I can find nothing comparable to the mesmerizing and unbelievable migration of Monarch butterflies, five generations in one year. January is the time to see them in the Bay Area as they end their long-winged flight, up to 3,000 miles, in California from northern reaches, as far away as Canada. Monarchs east of the Rockies overwinter in Mexico.
I saw them on the last day of the year in all their fluttering glory, clustering in the thousands at Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont, California. The farm has a protected grove of eucalyptus trees that draws the butterflies naturally even though the trees are not native to California. The trees were brought and planted here in the mid-1800s by Australians.
The 19th century working farm, part of the East Bay Regional Park District, is open to the public year-round and hosts experts who describe facts about butterfly life. The ranger leads you to a greenhouse where you can see larvae, caterpillars, chrysalises and adult butterflies and then takes you to the grove. Or you can just walk directly to the grove yourself and use the provided telescopes to see the insects up close. Don’t miss out. By March, the females will be gone to find milkweed on which to lay their eggs. About two weeks later, they die, and survival of the species depends on the hatching of the larvae as the circle of life continues.