and we saw deer, a kingfisher, a wild hog and numerous birds. Then we went back to the Visitor’s Center and visited the tents. The tents sold native plants, photography from the Photo Club, and other things. They had a place where they would take a photo of you with some butterfly props and a small free-flying Monarch tent. Food was available too. There were about 10 tents to visit and then we attended some slide shows. The festival was not all that busy until we left and saw where everyone parked and a long line of cars trying to get in. Also on the day of the festival the lighthouse was open for tours. We did not return to the lighthouse on the festival day because the park was busy and parking was limited.
There was also a tent with information on tagging Monarchs in this area. They tag the Monarchs in hopes of finding out where they go (to Mexico, stay in the area or head south to a warmer area of Florida). I found they use the Monarch Watch tags, but highlight them with blue. They also had a tent where you would get tagged. Of course, this was mainly for kids and involved a sticker and they would write down some information, so you would get the idea of how it works.
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Where to See Some of
Florida's Fall Monarchs
Long Tailed Skipper