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Running with Monarchs Part III

Once again, I'm writing from the Monarch Butterfly forests of Mexico. We have just finished doing an interview between Grant here in the forest and Brett back at base in the UK. All went well but we were convinced that the sheer numbers of butterflies in the air were interfering with the our mini satellite transmitter.

Here's another video. This time Grant is engulfed by a blizzard of Monarch Butterflies.

Report information

We had a good few days with Chip Taylor from Monarch Watch. First we went with him and his team, comprising of Ann, Janice and Jim to El Rosario Monarch Reserve. Here they buy back the tiny sticky tags from the local guides. These tags, the size of a drawing pin, were originally put on the butterflies by hundreds of volunteers and school children in the USA. Now in Mexico, they have been collected by the local guides from the deceased butterflies on the forest floor and returned to Chip. This provides valuable information about the Monarch Butterflies whilst providing the local guides with some income.

Then we headed with Chip to a newly discovered colony that has formed this year. This was a different experience from Chincua as the trees were a lot smaller that before. Being closer to the butterfly roosts meant that when the wind blew it forced the Monarchs to stream off the trees - what a sight! In one such instance Grant found himself completely engulfed by what looked like a blizzard of butterflies. Luckily Francisco our fixer was able to record it on his camera as you can see above.

From the highs of the new colony, to something more sobering. Later in the day we went with Juan Antonio from the WWF to a site of some illegal deforestation. This is bad news for the Monarchs and it was shocking to hear how well organised and heavily armed gangs have caused large amount of tree and ultimately habitat loss. Indeed on the first day I saw some pretty heavily armed forest rangers and wondered why rangers needed machine guns. It’s a complicated matter as you’ll hear in the programme but when a tree is worth $300 the simple truth is the value for some people is considerably more felled than not.

Well, time to pack up the satellite and head back up the hill and to the airport, I'll miss Mexico.

Next stop Brunswick, USA to meet up with the team from the University of New Hampshire and head out to sea to find, catch and tag one of the epic ocean migrants, the Leatherback Turtle. Though Andy Myers one of the scientist has informed me there's a storm ahead so it might be a bit tricky getting out. Fingers crossed!

Jody Bourton, Chincua butterfly reserve, 2008

Further Reading:

Next report: Running with Monarchs Part IV
Last report: Running with Monarchs Part II

User comments

Paul Dee
Last year I was sitting with my daughter on my porch in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia when we noticed numerous Monarch Butterflies flying some 30 feet up down the center of the street (orientated roughly N to S). The odd thing was that at a certain point just before the end of the street they all turned right and headed SSW. We watched this for nearly an hour. Such a zig zag path would head to Mexico eventually. Was there some advantage in following a city street and making a correction when it ran out? LOCATION: 48.8575,2.3511 DATE: Sat, 15 Mar 2008 11:27:22 GMT WOtM team: Our expert Prof Chip Taylor says: "Monarchs use structure on the migration and follow mountains and rivers so it isn't too surprising that they should follow a road. More often they are observed heading in a SW direction over open country."

Douglas Davidson
Thanks BBC Radio 4 for your intelligence. How do I send you a photo of a Monarch taken September 20, 2008 on Mt. Sutton, Québec, Canada? A hundred km south of my location, but a long-long way from Mexico. LOCATION: 45.9626,-73.4875 DATE: Sun, 09 Nov 2008 21:34:21 GMT WOtM team: If you use, you can join our group "BBC World on the Move" and add the image to our group pool.

Peter Wilshaw
You lucky people! What a fantastic phenomenon to have observed. LOCATION: 53.0013,-2.2349 DATE: Tue, 04 Nov 2008 19:12:36 GMT

Lee McOwan
I saw and took a digital photograph of what I believe to be a Viceroy butterfly (Limenitis Archippus) in the Conwy Valley, North Wales, UK in September 2008. Is this a rare sighting? Would you like the picture? Many thanks,Lee McOwan LOCATION: 53.2784,-3.7683 DATE: Tue, 7 Oct 2008 12:52:57 UTC WOtM team: Yes please!

Champion Maximus
My wife was given a Korean name by her Korean students: "Nabi", Korean for butterfly. She is a butterfly, and also a tiger, and also a Jefferson salamander. I love her in each of her animal kingdom manifestations. She is making dinner now (last night was my night). LOCATION: 43.6387,-79.3886 DATE: Thu, 04 Sep 2008 23:51:33 GMT

Nick Jeffrey
Would be amazing to see butterflies in such abundance! You lucky devils.What time of year does this migration occur? When were you there this year?Regards,Nick LOCATION: 51.500000,-0.116700 DATE: Thu, 03 Jul 2008 16:12:28 GMT WOtM team: This was at the beginning of March and yes, it was truly stunning!

subal dutta
You are the luckiest person in this world to be with the colorful Nature. LOCATION: 23.783300,85.966698 DATE: Fri, 04 Apr 2008 18:45:19 GMT WOtM team: Thanks we're very lucky indeed and we hope you are enjoying the series!

Geoff Taylor
We are intrigued by the reports on migrations of Logie and the others so keep up the good work. I can't find any reference to the ordeal the Monarch butterflys go through during their migration except that there are 4 generations before they are back in Mexico. Where do they lay eggs and how long must they wait till the emerging butterflys can proceed? LOCATION: 51.6334,-0.1895 DATE: Thu, 27 Mar 2008 10:58:54 GMT WOtM team: This website is particularly good at describing the life cycle of the monarch butterflies:

It's a little early for monarchs to show up here as yet. I usually see them late April to early May. I try to leave at least a few milkweeds growing in perimeters of our yard. My daughter, who lives in nearby Dighton, also has some milkweed which has hosted tiger moths. Painted lady butterflies are fairly common around here during the summer months. Good hunting! LOCATION: 41.9084,-71.0953 DATE: Tue, 25 Mar 2008 22:08:58 UTC

Vic Hitchings
Matt, I am afraid you will not see 'the young butterflies emerging en masse from their chrysalises in southern Mexico'. The individuals in Mexico have migrated from the north last year. They overwinter in and mate before dispersing north in the late March/early April. You may not see mass emergences but the site is a breath-taking one [I visited march 2007]. LOCATION: 29.7000,-95.4272 DATE: Mon, 24 Mar 2008 20:52:27 UTC

N. Kolar
Do Viceroy and Monarch exhibit similar migration patterns?Are both of these different species in danger due to lack of roosting habitat and/or food source? LOCATION: 37.9637,-87.5336 DATE: Mon, 24 Mar 2008 15:43:30 UTC

robin + holly age 110
We grew two swan plants but neither has any leaves left from the caterpillars. The plants are still quite young. At one point this summer there were around 24 caterpillars on one plant. How do we find their cocoons as they haven't made them on the plant? LOCATION: -40.8533,172.7985 DATE: Sun, 23 Mar 2008 18:55:54 UTC

Sylvia Faux
Following Logie's journey north........quite exciting ( sorry it's not about butterflies!) LOCATION: 48.5675,-0.7251 DATE: Sat, 22 Mar 2008 15:32:26 UTC

Paul Pic
By the time the monarchs get here they are few and far between. It sort of makes it seem special to see one. LOCATION: 45.1859,-93.5541 DATE: Fri, 21 Mar 2008 16:08:58 UTC

Rosella Alm Ahearn
We always have many Monarchs visit us throughout the spring and summer months. I first noticed a few about two weeks ago during the very warm days we had. LOCATION: 34.0959,-117.9025 DATE: Fri, 21 Mar 2008 03:03:23 GMT

We've visited the reserves in Mexico and explored some of the surounding hills and villages, so saw both the amazing spectacle but also the results of environmental degredation. It was good to see many were latching on to the idea that they could earn at least a little income from eco tourism.But I think the Monarch is perhaps the most misunderstood butterfly in Britain! Though it's not native - has anyone else noticed how its image/photo (no doubt because it is quite striking) is endlessly used by marketing people to help portray messages such as "wildlife", "green", "British countryside", "I'm a responsible housing developer", etc!! I've lost count of the number of times I've seen a Monarch fluttering inappropriately over the pages of a magazine or advert. Examples - housing sales adverts, local authority job adverts (who are their ecologists?!), the latest Tesco free magazine, garden centre publicity, even a brochure that was promoting biodiversity on the upper River Severn!! There's surely scope here to somehow influence PR peope into using a native species, and maybe even tying their work into supporting butterfly conservation work? LOCATION: 52.1487,-1.4832 DATE: Tue, 18 Mar 2008 18:55:57 UTC WOtM team: Good point Roger, I think everyone has a duty to use images responsibly but it's a credit to the beauty of this species that everyone wants to use it.

Amy Garvey
While in my potting shed on Saturday 15th March, a large butterfly emerged from the pile of old floor boards stacked at the side, the cat gave chase, thankfully the door was open and it flew out. The bright yet deep toned orange and large wings were striking especially to see at this time of year. On hearing the pod cast of the butterflies in Mexico I wondered if the recent Atlantic storms had blown it this way! LOCATION: 53.0445,-8.5281 DATE: Mon, 17 Mar 2008 23:31:34 GMT WOtM team: That seems a bit unlikely Amy but there are a raft of other butterflies that have large orange wings such as the Painted Lady. have a good guide if you would like to compare your sighting.

Martha Jones
I live in Victoria British Columbia and this weekend 15th March our Swallows have just arrived. I watch an eagle's nest and that is above the Golf club's 19th tee, as the errant balls don't come that way. This pair had young last year. Lately we had a gale then they hide in a tree that Herons used to nest in. I'm trusting the Herons are not pushed out. Our Cherry blossoms are out and we had very little frost or snow this year. In fact I have a few Sweet Peas growing on my balcony and it looks I have a few buds on them. Scottish lady of near 86. Enjoy the Butterfly Scenes LOCATION: 48.4237,-123.4204 DATE: Sun, 16 Mar 2008 01:09:09 UTC

The migrations of the monarch butterflies actually spans several generations, as I understand.I want to film the young butterflies emerging en masse from their chrysalises in southern Mexico.What is my best strategy for doing so, i.e. where and when?Thanks!Matt LOCATION: 37.650299,-122.072998 DATE: Sat, 15 Mar 2008 03:48:06 UTC WOtM team: The last 2-3 weeks have been the best time to see this amazing spectacle. Sierra Madre is the region where they come out to start their migration.

Susan in High Point, North Carolina
I'm glad to have found this site. I want to learn more about Monarch Butterflies and plant some milkweed in our yard this year. LOCATION: 35.9691,-79.9969 DATE: Wed, 12 Mar 2008 18:22:43 GMT

C.T. Durham Carlisle Cumbria
Sitting on the beach one September at Kurou in French Guiana, South America, I noticed many hundreds of thousands of black coloured birds winging their way North. Please can you tell me what species they were likely to be; their source and their destination?NOTE. I had to visit Kurou twice, once in December and once in September and the sighting took place 38 years ago so the month may be incorrect but I'm sure it was the latter LOCATION: Not specified DATE: Wed, 12 Mar 2008 12:49:25 UTC LOCATION: 55.950001,-3.200000 DATE: Wed, 12 Mar 2008 12:50:28 UTC WOtM team: sorry but unless there's someone in Kurou who knows the answer we'd need a bit more information to help identify the birds - rough size, shape and any distinguishing features would help. Or similarity to known british species.

Brigid Gallagher
Batraceans are crossing the road here every day at the moment, the weather is wet and warm so suppose this is normalbut the dates seem to be getting earlier LOCATION: 50.7330,4.7324 DATE: Tue, 11 Mar 2008 21:23:15 UTC

Sue Boardman
We live in Mexico and went up to Angangueo, Michoacan last weekend to see the Monarch for the first time. In fact, looking at your photos, I think we were in the same hotel as Brett (Hotel Don Bruno), and caught sight of him in the restaurant one evening! I was really impressed with the local people we met who were connected with the El Rosario sanctuary. The guy who we met in the town who drove us up to the entrance was very knowledgeable about the migration, how it has changed from year to year, the steps that have been taken to protect the butterflies ( horses to take visitors up the steep paths into the reserve, because they kick up dust and this is thought to harm the butterflies). He told us that on the previous day (Sunday) there had been 4,000 visitors! We walked up through the woods in relative isolation. Then the guide who took us up was also very aware eg.picking up dead butterflies and carefully laying them away from the path to prevent them being trodden on (its is thought that one of the reasons that the butterflies come back every year to the same spot is because of the dead butterflies carpetting the forest), admonishing rowdy schoolchildren to be quiet etc.It was a really special experience. LOCATION: 19.434200,-99.138603 DATE: Tue, 11 Mar 2008 18:27:07 UTC

Hilary, London
I lived on the coast in southern New Jersey, US, for a while. One of the most beautiful - if sad - sights in early summer was the orange-on-blue tide of exhausted monarch butterflies which would wash ashore for a day or two each year. Occasionally living butterflies would flutter by; it was astonishing to think that these tiny, seemingly fragile creatures had flown all the way from Mexico. LOCATION: 51.5173,-0.1154 DATE: Tue, 11 Mar 2008 17:12:20 UTC

Alex Fowles
I live in North East Fife. Our nearest Beach is Kinshaldy and Tentsmuir Point , a National Nature Reserve managed by Scottish Natural Heritage. A couple of years ago we were walking along the water line on Kinshaldy beach on May 5. My daughter and I suddenly noticed a swallow skimming low over the water and flying fast inland just in front of us. When it reached the beach it flew higher until it reached tree height and flew in amongst Tenstmuit forest. As we continued we saw six more birds appearing over the water and flying in the same line into the forest. They really looked to us as if we were witnessing the birds' arrival to our shores - but directly opposite Kinshaldy beach is North Denmark & South Norway. Is it known that some swallows fly up through Europe and cross this far north - or were we mistaken?Many thanksAlex Fowles LOCATION: 56.2922,-2.7246 DATE: Tue, 11 Mar 2008 17:07:04 UTC

Roz Williamson
Monarch Butterflies - brilliant. Love the website stuff as can lokk at pictures again and again LOCATION: 51.4266,-3.1201 DATE: Tue, 11 Mar 2008 14:45:03 GMT

David Billings
I adore this site! Your images and now video (!) really bring the series to life. LOCATION: 52.2127,-1.8869 DATE: Tue, 11 Mar 2008 11:49:08 GMT

If Monarch butterflies migrate from Mexico to Canada at this time of year, where do Monarch butterflies in New Zealand go, and when?

Doreen & Geoff Watkins
We live "under" the migration route of the common crane and are regularly treated to spectacular sightings of these wonderful birds. They are already heading back up north. Will you be covering their journey?Kind regardsDoreen LOCATION: 46.4454,2.0435 DATE: Mon, 10 Mar 2008 13:58:28 UTC WOtM team: We don't plan to cover Cranes in detail and we don't believe their migration has started yet, although any day. There are plans to broadcast a WOtM edition from Gibraltar in April and Cranes could well be one of the birds darkening the sky. We'll certainly look out for them and thank you for prompting us!

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