Monday, December 1, 2014

Butterflies ARE Free: Monarch’s of the Central Coast

Butterflies: the wallflower of the insect world - I mean, who really notices these little floating soundless works of art? But these beautiful little creatures undergo one of the most amazing transformations from caterpillar to butterfly, something that I witness every year with the butterflies in my back yard. The Central Coast is home to three Monarch Butterfly Preserves where you can get up close, and somewhat personal with these beauties. And if you know little about them, I use this case study from my own yard in Santa Barbara, where my wife and I have specifically cultivated butterflies by planting milkweed. Eggs hatch on the milkweed plants, and the caterpillars consume, actually nearly decimate, the milkweed plant for food, all leaves and even stems. When ready the caterpillars find a place to spin their cocoon, and then form into butterflies, then return to lay eggs on the milkweed plant. It’s a cool cycle you can make happen in your yard.

In 2014 I noticed that after monitoring the caterpillars, one had decided to spin its cocoon on the doorjamb of the doorway into my garage. What astounded me was the trek this little guy made. From the milkweed plant it is 18-feet and 4-inches across my erratic, pot-holed lawn. From there he needed to climb up a 5-inch concrete rise to get to the top of the flagstone deck. Crossing the flagstone is another 9-feet and 3-inches to get to the garage door. Then he climbs straight up the door 8-feet, moves over 1-foot to settle comfortable (we hope) in the dead center of the top of the doorjamb. If you tally that up, it’s a total of 37 feet - a hell of a journey. What possess them I have no idea. Certainly some make their cocoon closer than this, but this is a reminder that nature offers a spectacular lesson if we choose to notice the small things. With a typical lifespan of a paltry 2 to 6 weeks (some live 6 months) when you see them, remind yourself of the singular beauty of life, the intense but short life stages they go through, and that the will to survive is strong. So wing on over to one of these Central Coast spots to take a closer look and be astonished by the world around you.
There he is! Smack dab in the middle of the garage door!

San Luis Obispo:
The largest butterfly preserve on the Central Coast is the Pismo Beach Butterfly Grove (Highway 1 just south of North Pismo State Beach Campground, 805/473-7220), which sees the return of butterflies each November through February when tens of thousands of Monarch’s migrate to this small grove of eucalyptus trees near the beach to mate. On average there are about 30,000 of these silent winged creatures and the trees are often transformed into brilliant shades of orange after their 2,000 mile journey to get here. Docents staff the area and give brief but fascinating talks about the butterflies and their very unique but short lives. It’s free to walk into the grove, free to hear the docents and there’s a short boardwalk that leads to the beach near a large picnic area where you hit the low sand dunes and cypress trees near the waters edge. Parking is along the side of the road so use caution when crossing as this is a busy street.
This beauty just came out in my backyard

Santa Barbara:
Monarchs are usually found in Goleta from mid-November through mid-February and docents are available on weekends from 11a.m. to 2 p.m. during these months. This is the smallest of the three groves and is available for viewing every day during daylight hours and it’s free. The Goleta Butterfly Grove (Ellwood Main) is in the Sperling Preserve on the Ellwood Mesa in Goleta, just north of downtown Santa Barbara. Free parking is available. Goleta Butterfly
The grove in Pacific Grove, near Monterey

The Pacific Grove Monarch Preserve (1073 Ridge Rd., Pacific Grove) is located behind a salmon-colored butterfly-themed motel. There are, on average, about 10,000 butterflies that come here yearly, and why not, Pacific Grove is stunningly beautiful! The best time to view these silent creatures is October through March. There’s usually a docent on hand to answer questions and explain about the short life of these amazing creatures. There is a free street parking nearby and the grove is free to enter. Pacific Grove Butterfly
Also from my backyard. Absolutely stunning!