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  • Erin Engstrom

Monarch Excursion

Tales from the Journey On a quiet February morning, we hiked along a small scenic trail passing new plant species, and glimpsing expansive overlooks. With each step we knew we were closer to seeing overwintering Monarchs, but we were unable to comprehend exactly what we would be seeing. Up and up our breath heavy, our bodies not yet accustomed to the altitude, around a short bend, and there, above, the first sighting of clumps. Large masses overwhelming the branches of the local Oyamel fir trees, and all around them bright orange flittering wings... breathtaking. With hearts full and eyes blurred with tears we trekked closer, our guide leading us to a high vantage point allowing each of us to take in the vast spread of delicate creatures. The Sanctuary at Sierra Chincua was a beautiful rustic introduction to the environment of the overwintering Monarch.

Awaking refreshed the next morning we were ready to see more! On this day we headed to the Sanctuary at El Rosario, which holds the largest population of Monarchs in Mexico, and our excitement to relive some of what we experienced the day before was evident. The sun was shining and as we approached the Sanctuary, and the roadsides were alive with Monarchs. Even before we gained entry to the Sanctuary and began our ascent there were butterflies all around us. The bright sunlight had warmed the clusters and swarms of butterflies filled the air. We felt there was magic surrounding us, and each time a Monarch chose to land on one of us we all experienced joy. We saw Monarchs clustered in trees, Monarchs filling the air, Monarchs puddling, Monarchs mating, and Monarchs gathering nectar from flowers scattered through the forest. El Rosario was exciting, enlightening and showed us the active behaviors of the overwintering Monarch.

The day of our third and final Sanctuary visit was cool and calm. We arrived at Piedra Herrada in the late morning, and after a delicious lunch on site we saddled up on horses and headed up the mountain. We dismounted near the top and hiked another 300ft to find large clusters of Monarchs clinging to the branches of the trees. One tree was so filled with butterflies it seemed the addition of one more would bring the tree toppling down. We all stayed quiet and vigilantly observed the steady groupings. To our surprise there was a sudden flood of Monarchs cascading down and away from a clump midway up the heavily laden tree. After further observation we became aware of a brightly marked bird pouncing around the top portion of several clumps of Monarchs. We identified the bird as a Black Backed Oriole, and it was busy hunting our beloved Monarchs. We were elated to be witnessing this circle of life event that reinforced that the fight for one species is a fight for all species. Piedra Herrada gave us moments of reflection and reverence to soak in the pure magic of seeing millions of Monarchs gathered in one place.

Pollinator Paparazzi: Trystan Sill, Erin Engstrom, and John Glowczwski

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