Turns Out Butterflies Are Free!

January 06, 2013

Monarchs flying

We had friends come in from out of town and as will happen we got to do some fun touristy stuff.  This time of year the monarchs in the western part of the United States have traveled from British Columbia, Idaho and Washington to California and Mexico to find their food for the winter, but they are fourth generation from those that had made the trip north the previous Spring!  Imagine having to migrate 2500 miles to a place you've never seen and you're a butterfly!

One of the places they stop is at Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz where there is a grove of Eucalyptus trees.  History says they arrive or are around some time in October til sometimes as late as March.

Eucalyptus flower - food source for monarchsLast year my sister-in-law and I went to the Park in December and saw a handful flying around and took pictures of one in a test garden next to the visitor's center.  This year we and our friends showed up to find the visitor's center closed at the park and only a couple cars in the lot.  It turns out the volunteer was sick and they didn't have a back up.  Such is the state of our Parks at this time.

Anyway, we took the short trail and saw none so headed back out to the ranger that collected our money to enter to find out what was up.  She told us the monarchs left early this year, but that we should go to Lighthouse Field less than 2 miles away since they'd been seen there recently.

We found a parking spot on a very busy perfect surfing day so our luck had already turned for the better.  Sure enough (as a southern Aunt used to say), we found the clusters of monarchs hanging from Cypress trees surrounded by Eucalyptus.  The area was cordoned off, but we were able to get close enough for photos.

Monarch butterflies in Santa Cruz

Monarchs clustering  (The clumps of dead looking leaves are the butterflies all hanging together.)

Monarch butterflies in Santa Cruz

We were so glad it was sunny, because the hibernating butterflies that got some sun on their wings warmed up enough to flit among the branches.  They would rest on other branches with their wings spread wide seemingly like us putting our face to the sun after days of gray. 

Monarch butterflies in Santa Cruz
Monarch butterflies in Santa Cruz

Before heading back home we walked across the road and watched surfers surf, a couple of otters float, and a pod of dolphins swim and feed just on the edge of the furthest out surfer.

Surfers at Cowell's

Surfers at Steamer LaneIt was a perfect Santa Cruz winter day. 

If you want to see the monarchs and you're in the Santa Cruz area - go now.  You can see them for free in Lighthouse Field, right next to Lighthouse Point.