|Kylee and me, posing just before we reached our first visit to a Monarch butterfly sanctuary.|
If you guessed the location of my last post was Mexico, you were correct! My friend, Kylee Baumle, hosted our trip to the Monarch butterfly sanctuaries in Michoacan, Mexico, about 75 miles west of Mexico City. If you're unfamiliar with the Monarch migration, check out this brief description from Annenberg Learner's Journey North.
Better yet, consider ordering Kylee's new book: The Monarch: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly, available in April. The book will include information about Monarchs, amazing photographs, and tips on how to help save the Monarch migration, which has been described as facing a "quasi-extinction."
I felt so fortunate to experience the trip.
The Monarch migration is a big part of the local identity and culture in the Mexican state of Michoacan. There were many highlights of our trip, but I'll start with a few photos from the butterfly sanctuaries--our primary purpose.
The two sanctuaries we visited were El Rosario and Sierra Chincua. One day was sunny and warm, and the butterflies were actively flying all around us. The other day was cloudy and cooler, so we were able to see big clusters of Monarchs huddling together to stay warm.
On both days, we took advantage of horseback rides partway up the mountain. That was fun!
It was a joy to see Monarch butterflies in early March--flying free across the bright blue sky. It was also interesting to see their winter habitat.
Every year, they migrate to these Oyamel Fir (Abies religiosa) forests. Science can explain part of the story, but mysteries still remain about much of the Monarch migration story.
This next series of photos shows clusters of Monarchs--from a distance and then at closer range. It's hard to explain the feeling of seeing this great number of butterflies in one small area. The clusters look like leaves growing on the trees.
The butterflies we saw appeared to be in good shape--especially considering most of them had migrated from northern North America months ago.
Some Monarchs were puddling--consuming water and minerals from the mud.
Others were nectaring on local wildflowers, including ironweeds, ragworts, salvias, bonesets, and many others.
Still others were sunning. Notice the spent wing on the rock: While some Monarchs mate and lay eggs as they travel north along the spring migration route, as many as 50% to 75% die in the Oyamel forests, depending on the conditions from year to year. The live Monarchs completely migrate out of Mexico every spring, and their descendants migrate back in the fall.
In March 2016, a late freezing winter storm hit the sanctuaries, killing millions of Monarchs and damaging many of the forest trees.
This year, the weather has been a little more forgiving, but there are still many dead butterflies on the forest floor. Some people who raise Monarchs tag them for tracking and research. Here you see Kylee searching for tags that can provide valuable data, including information on where the butterflies originated.
It still seems like a dream. Tourism is important to supporting the migration, so if you're in good shape and you have a chance to make the trip in the future, go for it! For more information on the Monarch migration, visit Monarch Watch or Journey North.
Here's a quick video, showing what it was like to have butterflies flying all around us and above us: