Fall Monarch Migration Tagging


On October 12 of this year, Adkins Arboretum conducted our second monarch migration tagging workshop. Over the last 26 years, MonarchWatch.org has tagged more than1.5 million monarchs. Adkins Arboretum began three years ago with a Master Naturalist project that entailed creating a monarch waystation to supply late-season nectar sources for fall migrating monarchs.

Two years ago, we began our monarch tagging workshops to include an educational overview of the monarch butterfly, which included their lifecycle, specialized host plant needs, and flight patterns. We also supply proper nets to catch the monarchs safely and tags from MonarchWatch.org. Each year, unique tags are created with a special code, and a data sheet is completed at the time of tagging to reflect the sex of the monarch and how many tagged with their unique tag number recorded as well.

The data collected by tagging through MonarchWatch.org helps scientists monitor the amount of monarch habitat that is changing along with climate, and this is just one way of monitoring these changes in our environment.

Another organization, Journey North, is an online way for citizen scientists to monitor spring and fall migrations and seasons. The first monarchs migrating this fall arrived in Mexico, their winter habitat, on November 7. This is exciting news and fun to follow, so be sure to sign up for email updates.

by Robyn Affron
Visitor Services & Volunteer Coordinator


Habitat for Herons

Sometimes nature gives you more than you bargain for. Crossing the Arboretum’s entrance bridge the other day, I looked up to see a green heron flying low overhead, his plumage gleaming in the late afternoon light. A closer look revealed a fat tadpole struggling in his beak. As I watched, plumes of white bird droppings fanned out behind him, narrowly missing me.

PicMonkey Collage

The arrival of the green heron and his family in our wetland coincided neatly with a Chesapeake Bay Trust outreach and restoration grant project that was awarded to the Arboretum in January 2017 and completed in December 2017. The grant provided for the enhancement of the Arboretum’s wetland through invasive species removal, native plantings, and reconstruction of the wetland’s water outflow mechanism.

Improving wetlands improves habitat for wildlife like the green heron, who find shelter and food in shallow waters. Herons are one of the few tool-using species, dropping insects or other small objects on the water’s surface to attract fish, tadpoles, and other prey. Visitors to the Arboretum were excited when the mating pair of herons who arrived in the spring of 2018 gave birth to three young. Sightings like mine are common now, much to the continued delight of our visitors…and to the chagrin of the tadpoles.

Written by Assistant Director Jenny Houghton; grant information provided by Land Steward Kathy Thornton. Photos by Kellen McCluskey.

The New Kid in Town

If you crossed the entrance bridge to the Arboretum recently, it might have appeared that the wetland was throwing a party, complete with green confetti. In reality, the tiny green dots that blanketed the water’s surface were duckweed, one of the smallest flowering plants.

Spread by birds or small animals, duckweed floats on or just beneath the surface of slow-moving ponds and lakes. Its miniscule flowers attract flies, mites, small spiders, and even bees. Dense coverage is an important food source for fish and waterfowl, as well as for the muskrat family that’s made its home in our wetland.


Duckweed is an environmentally beneficial plant and has been used in bioremediation of waterways. Not only does it remove excess nitrogen, phosphorus, and pollutants, it also provides cooling shade in summer’s heat and shelter for baby fish. Foragers will be interested to learn that duckweed is edible, resembling spinach or watercress in taste.

“Why all the duckweed now?” wonder those of us who are long-term acquaintances of the Arboretum. Thanks to the recent installation of our wetland weir, we’ve been able to increase our open water habitat, slowing the flow of the water and thus creating ideal growing conditions for duckweed.

Researched by Kathy Thornton, written by Jenny Houghton. Photo by Kellen McCluskey.

Camp Chaos

Egret2018 010My last group of summer campers nearly did me in. They were enthusiastic, they were energetic, and they were going through puberty. Each morning, they would charge into camp fueled by their youthful enthusiasm, while I staggered in fortified by heavy doses of coffee. Steering their conversations from the latest YouTube sensation to the wonders of nature was a challenge, so much so that I would plan our lengthy afternoon hikes to include a stop at the Visitor’s Center for…more coffee.

In the final hours of the final day of camp, during a game of Capture the Flag that seemed to have no end, a camper sidled up to me to say, “This week has flown by! Why can’t we have camp all summer long?!” Instead of answering the first thing that came to mind, which happened to be “Because it would kill me,” I let his words sink in. While I may not have a job that changes the world or saves lives, over the course of my twelve years at the Arboretum, I have gotten kids to have fun outside with no screens attached. If that’s not reinvigorating, what is?

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Director


close up photo of person holding pine cones

Photo by Trang Doan on Pexels.com

While gathering 300 pinecones for our October Fairyfest, I was reminded of the words of a fellow naturalist I met several years ago while attending a workshop at Cylburn Arboretum. “I never take from nature without giving back,” she told me as we wandered Cylburn’s grounds during our lunch break. She went on to explain that she would fill her pockets with dry oatmeal and yarn before taking long hikes; these would later be scattered along the forest edge to provide food and nesting materials for wildlife.

What is the value of 300 pinecones? How to give back? Everything we do to or take from nature has an impact. This truth hit home as I noted the scales that had already been eaten on many of my gathered pinecones. Chipmunks, squirrels, birds, mice: all these animals and more enjoy the pinecones seeds. Remove 300 pinecones from the landscape, and someone goes hungry.

A local forager once taught a class of summer campers the “1-in-20 Rule,” which says that you should never harvest more than 5% of a particular plant or population of plants so that they will continue to flourish in the future. Perhaps the object is not only to give back but to take judiciously.

When I come to work tomorrow, I will come with oatmeal in my pockets. I will look for other populations of pines from which to gather. Most importantly, I will strive to give back to the 400 acres that make up Adkins Arboretum so that others may continue to experience the same joy they bring me each day.

by Jenny Houghton
Assistant Director