Every year the Monarch Butterflies make their annual migratory flight. Arriving in October, the Monarch Butterflies cluster together on the pines and eucalyptus trees at the Pacific Grove Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary, among other winter destinations. This recent trip to the Sanctuary resulted in a serendipitous connection with Scott and Baotran Ellner, two highly equipped and highly professional amateur photographers, bird, bee and butterfly watchers. As a result, this post will be light on words and heavy on some amazing and beautiful pictures graciously provided by Scott.
Pacific Grove has always welcomed the butterflies and, years ago, voted to create the Monarch Grove Sanctuary.
Because the Monarchs, which originate from as far north as Canada, cannot withstand freezing winter temperatures migrate south to wintering sites. Monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains spend the winters in the high mountains in central Mexico. Monarchs west of the Rockies, like those in Pacific Grove, migrate to locations on the central California coast. Their journey may exceed 2,000 miles, covering as much as one hundred miles per day, and flying as high as 10,000 feet.
Unlike other migratory animals who journey to the same wintering sites year after year, the Monarch’s life cycle only allows a single migration before they perish. In fact, several generations of Monarchs have lived and died since last year’s butterflies departed the Sanctuary.
Historically, most of the western population of Monarchs settled in the fog-shrouded Monterey pine forest and Eucalyptus stands of Pacific Grove. These trees provide the proper environmental conditions and protection from wind that these delicate but royal beauties need. The Sanctuary, unlike its guests, is nondescript and surrounded by the urban growth (think Pacific Grove urban growth) of a motel and the city at large. Only about an acre in size the volunteers and the City clearly have an effort underway to maintain and replant the habitat.
Besides they PG Sanctuary, Monarchs cluster in the eucalyptus groves at Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz, and at the North Beach Campground in Pismo Beach near San Luis Obispo. The proliferation of Australian eucalyptus trees beginning in the 1850’s in California may have altered the wintering patterns by providing a tree that is very well-suited to sheltering and nourishing Monarch clusters.
By March, most of the butterflies have departed Pacific Grove on the spring migration. With the coming of spring, the Monarchs join the western migration, spreading out through the Central Valley, into the Sierras, and northeast to the Rocky Mountains, laying eggs as they go.
Much of the factual information contained here in was discovered on the City of Pacific Grove Monarch Sanctuary website: http://www.ci.pg.ca.us/monarchs/default.htm
Special thanks to Scott and Baotran Ellner for the amazing photographs.