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California wildlife: monarch butterflies

09 Mar 2009 / in natural world, travels

Moth and I broke our journey down to New Zealand in California, stepping off the plane in Los Angeles in January. After staying one night with Karen, a friend just north of LA who made us so very welcome in her beautiful home, we drove up the Pacific Coast Highway to a place where we’d been told we might see some wildlife.

I have vague childhood memories of seeing monarch butterflies in the trees at certain places in California. A little research showed it might be possible to see some at Pismo Beach.

High up in the eucalyptus trees growing in the sand behind the beach were thousands of them. Twenty-six thousand! The bright winter sunshine on the trees released the scent of the eucalypt oil and the place smelled like Australia. As we walked deeper into the grove we spotted a few insects flitting around high above our heads. Occasionally we’d see a pair mating on the ground, so you had to watch your step. This was thrilling enough, but when we reached the central part of the grove the insects became more numerous until we saw that the sunny side of the trunks and branches were covered in basking butterflies clustering together.

Others flew delicately and lightly, dipping and flitting like little orange paper fairies magically held aloft against the clear blue sky.

I am really caterpillar-phobic, but such was the magic of this place, I even managed to admire a stripey larva munching its way through a milkweek plant.

Photos: Moth Clark

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