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Adopt a Colony Project

Journey North

April 21, 2021
Letter From Ellen Sharp: Adopt a Colony Project
We’re happy to share a little snippet of our Adopt a Colony project with you. Ana, Pato and I produced ten mixed media e-magazines from November until March, and this clip comes from a longer piece that profiled Butterflies & Their People forest guardian Emilio Velazquez.

Early Departure

Journey North

March 10, 2021
Letter From Ellen Sharp: Early Departure
The annual report on monarch population came out last week, and the numbers are not good: there are 26% fewer monarchs overwintering in Mexico than last year and rates of deforestation in the protected area quadrupled. Many conservation leaders reacted to the news by calling for more collaboration. WWF Mexico director Jorge Rickards pointed out that the monarch migration itself provides a model of collaboration. Indeed, monarchs have no queen and no drones. Their behavior is all about the survival of the species, not the individual, and it would behoove us to learn from them.

Collaborative Clusters To Protect Monarchs

Journey North

March 3, 2021
Letter From Ellen Sharp: Collaborative Clusters To Protect Monarchs
The annual report on monarch population came out last week, and the numbers are not good: there are 26% fewer monarchs overwintering in Mexico than last year and rates of deforestation in the protected area quadrupled. Many conservation leaders reacted to the news by calling for more collaboration. WWF Mexico director Jorge Rickards pointed out that the monarch migration itself provides a model of collaboration. Indeed, monarchs have no queen and no drones. Their behavior is all about the survival of the species, not the individual, and it would behoove us to learn from them.

Remigrating or Shifting Sanctuaries?

Journey North

February 24, 2021
Letter From Ellen Sharp: Remigrating or Shifting Sanctuaries?
It’s the time of year when people start asking about when the population numbers of this season’s eastern monarch migration will be released. These figures, derived from December and January surveys of colony size, are never made public until the monarchs have begun remigration. And now they have already begun their long, staggered departure.

The Solace of Butterflies

Journey North

February 3, 2021
Letter From Ellen Sharp: The Solace of Butterflies
On his day off, Ranger Pato was checking on a plot of land his father-in-law owns in Macheros when he heard a commotion next door. “Please help, he’s really bad off,” a neighbor called to him. Half hidden by his panicked mother and grandmother, Pato could just make out the limp form of a 13-year-old boy. Pato’s heart lurched—he wanted to help, it’s what neighbors do. But he didn’t want to spend a half hour in his car driving people who might have Covid-19 to the nearest doctor. Just then, another neighbor rolled by in a pick-up truck, and the desperate family loaded themselves into its bed and sped away.

Climate Change

Journey North

January 20, 2021
Letter From Ellen Sharp: Climate Change
Over the course of seven butterfly seasons, I got so many emails asking, “When is the best time to see the butterflies?” that I wrote a blog about the subject and started answering by sending the link. The blog explained that while in the past one would have seen the most monarch flight activity in February, thanks to climate change, that was no longer the case. Warmer weather across the season means you can see incredible flight displays at any time of the year. So come visit in November, December or January, and avoid the crowds, I urged my would-be guests.

A Wide-angle View to Help Monarchs

Journey North

January 6, 2021
Letter From Ellen Sharp: A Wide-angle View to Help Monarchs
In December, the US Fish and Wildlife Service shared a long-awaited decision on whether or not monarch butterflies should be included on the endangered species list. The agency determined that while the monarch migration was indeed endangered, they would not be granted protected status at this time.

Challenges and Changes

Journey North

December 16, 2020
Letter From Ellen Sharp: Challenges and Changes
There are two things I wanted to share with you this week. The first item: Cerro Pelon Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary was featured in the latest issue of National Geographic. The last time Cerro Pelon appeared in these pages was 44 years ago, when this magazine published the cover story “DISCOVERED: The Monarch’s Mexican Haven.” No specific locations were mentioned in that piece: its author was concerned about the impact of uncontrolled tourism on the butterflies.

Ebbs and Flows

Journey North

December 9, 2020
Letter From Ellen Sharp: Ebbs and Flows
We are now 48 days into the butterfly season, and it’s time for a new map of Cerro Pelon’s monarch butterfly colonies. Butterflies are no longer roosting where they first alighted in Carditos. The guardians hypothesize that it’s been too windy for them there this season. And I keep waiting to report the date that the mercurial La Lagunita agglomeration is no more. Meanwhile, the larger El Llano colony has stabilized at about 25 trees. Strangely, while La Lagunita keeps shrinking, the size of El Llano stays the same. Where are the butterflies going?

A Reminder From the Butterflies

Journey North

November 25, 2020
Letter From Ellen Sharp: A Reminder From the Butterflies
I don’t have any Thanksgiving plans and I’m having some pangs about it. Of course, where I live, the last Thursday of November is just a day that falls between the Mexican Revolution on November 20th and the Virgin of Guadalupe’s birthday on December 12th. No matter: ever since I’ve moved to rural Mexico, I’ve used Thanksgiving Day as an excuse to celebrate the reopening of the butterfly sanctuaries and our first influx of guests by hosting a free-range turkey feast simmered in my mother-in-law’s signature red mole sauce.

First Virtual Tour at Cerro Pelon Monarch Sanctuary

Journey North

November 17, 2020
Letter From Ellen Sharp: First Virtual Tour at Cerro Pelon Monarch Sanctuary
Our sanctuary is closed to visitors this season, and so we decide to film our first virtual tour, given by my sister-in-law Ana, who’s an experienced butterfly guide. When our 12-year-old nephew Alex finds out we’re going, he wants to come along. Then his younger brother Carlos wants to come too. As we are leaving our yard, their younger cousin Ahren runs after us shouting, “Tia! Can I come too?” We walk slowly to the entry to give Ahren time to throw cookies, fruit and water into a back pack, and then we start walking up the mountain together.

“We Were in Love with the Forest”

Forest History Society

November 12, 2020
“We Were in Love with the Forest”: Protecting Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve
This blog post by Ellen Sharp and Will Wright is a working version of an article to be published in the Spring/Fall 2020 issue of our magazine Forest History Today. We are making it available beforehand because of the time sensitivity of the conservation issue it discusses. You can download a draft version of this post to read offline here. The issue is that illegal logging in the overwintering habitat of monarch butterflies in Mexico, which appears to be increasing due to the impact of the pandemic on the tourist-based local economy, threatens their existence. The personal history of some of the rangers who patrol those areas may hold the key to the insect’s survival.

Interesting Behavior at Cerro Pelon

Journey North

November 11, 2020
Letter From Ellen Sharp: Interesting Behavior at Cerro Pelon
Butterfly behavior is confounding us this season. As any local can tell you, the monarch colony on Cerro Pelon alternates sides of the mountain every year. Every other season it’s an El Llano year, as the butterflies begin by roosting high above this majestic meadow on the southeastern side of Cerro Pelon’s peak. In other years, they occupy Carditos, an area southwest of the peak and above a meadow called La Lagunita. Last season was an El Llano year, and so this season, of course, should be a Carditos year.

First Arrivals Spotted

Journey North

November 4, 2020
Letter From Ellen Sharp: First Arrivals Spotted
November 1st found the El Capulin cemetery eerily empty. An official sign at the gate required the application of hand gel, the use of masks, and visits of 15 minutes or less. There was no gel on hand, only a smattering of masks in use, and the one significant gathering, a new widow and her adult children surrounded by coolers and a sound system, looked like they weren’t leaving anytime soon.

Mexico's Monarch Migration

Saving Earth Magazine: Fall 2020

Clusters in Carditos taking to the air as temperatures break 13 degrees Celcius. Photography: Pato Moreno.
Oel Moreno films the beginning of remigration in La Canada on Cerro Pelon, February 29, 2020. Photography: Ellen Sharp.
Monarchs need an intact forest canopy to protect them from the elements. Photography: Pato Moreno.
Since starting work as a guardian for Butterflies & Their People, Leonel Contreras, has moved out of his inlaws' house and built a separate home for his family. Photography: Ellen Sharp.
Guests of JM Butterfly B&B picnicking in El Llano de Tres Gobernadores in January 2020. The colony clusters above this meadow every other season. Photography: Ellen Sharp.

Videos

San Miguel de Allende Rotary Club Presentation October 20, 2020

Online Butterfly Festival - Point Pelee & Parks Canada

Monarchs in Mexico: November through March

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