I’d always appreciated the colors and elegance of monarch butterflies fluttering between trees but I’d never had the opportunity to witness a kaleidoscope of monarch butterflies clustered on groves of native trees until last week, when I visited one of their popular wintering spots for myself.
Western monarchs are found from the California coast to the Rocky Mountains and as far north as Washington state throughout their unusual and amazing migration. Monarchs only weigh about as much as a paper clip and travel up to 3,000 miles each year, returning to small sites along the California coast where they spend the winter months. Ventura’s Camino Real Park is fortunate to be one of these sites.
Monarch butterflies typically show up in October (though this is weather dependent) and can be seen skipping among the Eucalyptus trees at the park. I made my way over and frequent visitors pointed me in the direction of a fence along the edge of the park where there is a barranca lined with Eucalyptus trees and what my rookie eyes initially mistook for dead leaves. As I got closer, I realized they weren’t dead leaves at all but thousands of monarch butterflies covering branches and leaves and forming huge clusters!
Butterflies fluttered about rays of light shining through the trees, back and forth between branches as though dancing in the wind. It felt like I was in the middle of a nature show and, having watched many episodes, I played a soundtrack of fitting classical melodies in my head. I was so captivated that I almost forgot to capture this magical moment on camera.
Taking photos proved to be a difficult feat -monarch butterflies are much faster than they might seem and this is definitely a moment better enjoyed without the restrictions of a camera lens. Still, I made a special effort to record this experience knowing monarch butterfly populations are in sharp decline. Monarchs, like many other species, face challenges resulting from climate change and habitat loss. Their numbers continue to drop dramatically; In 1997, Ventura County volunteers counted 143,000 monarch butterflies -this number had dropped to 9,850 by 2013.
So I encourage you to go out and appreciate their beauty, for the more we appreciate something, the more likely we are to protect it.
Take a picnic, make a day of it, and don’t forget to share your experience with #VisitVentura so we can inspire others too!
Directions from Hwy 101 N: Take Main Street exit toward Mills Road and turn right onto Mills Road. Turn right onto Dean Drive and follow it until you see the park on your right. Turn right on Varsity Drive into the park entrance. As you enter the park, look to the stand of trees on your left. That’s where you’re heading.