We should bow deeply before the orchid and the snail and join our palms reverently before the monarch butterfly and the magnolia tree. The feeling of respect for all species will help us recognize the noblest nature in ourselves. –Thích Nhất Hạnh
I’m honored to share with you some wonderful news:
Thanks to my blog entry about Overwintering Monarchs in Orange County, California, I get play a small part in a program designed to raise public awareness about overwintering spots for Monarch butterflies in Mexico!
A team of biologists from Ensenada approached me a while back, asking permission to use the photo I’ve reposted at the top of this page.
We have some pictures and diagrams of the Monarch but we don’t have pictures of the Monarch when they are clustered in the eucalyptus tree. We would like to have this pictures so people have an idea what to look for to find the Overwintering spots…. We applied thru the National Park of Sierra de San Pedro Mártir to get founds from the CONANP (National Commission of Protected Natural Areas) to raise awareness of the status of the Monarch Butterfly in Baja California. We got a [grant] to make a 2 day workshop for 20 people. We are inviting personal from the Natural Protected Areas from Baja California, also representatives of the Nongovernmental Organisations that work with Conservation and Wildlife in the area (Terra Peninsular, Pro Esteros, FASOL, etc). The workshop will be given by my fellow Biologist Ibes Favian Davila and Felipe Leon, who recently attended a Monarch Conservation Conference in Alamo Sonora…
As part of this public awareness project, biologist Saul Riatiga and his colleagues created posters and brochures that 1) distinguish the Monarch from other butterflies; 2) identify native milkweeds; and 3) describe Overwintering spots. These print materials will be shared among conservation groups, and will also be distributed to communities in and around Ensenada.
I was thrilled to see my photograph in this trifold brochure–while I don’t read Spanish, it speaks to a lifelong wish to make a positive difference in this beautiful world we share.
I’ve learned so much in the process of becoming a Monarch Waystation, and then witnessing the miracle of metamorphosis in my own backyard! So gratifying, to have my own experiences linked to this larger conservation project!
I’ve not yet mastered everything there is to know about Monarch Butterflies — not even close! — so I’m excited to see where this international partnership might lead.
Oh, the places you’ll go…
Dr. Seuss’s words couldn’t be more prescient. This what comes of indulging your curiosity and following your passions, wherever they might lead you. Because, as of my new scientist-friends so wisely said, “Nature doesn’t know about borders.”
You can follow this project on Facebook, at Monarchs en la Oeste. Community members will be interacting with scientists, sharing anecdotes and contributing photos to the overall data collection efforts.
When we stopped by last Saturday, Leslie Gibson was pruning her butterfly garden, pausing now and again to introduce her Monarch caterpillars to curious passersby. A former puppeteer and special education teacher, it was this gentle but intrepid woman who led the charge to restore Huntington Beach’s Gibbs Park to its former beauty, and to reimagine it as a Monarch Waystation and overwintering site.
“Our Monarchs are hanging out in Central Park Library Amphitheater this year,” Leslie told us when we visited. A handful of butterfly scouts hovered around Gibbs Park earlier in the fall, but they found the grove less hospitable than in previous years, given a tree-trimming crew had removed their sheltering branches.
We were glad for Leslie’s tip–happy, too to find ourselves among nature lovers of all ages. Such a rare and magical experience, to see this final stage of a butterfly’s metamorphosis in progress! We raised and answered questions amongst ourselves, and snapped lots of photos. And yes, we were also transformed, each in our own ways, by the miracles we’d witnessed.
For instance: When Monarchs undergo their egg-to-butterfly metamorphosis someplace West of the Rockies, they tend to overwinter along the California coast. Their migration patterns lead them to standing groves of eucalyptus trees, Monterey pines and cypress. Unless you know where to look, you might not see them–with their colorful orange wings folded inward, they’re well camouflaged by variegated tree bark and pointed leaves. In fact, we served as ad hoc docents on more than one occasion, pointing out the butterfly clusters to those who happened upon the eucalyptus grove during a serendipitous walk through the park.
Overwintering Monarchs are typically sluggish, as you can easily see in the picture below. Their inactivity serves as camouflage in this, more vulnerable state.
But when the sun comes out, they unfurl their wings and gradually drift away from the cluster, like flower petals in the breeze.
Subtle flutterings that eventually become a riot of color.
A magic trick of the highest order, it carries your breath away.
In the lower branches, we saw a handful of butterflies that sported a Monarch Alert tag. Such was the case with this lovely specimen, released just yesterday by a charming little girl for whom raising the Monarch population is an ongoing backyard project.
Three to five generations of Monarch butterflies are born every spring and summer. Most will survive for just a few weeks. Some of you might remember that I was lucky enough to record this metamorphosis in real time, in my own backyard.
This last generation of 2015 will live upwards of 8 months. They typically mate in early spring, when the life cycle begins anew.
I’d like to think that “my” Monarchs found themselves among the group that migrates to overwintering sites in California and Mexico. In any case, I feel privileged to have witnessed firsthand this magical phenomenon, nearby and easily accessible!
El Niño’s going to be dropping some serious rain this week, so the Monarchs will probably hunker down. Or hang loose, as some locals might say. (This is Surf City, USA we’re talking about, after all….) I’ll wait out the storms, same as the Monarchs, but when the sun reappears, I’ll make my way back to the eucalyptus groves, and to the Butterfly garden in Gibbs Park. If it’s not too far to travel, I hope see you there!