Photography Trip to see the Monarch Butterflies
In January we made a special photography trip to see the amazing sight of the migration of millions of monarch butterflies wintering high up in the mountains of Central Mexico, about 2 hours’ drive from Mexico City.
We chose to go during the week when the Piedra Herrada Butterfly Sanctuary near Valle de Bravo isn’t so busy and made sure to pick a day when the sun would be shining so we could see the butterflies flying around, warmed by the sunshine.
The hike up the mountain was 3.5 kms long and took us right to where the colonies of mariposas monarca were roosting in the oyamel trees around 3,800 meters high. Our guide, Umberto, showed us the way, explaining how to spot the male and female butterflies (the male has two black spots on its rear wings) and told us a bit about the incredible migration of these tiny creatures. Because they cannot survive the harsh winters of Canada and the United States, they fly thousands of kilometers south down to these mountains in Mexico, arriving in November each year. When the warmer weather comes, they set off in March on their long journey back up north.
The amazing thing is that there are 4 generations of monarchs in a year. Those born between spring and summer (3 generations) live for about 5 weeks each. But the butterflies of the 4th generation, born in September, live 8-9 months enabling them to make the long journey down south to winter in Mexico and then return north in March. This generation is known as the “Super Generation” or “Methuselah Generation” for its longevity and are the ones we saw. Incredibly, four generations later, these monarchs somehow make their way back to the same few clumps of trees in Mexico as their great grandfathers did the year before.
When we arrived at the top, we could see huge clumps of butterflies hanging on the branches and on the trunks of the trees. Until the sun shone on them, they were a brown-beige color but as soon as the sunshine reached their branch, they opened their orange wings and begin flying around in search of nectar. That was when the fun began for us and we spent about an hour photographing them on bushes, on the ground, flitting around above us and even got a few selfies.
We were fortunate that there were few other visitors and we had the place to ourselves and the weather was sunny. Back at the bottom of the mountain, we ate our sandwiches and fruit under the watchful eyes of a pack of hungry dogs. At the Butterfly Sanctuary, there are toilets, a couple of small souvenir stalls, horses and guides for those who prefer four legs to two legs and some very simple eating places. We all agreed that it had been a magical experience and we took back plenty of great photos of our trip.