Although it is very nice to be back in Switzerland for the holidays, and the mountains are beautiful, I am still amazed as I edit the monarch pictures. Three of us went to one of the monarch winter nesting grounds near Valle de Bravo in central Mexico. We aren’t allowed into the state of Michoacan where the more famous reserves are, but the spot where we went felt magical enough that we didn’t feel like we missed anything. It was a long morning on two buses to get there, so we didn’t get up into the hills to see the butterflies until late in the afternoon on the first day. During the steep, approximately hour-long hike up we were losing a little faith. Especially since we were walking up as opposed to most people going up and down on horseback. People on the way down promised us that there were either lots or plenty of butterflies, so we kept going. When we finally made it up to the nesting spot, we were looking around at the graveyard of wings on the ground and the slowly increasing number of dead butterflies, when we realized that the trees were covered in butterflies. So covered in fact that the branches were weighed down by them. The light was not great, but I took as many photos as I could until the sun was setting and the guides were trying to usher us down the mountain.

We had the next day in Valle de Bravo as well, and the only thing I wanted to do was go back up in the warmer part of the day and see the monarchs more active. The guides said that around midday they would mostly be in flight and not just hanging on the trees. I’m so glad my traveling companions were of the same mind. The difference that the daytime temperature made was immediately apparent as the taxi approached the parking lot where the trails started. In the air on the road was a steady stream of monarchs. Our exclamations of excitement started immediately and didn’t stop for the next few hours as we made our way back up the trail, but without any complaining or lack of faith this time. The trail in midday was filled with butterflies. It felt like one was going to run into you every other second, and you had to be careful where you stepped at times. Any spot with full sun was covered in monarchs. When we got back up to the nesting trees, they were still plenty covered in butterflies, but the  air was also filled with them flying about. Amazing, fantastic, incredible… it just felt like a magical spot and very special to be able to witness. I’ve edited down the pictures a lot, but there are just too many good ones. In fact, I did a terrible job of editing the number of photos down. If it is possible that I need more to fully share the experience, what I still really want is some of Mike’s video to share what the feeling of being in a river of monarchs was like.  I will either get a copy to post here or share the link soon, hopefully.

The monarchs winter there until the end of March. I can’t recommend this experience highly enough, and I’m happy to give advice on how to get there.

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3 Responses

  1. It seems like the butterflies were favouring one type of tree as a resting spot; is this true?

    Looks like an amazing experience!

  2. @Steve – You should definitely come back down in time to go see and photograph. I would definitely take a tripod, or at least a monopod next time to help with the low-light, blurriness problem (since I won’t be buying a better lens that soon).

    @Julia – I didn’t think about it, but that might be the case. The trees were so covered in butterflies, that it was hard to see what type they were, but mostly like all the same since it was a little grove of trees in one specific spot. I tried to do a tiny bit of online research, but I couldn’t find anything definitive about their tree preferences. It must be the case that they have a preference, and that helps determine the spot in the forest where they end up. We were wondering if they end up in the same spot on the same hill every year, or if the first butterflies to arrive find a good spot to stop, and that determines where the majority end up. It was most definitely an amazing experience. Let me know if you want to come down before the end of March, and we can go back!

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