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  Field Notes from Mexico from Mr. Don Davis
March 16, 2006
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Listen to Mr. Don Davis

Meet Don Davis 

This is Don Davis reporting on March 16th, 2006 from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I have just returned from an 8 day expedition to Mexico.

Monarchs and monarch people where everywhere. I was accompanied by Dr. Lincoln Brower, Dr. Karen Oberhauser, Dr. Dick Vane-Wright from England, Dr. Michael Boppre from Germany. During our visit to Mexico we also spoke with Dr. Chip Taylor, Dr. Bill Calvert, Vico”Guttierez and Gregory Allan from Papalotzin, Carlos Galindo-Leal of WWF Mexico, and the famous Mexican writer and founder of the Group of 100, Homero Aridjis. Jose Luis Alvarez, of La Cruz Habitat Protection Project, was our knowledgeable and experienced trip leader. What an amazing gathering of monarch butterfly enthusiasts and researchers.

Weather conditions in the vicinity of the monarch overwintering sites remain exceptionally dry and warmer than usual. There is an extreme risk of forest fire, and we could smell smoke from one such fire burning on the mountain Sierra Chincua.

During our trip, we made 2 visits each to the mountains Sierra Chincua and Pelon. To reach these sites meant driving slowly up extremely rugged dirt roads and at one point, we actually had to build a ramp out of wood and flat stones in order to continue. The hikes took us though jagged, steep, rock-filled pathways sometimes covered with inches of fine dust, while at other times our path doubled as a flowing stream. We walked an hour and a half or more, stopping to catch our breath in the thin air at 9,900 feet.

The monarchs are moving down the mountains from the oyamel fir trees at higher elevations. The monarchs were now clustered on pines, cedars and oaks. When clusters warmed up, they would sometimes explode like fireworks and a mass of orange butterflies would flee in all directions. A great deal of mating behaviour was observed. We found various flowering shrubs and plants, including clusters of yellow senecios. The sanctuary guides called “vigilantes” reminded us to speak in a quiet voice.

At the base of some mountains, we were greeted at mid-day by a river of monarchs, soaring effortlessly down the mountain ravines. In some locations, masses of monarchs were photographed foraging for water on the ground.

We saw evidence of illegal logging in the core zone, and we came upon one illegal logger trimming a fallen tree with a portable mill. He fled into the forest, leaving behind his equipment.

During our last trip to Pelon, we sat and reflected on the magnificence of the huge clusters of hundreds of thousands of monarchs that surrounded us and the amazing voyage they had traveled. For me, this was a special moment. Thirty years earlier, my mentor the late Dr. Fred Urquhart and his wife, Norah had also walked on this mountain. I look forward to sharing my thoughts later this week with 87 year old Mrs. Urquhart.

This past winter was the warmest on record in Canada. Similar reports of unusually dry conditions in Texas and the southern United States are concerning. Let’s hope that the spring rains arrive and milkweeds spring up out of the ground in advance of our beloved
monarchs.

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