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January 1, 2013 > Monarch butterflies at Ardenwood

Monarch butterflies at Ardenwood

By Jessica Nol Flohr

Butterflies with their gossamer wings seem so delicate and fragile; few would imagine that they are actually quite hearty creatures, the monarch being especially so. Each fall, western monarch butterflies begin an arduous journey down the west coast, traveling from northern to Southern California. They spend a portion of their travels overwintering in eucalyptus trees, Monterey pines, and Monterey cypress trees throughout California. Expert and amateur lepidopterists alike gather every year around the state to catch a glimpse of this amazing sight.

Bay Area butterfly lovers can find several local spots for monarch migration viewing. One of the closest monarch overwintering locales is Ardenwood Historic Farm. Hundreds of monarch butterflies swarm the eucalyptus grove on the outskirts of the farmland every winter. Ardenwood hosts naturalist-led butterfly walks for park-goers to see the monarchs up close.

A small group of butterfly viewers, led by a naturalist, travels through the fields of Ardenwood to a silent grove at the edge of the farm where history, nature, and suburbia meet. Slowly, moving among the trees, visitors glimpse branches dripping with orange and golden wings softly fluttering - a natural and miraculous phenomenon.

Monarch butterflies are the only species known to migrate in a manner similar to birds, traveling south and then returning to the place of their ancestral origin. The barrier of the Rocky and Sierra Nevada mountains separates monarchs into eastern and western varieties. Eastern monarchs travel as far south as Mexico in their annual migration. Historically, butterflies would have relied more on evergreens such as Monterey pines and cypresses, but the introduction of eucalyptus trees to California in the mid-1800s proved to be perfect overwintering habitat for migrating monarchs. Eucalyptus trees grow quickly in sheltered groves and the drooping branches provide a great shelter for the monarchs to roost on cool California nights. Blossoms on the eucalyptus trees are an additional benefit, providing food for the monarchs.

California has several locations for monarch viewing, from Fremont to San Diego. FremontÕs Ardenwood Historic Farm offers programs on weekends throughout January and early February. Monarch Butterfly Walks begin at the granary on the farm and involve a short, easy hike to the eucalyptus grove. Walks are held at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. A kid-friendly program, Monarchs for Kids, is designed for children, ages three to six, and includes a puppet show that explains the life cycle of the monarch butterfly.

Meet the Monarchs, an hour-long program for adults which includes a slide presentation on the life of the butterflies, is offered January 5, 13, 19, and 27. On Wednesdays through Fridays in January, an Ardenwood naturalist will host Afternoon with the Monarchs for a more intimate question and answer session for butterfly lovers.

Monarch migration is such a unique experience. ItÕs well worth a trip to Ardenwood to view this incredible sight in person. Children and adults will both be amazed to see the beautiful butterflies fluttering in the treetops.

Monarch Butterfly Walks
Every Saturday and Sunday in January
10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Afternoon with the Monarchs
Every Wednesday - Friday in January
2 p.m. - 3 p.m.

Meet the Monarchs
January 5, 13, 19, and 27
12:30 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.

Monarchs for Kids
January 6, 12, 20, and 26
11 a.m. - noon

Changes in the Butterfly Grove
February 2 and 9
2 p.m. - 3 p.m.

California Western Monarch Day
Sunday, February 3
11 a.m. - 2 p.m.

Farewell to the Monarchs
Sunday, February 10
11 a.m. - 2 p.m.

Ardenwood Historic Farm
34600 Ardenwood Blvd., Fremont
(510) 544-2797
Free with paid park admission

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