Monarchs in the Wintertime

Overwintering Monarchs, Pismo Beach, CA, Photo by Kathy Vilim

Overwintering Monarchs, Pismo Beach, CA, Photo by Kathy Vilim

Monarchs in the Wintertime~

Walking through the tall stands of Eucalyptus trees (Monarch Grove, Pismo Beach), I came upon a Monarch butterfly lying on the ground on some wood chips. He blended in so well, I could easily have stepped on him!  But he wasn’t moving. Very carefully, I picked him up and placed him on the side of a Eucalyptus tree. He clung to the bark there, his wings pulled together for warmth.  Meantime, I saw another Monarch on the ground; this one was very large and in beautiful shape. He let me get his picture.

Then I discovered near the base of the tree, that the ground was littered with many, many monarchs!  What had happed here? Had they fallen out of the tree? (They hang from the ends of branches way up high in tight groups for body warmth). Were they too cold? (We’d had a cold snap bringing night time temps down in the mid-30’s for a couple of nights now.) Had the winds knocked them down? Had their wings gotten too wet? (It had been raining for a couple days.)  They must be used to the rain, so I was more concerned with the cold snap. “Hang in there guys,” I told them. “The sun will soon be out again.” And I stepped away gingerly.

Monarchs Take Refuge from Winter, Photo by Kathy Vilim

Monarchs Take Refuge from Winter, Photo by Kathy Vilim

I saw one butterfly on the ground struggling, and his wing might have been damaged.  So, I tried to pick him up and move him to the safety of the tree with the others, who seemed to be happily taking refuge.  But, he protested.  He saw another Monarch sitting on some Chinese iceplant and moved closer to his friend.  He was happy to be near one of his own kind. Maybe they will keep each other warm, I thought.

I left there with many questions. I knew the West Coast Monarchs are overwintering here in this grove of Eucalyptus trees. In fact this spot, Pismo Beach in the Central Coast of California, is home to the biggest population of overwintering Monarchs on the West Coast. And I‘d wondered how they were doing since I was last here. I hoped they had enough nectar to keep them fed, because looking around I saw only the flowers of the Eucalyptus trees.

In fact, last time I visited the Monarchs, Huell Howser was here interviewing the docents of the Monarch Grove. The episode of his show about Monarch Grove (California Gold) airs on PBS soon, if you have an interest in watching it.

Just two days later, it was a different scene.  I walked through the same grove of trees on my way to the Dunes.  The 9AM sun was out, the sky was blue.. and orange.. dotted with orange wings flying above me and around me.  Wonderful!  I looked up into the tree.  The first morning light was hitting this group of monarchs as they “nested” together, wings closed.  They had picked a good spot to get the first warm sun of the day.  One by one, as they opened their wings, the nest became more colorful, their wings filling with warmth.  And I reflected how wonderful it was to LIVE with the Monarchs.. not just stop & visit and be amazed and go away again.  But, to spend time with them “in my backyard” so I could truly observe them.

When will the Monarchs return to your wildlife garden?  I hope you get lots and lots ..

For more about the migration of West Coast Monarchs, see my post here.

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Comments

  1. says

    Monarch Grove….how appropriate. What a beautiful encounter. So many at once must be quite a site. I had a few monarchs at my place this year, but they aren’t the most prevalent butterfly at my place. As a matter of fact, I’m always excited when I see one. Funny how they are the most prolific at so many places, yet in my neck of the woods, they give way to their cousins the queens. Thanks for sharing this amazing event, Kathy!
    Loret recently posted..A substitute White Christmas!

  2. karen cherry says

    Hi Kathy,
    I am a ‘facilitator’ for the Monarch and have been for 3 years. I live in Ventura. I am planning to install a ‘bird, bee, butterfly garden using as many natives as possible.
    We do not have a NABA chapter here in Ventura County but I think that we could find enough friends to support starting one. How do you network in the valley?
    I grow mostly A. tuberosa. Do you support this or do you advocate for A. fasciularis only? Do you send samples of OE to Monarch Watch?
    So many questions.
    Looking forward to hearing from you,
    Karen Cherry

Trackbacks

  1. [...] … I walked through the same grove of trees on my way to the Dunes. The 9AM sun was out, the sky was blue.. and orange.. dotted with orange wings flying above me and around me. Wonderful! I looked up into the tree. The first morning light was hitting this group of monarchs as they “nested” together, wings closed. They had picked a good spot to get the first warm sun of the day. One by one, as they opened their wings, the nest became more colorful, their wings filling with warmth. And I reflected how wonderful it was to LIVE with the Monarchs.. not just stop & visit and be amazed and go away again. But, to spend time with them “in my backyard” so I could truly observe them. When will the Monarchs return to your wildlife garden? I hope you get lots and lots ..  [...]

  2. [...] Monarchs in the Wintertime “Then I discovered near the base of the tree, that the ground was littered with many, many monarchs!  What had happed here? Had they fallen out of the tree? Were they too cold? (We’d had a cold snap bringing night time temps down in the mid-30’s for a couple of nights now.) Had the winds knocked them down? Had their wings gotten too wet?” by Kathy Villim [...]

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