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Monarch

Started: 2021-01-16 23:33:12

Submitted: 2021-01-17 01:13:57

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator visits the eucalyptus grove where monarch butterflies spend the winter at Natural Bridges State Park

On Boxing Day, as my regular weekend expedition out of the house with my children, we went to Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz, famous for its eucalyptus grove where monarch butterflies spend the winter, feeding on the nectar from the winter-blooming eucalyptus flowers, before heading north towards Canada for the summer.

I parked in one of the first available spaces (hanging my state park pass from my mirror) not sure how many spaces would be available later, so we ended up walking into the eucalyptus grove backwards, skipping most of the interpretive signs explaining the context of the grove and the monarch butterfly migration patterns, jumping straight to the sight of tiny bright-orange butterflies resting on eucalyptus branches high above our heads.

Monarch butterflies in a eucalyptus tree
Monarch butterflies in a eucalyptus tree

The state park had a person set up in a wide spot in the trail through the eucalyptus grove with a telescope wirelessly streaming a live image to a display set up on a tripod, so we knew what we were supposed to be looking at in the trees and branches above. He mentioned that we had come at a good time — until an hour earlier the butterflies had been idle, resting in the mid-day fog until the light changed and they opened their wings to soak in the afternoon sunlight and began flying around the grove. There were a couple of clusters of butterflies above our heads, where scores of butterflies were clinging to the branches together, providing a splash of color in the gray-green leaves of the trees above.

Julian is not interested in looking at the monarch butterflies
Julian is not interested in looking at the monarch butterflies

(At this moment Julian was feeling petulant because I told him that he couldn't hit Calvin with his umbrella, so Julian was refusing to look at the butterflies above him.)

Monarch butterflies at Natural Bridges State Park
Monarch butterflies at Natural Bridges State Park

(I forgot to ask what the monarch butterflies did for the winter before eucalyptus was introduced to North America, providing a convenient winter food source for the butterflies.)

Monarch grove
Monarch grove

One of the interpretive signs mentioned that the butterflies use the length of daylight as their cue to migrate south for the winter, and I couldn't help but feel a tiny bit of kinship with the tiny butterflies, as I completely identify with wanting to evade the dark winter for sunnier southern climates.

Kiesa, Julian, and Calvin walk in the monarch grove
Kiesa, Julian, and Calvin walk in the monarch grove

After watching the butterflies in the grove, we followed the boardwalk backwards out the grove to the nominal entrance, past interpretive signs explaining the multi-generational life-cycle of the monarch butterfly migration north to their summer grounds in Washington and Colorado and Canada, carried along the way by milkweed plants that hosted the butterfly on their journey north.

We exited the grove and continued a circuit around the small state park, walking over sandy soil through pine trees laden with hanging moss. The kids stopped to climb several of the trees along the way.

Julian and Calvin perched in a pine tree
Julian and Calvin perched in a pine tree

We continued along the trail around the perimeter of the state park to the small beach, then climbed onto the sandstone shelf where some tide pools had been exposed by the low tide. I was careful to avoid being splashed (or swept away to sea) by the waves crashing over the end of the shelf, but I did see in the small pools carved out of the stone on the shelf more clams than I could count, plus sea anemone sitting in the salt water, their tentacles waving freely in the water as they waited for prey to happen along.

Sea anemone tide pool
Sea anemone tide pool

We headed back to the beach, where the one surviving natural bridge formed an arch above the water on a narrow peninsula of rock sticking out into the frothy ocean.

Natural Bridges State Beach
Natural Bridges State Beach

Julian wanted to play in the lagoon, so we indulged him while I watched the waves crashing on the sand and watched a pair of snowy egrets wade through the surf in search of something to eat while seagulls circled in the air above.

Two snowy egrets in the surf
Two snowy egrets in the surf

Then we left the beach and headed back home, after an afternoon in the eucalyptus grove and on the beach.

Modern mobile phones make my head hurt, and I speak as the owner of a
sheepskin that proclaims me to hold a degree in computer science.
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