Wildlife monarchy

COWLEY COUNTY — The public has a chance to help with a wildlife research project Saturday while helping themselves to one of the top natural places in south-central Kansas.

Capturing and tagging monarch butterflies is again one of the main attractions of the annual Fall Nature Day at the 230-acre Chaplin Nature Center near Arkansas City.

"It's mainly just to get people out and enjoy the outdoors and maybe learn a thing or two," said Shawn Silliman, nature center manager. "Hopefully people will leave here a little more relaxed and with a little more appreciation for nature and the environment."

Chaplin offers a wide variety of environments.

Owned and funded by the Wichita Audubon Society since 1973, the center's grounds are a mixture of tallgrass prairies, upland woodlots, bottomland forests, a long stretch of the Arkansas River and broad sandbars.

About 4 1/2 miles of well-kept hiking trails wind through the property with many places to rest. Signs along the trail make for a smooth experience.

Silliman said more than 200 species of birds have been recorded on the property. Currently, a dozen or more species of wildflowers are in bloom and prairie grasses are in their autumn colors.

The education center will be open throughout the 10 a.m.-3 p.m. event. The grounds are open to the public from dawn to dark, 365 days a year.

A number of programs and theme-based hikes are planned for that day, including treks looking for reptiles and birds.

Several are youth-based, while others directed at all ages. Admission is free and lunches are available. Participants can bring their own butterfly nets or borrow some from the center.

Experienced taggers will accompany most groups afield. Success in past years has varied.

"It's largely weather dependent," Silliman said. "Some years we gather 100 or more and one year we only got one."

He's pleased with the number of monarchs he's seen recently. Wednesday afternoon, he quickly found about 10 in a short tour of a small parcel of tallgrass prairie.

Participants will be able to take an active role in capturing and placing thin, adhesive tags on the lower wings of monarchs.

The butterfly's gender and location will be sent to a common database, where the information will be available if the butterfly is captured again.

Silliman said monarchs are migrating from all across the eastern and central U.S. and southern Canada toward their wintering grounds in central Mexico. He saw and identified several other species of butterflies while touring the prairie.

Signs along U.S. 166, a few miles west of Arkansas City, lead to the Chaplin Nature Center. For more information go to www.wichitaaudubon.org/cnc or call 620-442-4133.