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!