Winging It

Posted by on Dec 8, 2011 in Uncategorized | No Comments

Our trip to Mexico last month found us high up in the mountains with our sights set on seeing massive amounts of Monarch butterflies. We stayed at the hacienda of a friend who would take us on this nature adventure. Jose Alverez is passionately involved in educating locals and gringos about the wonders of these tiny, beautiful insects that, every year, make the perilous 2,000-mile journey from Canada to a 60-square mile area in the Mexican mountains to nest and feed until it’s time for them to head north. The story of the Monarch is truly amazing…

The migration of this tiny creature with wingspans of only 4 inches, weighing in at 1/5 of an ounce is not only remarkable, it’s baffled the scientists who study them. After wintering in Mexico, they head north to the Gulf states where they mate and die. The second generation goes to the northern US where they mate and die, after only living for a month. The third generation goes to Canada where they mate and die, again, only living a month. The fourth generation is the one that makes the epic migration from Canada to Mexico (over 2,000 miles) having never before made this journey.. and always end up in the exact same spot in the Mexican mountains.

These ephemeral beauties can’t fly in bad weather, even a little rain can wipe them out if they don’t find a suitable place to wait out the storm. So this trans-continental journey isn’t non-stop, in fact the Monarchs have to make several layovers causing their trip to take two months. Given the wind, rain and cold weather restraints, the Monarch must fly an average of 50 miles on the decent travel days.

Once they get to Mexico they spend their days eating and regrouping. They nest in the largest trees they can find in the same forests they have gone to for centuries located in elevations of 10k and higher. The bigger the tree, the more heat is generated as they clump together with millions of their own kind in a struggle to keep warm. As if that journey from Canada wasn’t enough to earn them a few months to just hang out, instead the Monarchs are finding severely stripped forests with fewer trees to chose from. Locals are logging in this area (even though it’s illegal) to make ends meet for their families. And this is where Jose has entered this uphill battle to get loggers to plant trees at lower elevations so they will not have to denude the butterflies’ habitat and save the most phenonmenal migration known to man.


Jose Alvarez showing our group how to extract seeds from a pine cone… which will then be planted in his greenhouse


Jose’s greenhouses right outside the gates to his hacienda


Women at work shaking out the seeds



Mexican version of a Snugli


We left the hacienda early for the three-hour trip higher into the mountains to view the butterflies


One of the mountain towns we passed through on our way


There were horses where we parked our car for those who preferred to ride rather than hike. This horse looks like he’d bite me if I even thought about getting on him.


Passed some cows in the fields before the forest… covered with burrs!


Wild horse


Some forest flora


Glam flora shot


Wow. After an hour of hiking straight up, we reach the area where the butterflies are…and it feels like you can see all of Mexico


Look! A Monarch! … that little orange blur on the left. And it is at this moment that our guide breaks the news that the weather has turned too cold and the butterflies are most likely nesting…not flying. (This guy must have missed the memo)


We walk into their nesting area and the forest seems dense and dark…walking closer we see it’s the nesting butterflies


We are told by the guide that we can’t make any noise or the Monarchs will die — apparently they do that as a defense against predators — extreme, but effective, I guess


We are quietly closer


…Like dangling ornaments


One of the guides patiently waiting


Evidence of either illegal logging or an attempt to stem the propagation of the destructive bark beetle


A dead Monarch… perhaps the result of a noisy tourist


We had seen pictures of millions of Monarchs swarming and landing on people.. so we took a bunch of dead butterflies and tried to simulate the experience

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