My husband and I escaped town on the 26th and headed down the coast with some friends to visit Hearst's Castle. We had booked the night tour and missed it because of a slow waiter, but the friendly state park ranger on duty took pity on us and switched our tickets for a tour the next morning. The tour was interesting and we had a lovely time driving up the coast through Big Sur, including a stop to see the elephant seals covering the beach at Piedras Blancas. But the highlight of the day for me came at the very last stop when we visited the Pacific Grove Monarch Sanctuary.
The volunteer manning the telescopes in the grove told us they estimated that 19,000 Monarchs were spending the winter in the grove. These butterflies may have flown as far as 2,000 miles to reach the winter sanctuary. Most amazing to me is that they have never been to the sanctuary before, they hatched and became full grown (but not sexually mature) somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. In February, longer and warmer days will trigger the butterflies to become fully mature and they will start the northward migration, mating and laying eggs along the way. It will take 4 or 5 generations to reach their full northern range because the northward migrating butterflies have a much shorter lifespan than the southward migrating generation.
My camera is not good enough to get a good shot of the monarchs hanging in the trees but I've posted a couple to give an idea of what the clusters look like. They hang in masses in the trees to conserve warmth.
In the photo above you can see a mass of butterflies to the right of center between the large tree trunk on the right and and the short thin trunk just to the left. Barely discernible flecks of orange are monarchs that are basking in the sun. When the temperature gets above 55F they are able to fly about in search of food. When I was there, it was cold in the shade but warm enough in sunny patches for the butterflies to be active.
The photo below shows what looks to be dead leaves, but that's a pine tree, and we all know that pine trees have needles, not leaves. All those leafy looking things are monarchs.
So, now I need to get away from the computer and get outside while the sun is shining (yeah!) and get some cleanup done in the garden.