November 6, 2011

Waiter, There’s A Butterfly In My Blog

Good morning and greetings, west coast fans. Last week, the magnificence of humpback whales took center stage on Monterey Bay . This unannounced show was due to an abundance of anchovies and fried calamari that brought these giant creatures close enough to Dinah shore where they could be seen breaching, exhaling through their blowholes and making dinner plans at the Crow’s Nest. They were engaging in lunge-feeding, which involves moving quickly with their mouths open and engulfing their prey, a technique that I also find to be very effective at all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets.

This feeding frenzy became a national story and was featured
twice last week on NBC News with Brian Williams. I drove out on the wharf in an attempt to capture a slice of nature gone wild,
but from my vantage point my lens was just not big enough to make the magic happen, and as we know, size does matter.

We’ll take a look down the road at what my camera did capture, but today we are heading up to the monarch butterflies that gather at Natural Bridges State Park. I wanted to take advantage of the warm weather to get more than just an overall tan, and these orange and black beauties don’t drive or fly if it’s not over 55 degrees. And since the clock on my calendar said November, I knew the cold weather
would be coming, so I drove the half mile from my highly desirable upper
west side abode in search of monarch madness.

Now fifteen years ago, back when milkweed plants were as plentiful as gossip websites, there were 150,000 monarchs making an appearance in this neck of the woods. Five years ago it as 10,000, and now the total has fallen off drastically, where we our now looking at 2,000 to 3,000. My newest best friend Chris, an Interpretive Naturalist at Natural Bridges, put last week’s total at 2,700, which is a far cry from the glory days but still, well worth the trip to this little fluttering Garden of Eden.

So why are there so few monarchs where there once where so many? Last year, violent winter storms and the drug cartels did a number on them in Mexico. But the bigger problem is herbicides, pesticides, habitat loss, the Tea Party and bioengineered corn and soy, because the last three contain pesticides. The pollen will blow to adjacent milkweed and the insecticides will kill the caterpillar. And the only thing these caterpillars, who turn into the butterflies, will eat is milkweed. Well, that and a little baked brie and breaded pork chops. No milkweed, no monarchs. It’s as simple as that, or Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan.

But let’s not focus on the numbers. When you walk down the newly rebuilt wooden path that was badly damaged by a winter storm last year, you enter a place that dazzles your vision and takes your breath away. With the deep blue sky above, the warm sun kissed my face without leaving any lipstick marks, and as I looked up and around, the monarchs were all over the place, flying, floating and fluttering, which I found very flattering. It gave me a certain feeling of peace and tranquility, like when I get a good parking space.

It’s moments like this (and they are few and far between) when I feel things are still right with the world. Moments like this make me forget the senseless wars, health problems, economic crisis and most importantly, the NBA lockout.

As I stood there posing like a runway model, these colorful creatures were flying all around me, landing just a few feet away to feed and chat. I was surrounded by joy. It was the most relaxed I’ve been since my last colonoscopy, and being able to photograph them up close and personal was, along with viewing the whales, the highlight of the
week. Well, that and waking up and getting dial tone.

So here’s a few more fun facts. Monarch butterflies spend the winter along the Pacific coast in places like Santa Cruz and Pacific Grove because the weather here is cold enough that they can go into
reproductive diapause (similar to hibernation and what I do each January) but not cold enough to freeze, something that would kill a butterfly and put a crimp in my active social life.

The monarchs come to this particular eucalyptus grove at Natural Bridges because it is located in a canyon with shelter from the wind and filters sunlight to keep their bodies from freezing. They park also waives the $10 entrance free which is important as monarchs have been hit hard by the economic crisis and never carry cash.

Monarchs like to cluster in the trees (photo #1). They do this to protect themselves from the wind, rain and crazed moths. Clustering also makes it easier to find a mate and is a lot better than having to go to dating service websites like

To get to Natural Bridges, these monarchs fly 60 to 100 miles a day against the wind. They live six to nine months, so very few make long term plans. They follow the milkweed patches north from Mexico as the weather grows warmer. Each generation flies a little further north to lay their eggs and then establishes a family trust before dying.

If you get a chance on a warm day, head over to the Monarch Grove and check them out. You never know if they’ll be back next year, as life, much like my psyche, is a fragile as a butterfly.

On to the late night. “Remember Terry Jones, the pastor in Florida who
burned the Koran? That’s right; he is now a presidential candidate. You know what his platform is? Deporting every undocumented worker in America and imprisoning women who have abortions. Finally, the Republican Party has a moderate in the race.” –Bill Maher “Herman Cain told a group of Occupy Wall Street protesters to go home, get a
job, and get a life. That’s the Republican version of hope and change,
ladies and gentlemen. Michele Bachmann told reporters that she will lead the nation in prayer if she is elected president. You know if she is elected president, we all better be praying. She doesn’t have to lead us.” –Jay Leno

“A Libyan rebel has admitted to killing Moammar Gadhafi. He said he shot Gadhafi twice in the temple, to which Michele Bachmann said, ‘I didn’t even know the guy was Jewish.’ It seemed that after he was killed, Gadhafi’s body was stored at a commercial freezer at a shopping mall. It’s one thing to hunt a guy down and shoot him twice in the head, but then to drag him to the mall? Come on, guys hate that.” –Jay Leno

“Rick Perry has now accused Mitt Romney of hiring illegal aliens to work on his hair.” –David Letterman “President Obama is in Vegas for a fundraiser He spent the visit working on his new economic recovery plan, ‘Come on, seven!” –Jimmy Fallon “President Obama had his annual physical. Doctors say he is in excellent health, except his blood pressure. It’s 70 over 14 trillion.” –Jay Leno

“The United States government says it’s okay for British Petroleum to resume offshore drilling. Yeah! What could possibly go wrong? Just when I’m getting used to eating chowder without tar balls. I love the protests. And if you think about it, what better way to send a
message to Wall Street than by sitting in a pup tent banging on a
drum.” –David Letterman

“The New York Mets are planning to move the walls of Citi Field in order to increase the number of homeruns they hit. Call me old fashioned but isn’t that what steroids are for?” –Conan O’Brien “A lot of kids across the country got the day off from school because of Halloween. I’m pretty sure this is why we’re falling behind China. Not only did their kids not get the day off from school, they made all of our kids’ costumes.” –Jimmy Kimmel

So those are the first shock waves from November. I thought I had photographed my first sunrise of the fall last Saturday, but when I returned home, I discovered to my dismay and disbelief that my card wasn’t in my camera, thus no photos. In the words of Ralph Kramden, “You can’t put your arm around a memory.” And don’t even ask me about the unbelievably, all-time greatest double rainbow I thought I shot back in October. Trust me, it’s not pretty seeing a grown man cry.

So be glad we didn’t see any snow on the trees in October as last week the east coast was one big power outage. We’ll catch you throwing a deep crossing pattern. Aloha, mahalo and later, Eli Manning fans.


  1. Another highly informative and laugh filled Monday morning missive. With yesterday’s intensive and extensive NFL viewing schedule how do you find the time? Keep up the fine work!

    Comment by Jake Ballard — November 7, 2011 @ 8:17 am

  2. You manage to get those clever lines in over and over and over again. Thanks for the Monday morning smiles and 2 chuckles.

    I was there, 15 years ago, to witness the magic of 150,000 monarchs.
    What a sight it was!

    Comment by Wendi Gilbert — November 7, 2011 @ 9:12 am

  3. As Jimi Hendrix once said, “butterflies and zebras move me, like a fairy tale.” Some good lines today, you must have been riding high on the Giants game. I, too, have witnessed the mighty monarchs when the grove was packed like a rush hour subway. As close as you can get to a psychedelic experience, without the afterburn (from what I’ve heard anyway, I wouldn’t know for myself). Bring on the Packers!

    Comment by Little Wing — November 7, 2011 @ 10:37 am

  4. To add a few bits, I recently viewed a news report stating that the continued drought conditions our southwestern states and northern Mexico have impacted the monarchs. Sad news for the Monarchs and other affected species. Anyone see Stanford vs Oregon St game? Luck put in a great performance. Thanks for the “start your engines” call for this week.

    Comment by Babs — November 7, 2011 @ 2:44 pm

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