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Captain’s Log: Monarch Butterfly Season

One profound blessing of Thanksgiving season is a local wonder — the return of the monarch butterfly.

Santa Barbara is a destination of choice not only for people looking for a wonderful place to winter, but also these gorgeous winged wonders.

Vast numbers of monarchs show up in the five-star butterfly accommodations we carefully preserve for them — eucalyptus groves.

These delicate-looking critters are actually strong and durable travelers. They don’t take well to cold winter weather, so they leave the cold northern climbs in autumn.

Populations of monarchs living west of the Rocky Mountains head mostly for groves along the California coast.

Monarchs can travel up to 3,000 miles and are the only butterfly to make such a long, round-trip journey each year, flying in masses to the same winter roosts year after year.

Favored roosts include eucalyptus trees, Monterey pines and Monterey cypress.

That makes Santa Barbara a choice destination, along with Pacific Grove, Pismo Beach and other lucky locales. Other than the right trees, the butterflies need cool (but not freezing) areas protected from winds and with plenty of nearby water to drink.

We are blessed with these visitors from now until late winter. When the days grow longer and seasonal weather begins to warm, they make the long flight northward to lay their eggs on the underside of milkweed plants along the way and continue the cycle.

Monarchs are the most common breed of milkweed butterflies, so named because the larvae feed on milkweed plants, accumulating a poisonous substance in their bodies that makes them distasteful to birds and other predators.

That’s a great natural survival plan.

An adult monarch has wings of a striking reddish-brown, with black veins and black borders with two rows of white dots and a potential wingspan of about four inches.

Where do we look for them? They congregate throughout many of our small groves of trees along the coast, so viewing opportunities are sprinkled all over.

One of the best areas of all is Devereaux through Ellwood, where the habitat is just right for them. Considerable effort, expense and community volunteer work has gone into keeping this area perfect for these butterflies and other habitat-dependent critters.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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