We arrived at the Oceano Campground in Pismo Beach at 2 p.m. on December 10. After setting up camp we quickly drove to see the overwintering monarch population before dark at the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove just north of the campground on Highway 1. A major winter storm was arriving the following day with high winds and heavy rains in the forecast.The recently completed Thanksgiving Count for this site reported a total of 30,000 monarchs this year and we were hoping to see the normal distribution of monarchs at this location before the high winds began the following day.
We also learned from docents at the grove that the grove was experiencing more monarch breeding with larvae and pupae still present on nearby milkweed. In fact there was a monarch in "J" hanging on the side of a milkweed as well as a chrysalis on a table for everyone to see.
We found them taking to the air trying to relocate to a more favorable location and a strong gust would toss some into nearby trees or a few even to the ground. Their storm-tossed flight was halted only temporarily as the monarchs were persistent in their determination to find a safe port to weather the storm.
By afternoon many of the monarchs had left the safety of the inner tree circle and moved to the
It was 52 degrees and cloudy at 9 a.m. when we walked out to the nearby monarch site at Oceano campground. Most of the monarchs were tossed to the ground with only about one quarter still clinging to tree branches above.
By 9:30 a.m. it was partly cloudy and we returned to the Pismo Beach Monarch Grove. Temperature was still at 52 degrees as we arrived. No one was there. Branches and leaves now covered the walkway. The monarch clusters in the tree circle were greatly reduced, although we did find smaller numbers of monarchs lower in the trees. It took a few moments to adjust your eyes to see the monarchs covering the ground.
shiver, warming their chilled muscles. One by one, they lifted off to the safety of nearby trees.
But what happened to the monarchs that decided to move to the north side of the cove? We walked towards the bridge and found the creek swollen, brushing the bottom of the bridge. Small streams were spilling over the walkway and we looked for downed branches to access the area where the monarchs moved the day before.
We made several trips to both the Oceano and Pismo Beach sites during the day watching the monarchs recover and once again cover the trees with orange wings warming in the rising sun. By nightfall all was well and the monarchs were once again tucked in to their traditional branches in the groves. The storm offered us a unique opportunity to witness the monarch's storm survival strategies.