Monarch Butterflies, in Berkeley?!

For years, George and I have trekked to Albany Hill to count the monarch butterflies for the annual Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count, started by the Monarch Program in 1997. The largest clusters we’ve seen at Albany Hill arrived in 2011.

Monarchs wintering on Albany Hill

Monarchs wintering on Albany Hill in 2011, copyright Heidi Rand

Although numbers decreased for the past few years, early reports for 2015 from citizen spotters are markedly up. Most exciting locally is the discovery of a new clustering site in Berkeley’s Aquatic Park! The news quickly spread from hard-core monarch researchers to locals who had never seen the splendor of monarchs clustering, reported in an excellent article by Elaine Miller Bond on the Berkeleyside news site.

George and I rushed to see them yesterday. We had been told they were near the 14th basket of the disc-golf course, an easy walk from the Park’s north parking lot. Even without seeing many monarchs flying around in the clear winter sky, we couldn’t miss the spot where gawkers gathered beneath an ash tree with cameras and binoculars pointed up.

Monarch butterflies clustering at Aquatic Park

We estimated at least a thousand butterflies were clustering, and figured possibly double that many were flying around and would join the clusters for warmth and protection at sunset.

Monarch butterflies clustering at Aquatic Park

We watched for an hour as monarchs danced; leaving clusters to fly about and then return. Entranced, we marveled and shared information with people gathered there about planting milkweed, raising butterflies, and other local overwintering sites.

Monarch butterflies clustering at Aquatic Park

A closeup shows most of the cluster with wings closed, and one female (the male has two large spots near the veins at the bottom wing) with her wings open.

Monarch butterflies clustering at Aquatic Park

Have you seen any monarch butterflies in your garden or at an overwintering site? Do you grow milkweed or provide nectaring plants for butterflies and birds? For more information, and photos and stories about our adventures watching and raising monarch butterflies, see my prior blog posts:

Monarch Butterfly Mating Dance

More Monarch Butterflies

A Monarch Butterfly Visits the Garden

Monarch Butterfly Emerges

Monarch caterpillar to chrysalis

First monarch caterpillar emerges

Monarch eggs in the garden!

A Very Butterfly Day

A Butterfly Born on the 4th of July

Finally, if you’re a local, I’d like to cordially invite you to my Holiday Gift Sale and Art Show, the first two weekends of December. I have lots of monarch and other butterfly-related photos and artwork and crafts that I make from my nature photographs. Click here for all the deets.
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Butterflies & Barbie at the Albany Library

Together again for the first time! Christina Van Horn, creator of the amazing Barbie Display – last spotted in October in the El Cerrito Library display case, and I with an expanded version of the butterfly display I had there in June, have teamed up and taken our combined show on the road – actually just a few miles down San Pablo Avenue to the Albany Library.

Barbie and Butterflies

Barbie and Butterflies at the Albany Library

Christina’s “Say Hello to Barbie!” is a loving tribute to an icon, a playful and creative reminder for us to reach back to that part of ourselves that we may have packed away when we put our toys and dolls aside. The power of Barbie to evoke emotions was evident when several people stopped to share their memories of the dolls as we were putting the display up.

Say Hello to Barbie!

Say Hello to Barbie!

Christina has dressed and accessorized seven Barbies from a range of years. The variety of the garments in which Christina chose to dress the Barbies is amazing. And check out the great hairstyles! Christina even constructed and sewed the sumptuous bed and bedding in which ‘middle-aged’ Barbie lies, reading. She also describes Barbie’s history, and discusses her impact, including citing controversies, which, she notes, often involve parodies of Barbie and her ‘lifestyles.’

Butterflies in Your Garden

Butterflies in Your Garden

One of my aims for my part of the display is to show people that they can garden to attract and nurture butterflies in their gardens.  Along with some of my photos of the life cycle of the monarch butterfly and of the anise swallowtail butterflyand my artwork and crafts from my butterfly photos, I’ve put together lists with information about local butterflies, their food sources and helpful plants.  I’m attaching the lists to this post as pdfs for you to read and print out for your own use.  If you want to copy them for any other use, please contact me for permission.

It’s great timing to have the display in Albany right now – the monarch butterflies have returned in great numbers to the shelter of the eucalyptus trees on Albany Hill.  This is a photograph I took two weeks ago there.

Monarchs wintering on Albany Hill

Monarchs wintering on Albany Hill

If you have any questions about Barbie or butterflies, just let Christina, George, and me know in the comments.  We hope you can make it to the display!

Here are the pdfs I mentioned above — click on the bolded text to download each pdf.

First, a partial list of Bay Area butterflies, with my photographs of a few of the butterflies:

Bay Area Butterflies

Second, a partial list of larval host plants for local butterflies. These are the most critical plants, because the butterflies need them to lay their eggs on. When the eggs hatch, they eat the plant to survive until they change into chrysalises:

Gardening to Attract Butterflies: Larval Hosts

Third, nectar plants for butterflies. This is also a partial list to give you some ideas about what you can plant to provide nectar for Bay Area butterflies. Most adult butterflies feed on flower nectar. Not all flowers provide nectar, so if you really want to help the butterflies, try to include as many nectar-providing plants as possible. The butterflies will waste energy visiting flowers that don’t provide nectar. And of course butterflies are great pollinators, and as they feed on the nectar they carry pollen from previously visited flowers:

Bay Area Butterfly Nectar Plants

George also wrote a wonderful description of the evolution of our garden and yard into a wildlife habitat:

Killing our lawn, by George McRae

Butterflies in Your Garden

My butterfly display at the El Cerrito Library  is up! It’s in the glass case at the front of the library.  It will be there from June 5th through mid-July.

One of my aims is to show people how to garden to attract and nurture butterflies in their gardens.  Along with some of my photos of the life cycle of the monarch butterfly and of the anise swallowtail butterflyand my artwork and crafts from my butterfly photos, I’ve put together some lists with information about local butterflies, their food sources and helpful plants.  I’m attaching the lists to this post as pdfs for you to read and print out for your own use.  If you want to copy them for any other use, please contact me for permission.

First, a partial list of Bay Area butterflies, with my photographs of a few of the butterflies:

Bay Area Butterflies

Second, a partial list of larval host plants for local butterflies. These are the most critical plants, because the butterflies need them to lay their eggs on. When the eggs hatch, they eat the plant to survive until they change into chrysalises:

Gardening to Attract Butterflies: Larval Hosts

Third, nectar plants for butterflies. This is also a partial list to give you some ideas about what you can plant to provide nectar for Bay Area butterflies. Most adult butterflies feed on flower nectar. Not all flowers provide nectar, so if you really want to help the butterflies, try to include as many nectar-providing plants as possible. The butterflies will waste energy visiting flowers that don’t provide nectar. And of course butterflies are great pollinators, and as they feed on the nectar they carry pollen from previously visited flowers:

Bay Area Butterfly Nectar Plants

Fourth, I compiled a bibliography of books related to butterflies, native plants and gardening that are available in the El Cerrito Library.  This is the link:

Books about Butterflies and Native Plants at the El Cerrito Library

Last, but not least, George wrote a wonderful description of the evolution of our garden and yard into a wildlife habitat:

Killing our lawn, by George McRae

If you have any questions, just let me know in the comments.  Hope you can make it to the display.