I recently arrived home from EarthKind’s #HarmonyHero’s Year Of The Monarch award trip. In short summary: it was the trip of a lifetime – for all of us!
Kari visits the Central Mexican mountains, winter home to hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies with 5 eco educators.
This Natural Habitat Adventure trip to the Kingdom Of The Monarchs was beautiful, magical, and more spectacular than I could have ever imagined, or my guests imagined.
Before I get into the amazingness of it all, I need to praise NHA [National Habitat Adventures] and Dr Court Whelan, and Karel Beets, for curating such a safe and wonder-full adventure full of discovery, conservation education, local history & culture, expert a photo lessons, and even a school visit for our group of 5 teachers! The guides at NHA are some if the best in the world.
Dr Court Whelan, Director of Sustainability for NatHab, Entomologist, Author of The Monarch Migration – A journey through the Monarch butterly’s winter home.
The monarch butterfly is considered by many as the most fitting icon for nature, because of it’s frailty, and at the same time, it’s resilience. It’s migration event each Fall not only displays resilience, it’s also magical as hundreds of millions of monarchs take to the sky for a 2500 mile journey South to the Mexican Fir Forrest for the winter. It’s a still a mystery how they do it, being so tiny and fragile. Not only that, it can take generations to complete, and somehow each one finds the same trees as their ancestors, driven only by DNA and the scent of their ancestors left behind. Even more amazing is that each monarch overwinters with less than 1 gram of stored energy to pull from after their 6 month semi-hibernation (called dispose) to make the flight back. (I secretly hoped this trip might magically gift me with a pandemic sized dose of this tiny animals resilience)
[Factoid: The Monarchs started making this migration journey some 20-30 thousand years ago, and no one really knows why. Only the NorthAmerican monarch butterfly does this. There’s still much to learn. (https://www.birdsandblooms.com/gardening/attracting-butterflies/monarch-migration-magic/ ; Butterfly Travel | Mexico Ecotourism | Natural Habitat Adventures (nathab.com)]
We began our hike each day to see the monarchs on horseback for for first 1-2 miles, then took to a dirt trail, hiking another 2-3 miles to an elevation of 10-11,000 feet. It was cool and humid, sometimes dark as the dense cover of trees engulfed us. Sometimes, open and flowing with grasses and wildflowers, hummingbirds, and bees. This mountainous Mexico, isn’t what most people think of Mexico. After an hour or two, we’d spot a monarch, then another, then hundreds, then millions, each of them clinging to their own fir needle.The discovery of it all was otherworldly- for everyone.
It felt special to all of us to be there as they were becoming more active, starting to prepare for their journey back to Northern USA/Canada border.
[factoid: WWF has helped to reforest the area season since 2012. Planting 13 million trees since then.]
These trees serve as both an umbrella and a blanket to the tiny, yet resilient monarch who must constantly monitor its temperature and humidity, and steer clear of its 3 predators which include the Black-backed Oriole, Black-eared Mouse, Black-headed grosbeak to survive. Not only do the Monarchs find these trees worth a trip of a thousand + miles, I also found the trees a magnet to my attention. It was a magical feeling being around them that I can’t yet articulate, other than to say that I’m feeling more resilient, more joyful, and my heart is beating with a deeper sense of wonder and positivity towards the future than I had the week before. Plus, I’m wondering if perhaps Harry Potters magic wand was carved from a fir tree?
In this image, our 2 Harmony Hero teachers, Kim Aman ( grand prize winner) and my guest, Tracy Matel, (1st runner up) presented Michochan elementary school principle with thier students letters, colored artwork, and a mural fit for the big annual festival that celebrates the monarchs spring migration home. All the locals were getting ready for the celebration as we left, and fun was in the air.
photo detail: From left to right: Lauren Budenski, Leigh Ann Mewhirter, myself, Tracy Matel, and Kim Aman.
Another favorite memory on this trip was when a local land owner found 3 tagged monarchs, AT HIS FEET. Out of hundreds of millions of butterflies, 3 landed at his feet. The local landowners are compensated by Monarch Watch for turning these in to help scientists learn more about the monarchs migration journey, and conservation efforts.
[factoid: these tags help scientists identify the family and locale of each butterfly while in the USA. (show pic) Dr Fred Erkhart, from the university of Toronto, was the Originator of the tagging community, he’s also the one who discovered in 1975 the 12 colonies who live here. ]
In closing, I’m thankful for the creativity my fellow EarthKinders displayed in coming up with our 2021 Year of the monarch campaign; for the eco teachers across the US who instill appreciation and wonder @nature with their hands-on curriculums; to the Entomologists who volunteered to judge the hundreds of applicants for our winner, Dr Janet Kintz Early, Dr Janet Hurley, Dr Court Whelan, and attorney Trevor Hance; to the NWF dignitary who joined us the first day, on behalf of his organization whom helps protect this sanctuary from highly organized illegal logging, and insure its landowners benefit from
Ecotourism. I appreciate you all.
For more info go here: EarthKind’s Harmony Hero Award – Meet Our 2021 Heroes