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This Time of Year, Monarch Butterflies and Gray Whales Are the Sights to See

To take a look, you just need to take a hike or take a cruise — and it won’t even take you all day

The path leading to the monarch butterfly grove in Goleta is marked with butterfly symbols. Click to view larger
The path leading to the monarch butterfly grove in Goleta is marked with butterfly symbols. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Winter is here and that means the sightings of monarch butterflies and gray whales are in full swing.

Visitors can catch a peek of tiny orange-and-black creatures huddled in the eucalyptus groves, while a boat excursion in the Santa Barbara Channel likely will bring a glimpse of some of the world’s most magnificent — and largest — sea mammals.

At the Goleta Butterfly Grove, 132 monarch butterflies were spending their winter vacation in the open space Monday.

Butterfly counts had the number of winged insects at the main grove at 1,730 in early December.

The population tends to peak near the end of December and the butterflies are most active during their mating season in February, said Ines Hernandez, docent coordinator for the City of Goleta.

The butterflies populate Ellwood Mesa in western Goleta until about mid-February, and then begin their return journey north.

In the morning and on cool days, the monarchs tend to stay in clusters, Hernandez said.

On warm afternoons, the tiny creatures can be seen flying, gathering water and minerals from the soil.

The insects begin their travels to the California coast from west of the Rocky Mountains to avoid harsh winter temperatures.

The eucalyptus branches at the butterfly preserve create ideal microclimate characteristics that the insects require to survive the winter season, Hernandez said.

The grove is open for viewing daily during daylight hours. Admission is free.

Free parking is available at the lot across from Ellwood School, at 7686 Hollister Ave.

Docent guides are available to visitors from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday through mid-February.

For more information, contact Hernandez at [email protected] or 805.961.7571.

Pacific gray whales also call the Santa Barbara County coast their winter home.

More than 20,000 gray whales migrate through the Santa Barbara Channel on their way to and from the warm lagoons of southern Baja California in Mexico.

Peak gray whale migration season is mid-January through April in Southern California.

The Condor Express offers sightseeing tours out of the Santa Barbara Harbor and voyages around the Channel Islands.

In late December, sightings for the day included four gray whales, 400 California sea lions and a pod of 300 dolphins.

The Condor Express departs from Sea Landing, at 301 W. Cabrillo Blvd., at 10 a.m. and returns at 2:30 p.m.

Tours are available through Feb.14, and excursions do not run on Monday and Tuesday.

The fare is $99 for adults and $50 for children 5-12.

Click here to make reservations, or call 805.882.0088.

The trips are narrated by the Condor Express captains.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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