Update Letter from Estela Journey North

Monarch butterfly at sanctuary in Mexico in snow.
School children visiting El Rosario Sanctuary on March 13, 2017.

 

Dear Friends,

It’s almost mid-March now and Monarchs seem to be taking their time to leave! They must be creeping northwards day by day.

Very nice weather days prevail at Sanctuaries, since, in spite of having had some cloudy days with minutes of very light rain at late evenings, which somehow refresh the atmosphere, turning the weather rather chilly for some hours, sunny days come back every time along these refreshing lapse.

El Rosario Sanctuary: Monday, March 13, 2017
At El Rosario Sanctuary, the atmosphere continues to be really nice and active.

As commented before, Monarchs seem to be capricious and unpredictable sometimes!  During these last few days, by noon time, at “Llano de los Conejos”, some flying performance has been happening, however not compared to what has been seen in previous weeks, since a handful of them are now laying dead on the grass, another handful drinking some water, and a rest flying around and landing on bushes to sunbath themselves.
The colony open to visitors this weekend is now again the site at “Los Orcones,” where visitors might be bidding farewell to monarchs within the coming days. Many school children and teachers both foreign and locals burst in silent excitement at the view in front of them.

The colony consists of around 60 trees, a rather mixed way in their distribution.  Some have many rather small, to fairly medium, clusters hanging scattered on trees. Others have medium to rather big clusters and dense concentrations at the mid-height of the Oyameles covering both trunk and branches.

All of a sudden, several wonderful bursts happened marveling visitors and making it all worthwhile to be there!  Indeed a wonderful performance genuinely belonging to this time of the season!

One cannot imagine what it could be like in the biggest Colony now at “Las Balsitas” site! (The official guide explains: “The Colony at “Las Balsitas” is definitely now the one with the most population. The colony moved too far west and down-hill for tourists to access and see. A third Colony at “Las Arenitas” --also called Las Minitas--” is too small to take visitors there.)

Many monarchs have now lost their bright orange colour, many others make a fly-walk at ground level seeming indeed weak now, certainly not able to make it north in a few days. A few of them try their best to fly on tattered wings. Perishing seems to be rather scarce by now. Mating, now very active, then not so active. Male to male should be rarely seen in a somehow odd game--perhaps reminding each other that it is mating time. The season heads inevitably to its end.  

Now we local people, guides, ejidatarios and scientists should keep in high expectation, holding our breath at observing the immenent massive leaving within the coming days.  It should happen any day before the March 20’s according to Monarchs’ biology, while a feeling of proudness and thankfulness invades us all, at  having experienced a wonderful, successful, unpredictable season, having indeed, dare I say, highly compensated everyone’s expectations this year!

On walking around, wonderful bright pink, purple, red, lilac coloured flowers blossom are all around.  Monarchs look beautiful wherever they land on to nectar, but nothing compared to seeing them at the gorgeous, huge yellow Senecio (Hoja ancha) flowers!
Oyamel trees release seeds here and there and baby to young Oyameles can be seen growing around as one’s sight peeps into the nearby forest areas. Seeing little Oyamel trees growing here and there, as well as Pine and Oak trees mainly, brings a really positive feeling of hope on this self-reforestation at the Monarchs’ reserve, regardless the actions taken to relieve the damage caused by last year’s March storm.

Mr. Sergio Téllez Guzmán, chief Guide at El Rosario Sanctuary, told me about a very personal impression he has just shared with their Ejidatario colleagues during their last meetings: “I have asked myself up to what extent the intense cement building project on remodeling the restaurant and souvenirs areas at the main entrance of the Sanctuary might be causing an over-heating effect on the forests at the Reserve, getting Monarchs sensible to it in a somewhat negative way”, sounding this a very smart and honest expression of responsibility at his wishing that this shall be not affecting Monarchs’ habitat in this Sanctuary. Indeed a very interesting comment on his side.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Sierra Chincua Sanctuary, Senguio Ejido

About 10 days ago, that I was last to Sierra Chincua with Tag Collectors, it took about one hour and twenty minutes horse-ride to reach the core of the Colony, which, as you may remember, showed an awesome population and performance at this Sanctuary as I had not seen for many years now.  When reaching the core of the colony, guides said we were already stepping onto Senguio’s Ejido, a territory not really allowed for them anymore to take visitors, since this is a land-territory belonging to Senguio Ejido and Sanctuary.

Senguio is much older town than Angangueo, founded in the early 1800’s, and it is within his Ejido, at the “Cuala” site, a land area well down-hill from Sierra Chincua heading northwards, that the Senguio Sanctuary seems to have been officially recognized by the Reserve, and where Monarchs have been heavily concentrating during the last days.

Being today a wonderful, sunny day, I decided to enter the colony through the Senguio Ejido territory. As soon as the car drove into this dense, beautiful Pine, Oak, Aile and Oyamel forest, with dense wild vegetation and canopy, I could immediately understand why monarchs have chosen this forest to form a colony here. It is indeed a very healthy forest, “…in spite of illegal logging going on during the last few years too”, --guides Adrian and Elena Torres assured to me--, with several very live streams, small rivers with crystaline water running in a wonderful harmonious way and a beautiful waterfall actually singing along with the rest of the forest harmony inside this forest.  Simply a spiritual experience to be there, once we saw more and more Monarchs as if announcing our arrival to their overwintering place.

After a 30 minutes’ drive into the forest, and once the guide stopped the car, we walked only 10 minutes to reach “only the lower side of the Colony, since we are not taking visitors up-hill to the very core, trying to keep Monarchs as quiet and as long as possible with us; in there, the population is still beautifully dense.  This is Cuala Site within Senguio Ejido”,-Adrian the guide remarked and reminded me one more time.

Being here, in spite of being the very low side of the Colony, took me away, since the wonderful forest and canopy conditions at the site, together with the fair-considerable population distributed all over on an average of about 30 trees, either in small and scattered clusters, bigger and more dense, or in fair or dense concentrations at some areas of several trees, made me feel it had been very interesting to make this visit here today, since, given the devastation at the forests of El Rosario and Sierra Chincua during the hail and wind storm in March last year, this forest could become a possible, and why not, a more and more important  overwintering site for Monarchs to concentrate more in the future?

We have had this same population since the season Started this year”, --guides Adrian and Elena told me. “It is not that they moved down and relocated here late in the season days ago, this is the population we have had all over the season”, --they insisted on me--; “you say our forest seems to be very healthy, well it was much more than this a few years ago, had it not been for an authorized government permission to cut off lower level branches of trees; we have already asked to several government institutions including the President of our country, to send the Army to our forests to guard them permanently, this will be the only way to stop illegal logging and any other kind of destruction to our forests affecting Monarchs’ conservation, and putting at risk our own survival in our homeland; none else could stop illegal logging,” Adrian added.

Perishing on ground level seemed to be scarce to normal and mating rather scarce too, --at least during the time I was there, except a couple I could see mating.

One way or the other, it seems that Monarchs are little by little creeping Northwards now, and will continue to do so until the moment the massive arrival takes place.

This very afternoon, forecast have announced a drop in temperatures coming both from meteorological un-favorable conditions in the south and Gulf or México as well as the tail of the winter storm hitting right now the Eastern part of the USA, bringing with it storms and cold temperatures including the central part of our county.  Should this be so, Monarchs may be delaying their massive leaving for some more days, having, no doubt, a minority of Monarchs left already starting their Journey North days ago.
Back to the entrance of the Sanctuary, the absence of souvenir selling stands and numerous restaurants around, to a reception, a single and big dining room and bathroom section, all in the best construction taste harmoniously matching with the natural atmosphere around, caused a sensation of being living a pretty different experience.

While this important moment comes, here the photos of the wonderful experience today at the Cuala overwintering site, within this neighbouring ejido to Sierra Chincua, the Senguio Ejido belonging the this beautiful historic town and neighbouring Municipality to Angangueo, both in Michoacán, Central México.

Until next week,

Estela Romero
Angangueo, Michoacán, México
March 13 - 14, 2017

Map: Location of monarch butterfly overwintering region in Mexico
Sanctuary Locations
El Rosario Sanctuary
Monarch Butterflies at Sanctuary in Mexico
Monarch Butterflies at Sanctuary in Mexico
Monarch Butterflies at Sanctuary in Mexico

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Sierra Chincua Senguio Sanctuary
Monarch Butterflies at Sanctuary in Mexico
Monarch Butterflies at Sanctuary in Mexico
Monarch Butterflies at Sanctuary in Mexico
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