Each Thanksgiving, one of our blessings to be counted is 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 migrating winged wonders.
Vast numbers of monarch butterflies show up in the five-star accommodations we carefully preserve for them — eucalyptus groves.
These delicate looking critters are actually strong and durable travelers. Their limit to endurance is cold winter weather, so they leave the northern climes in the fall. Populations living west of the Rocky Mountains head mostly for groves along the California Coast.
Monarchs travel up to 3,000 miles and are the only butterfly to make such a long, round trip journey each year. Amazingly, they fly in masses to the same winter roosts year after year.
Favored roosts include eucalyptus trees, Monterey pines and Monterey cypress. That makes us a favored destination, along with Pacific Grove, Pismo, and other lucky locales.
Other than the right trees, the butterflies need cool (but not freezing) areas protected from winds and plenty of nearby water to drink.
We are blessed with these pretty 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 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. They sport black borders with two rows of white dots and a potential wingspan of roughly 4 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 have gone into keeping this area perfect for these butterflies and other habitat dependent critters.
The Coronado Butterfly Preserve is like a gateway to the Ellwood Monarch Grove. The preserve is run by the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County.
The Land Trust people have put a lot of time into making the preserve perfect for both the butterflies and for the folks who come to appreciate the winged wonders.
Improvements include planting native plants, clearing excess brush and weeds, building paths and log benches.
More information can be found on the website page specific to the Coronado Butterfly Preserve.
Here are directions to the preserve. From Highway 101, exit Storke Road/Glen Annie and head south (away from the mountains). Turn right on Hollister Avenue. Go a little over a mile and hang a left on Coronado Drive. Entrance to the preserve is at the end of the road.
Thanksgiving weekend is a time when many people go shopping. Maybe this year the plans should include an outdoor adventure to see the early monarch arrivals. They will keep fluttering into our area over the next month, so plan more fun forays to celebrate how we are blessed by nature.