JAUNTS : Return of Monarchs Provides a Royal Sight : The epic journeys of these beautiful butterflies to their wintering grounds is one of the great wonders of nature.


They’re here again. No, not the holidays--the monarch butterflies. Those intrepid travelers that fly south for the winter have begun holing up in a few choice spots along Ventura County’s coast.

They come every year, migrating from colder climates to the same groves of eucalyptus trees. There they wait out the winter, congregating by the hundreds in clusters of brilliant orange and black.

It’s a sight to see, and the story of their migration is the stuff of miracles. If you take a 90-minute walking tour sponsored by the city of Ventura, you can find out all about them. During December, the city has four walks scheduled. The first two are this weekend, on Saturday and Sunday.


The naturalist-led walks are in Ventura’s Camino Real Park, one of a handful of spots along the coast that the butterflies come back to year after year. They laze away the winter there in the barranca that borders the park.

In past years, the park has attracted many thousands of monarchs, according to experts who study the butterflies. But the last couple of years the turnout has been slimmer. It’s not much better this year.

“It’s about the same as it was last year, which is better than it was two years ago,” said Walter Sakai, a Santa Monica College biology instructor who tracks butterfly colonies in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. In 1992, only 10% of the usual migratory flock made the trek from colder climates.

No one knows for sure why the numbers have dipped here and elsewhere. Sakai thinks one possibility is that big storms in the spring the last few years may have wiped out a bunch of the monarchs.

Another reason, he said, is that development has stripped away the milkweed plant which is the favored cuisine of the monarch caterpillar.

“We’re starting a word-of-mouth grass-roots movement,” Sakai said, urging people to plant milkweed around their homes. A patch of 10 to 15 plants could attract 40 to 50 butterflies each October, he said.


Still, the survival skills of the monarchs are astounding. During the summer, the butterflies can be found all over the United States and even southern Canada. In late October or early November, they start their migratory trek, flying up to 80 miles a day at speeds that approach 30 m.p.h.

In a typical year, millions flutter to Southern California and Baja. Those east of the Rocky Mountains head for a small spot of mountains in Mexico.

After the mating season in January and February, the monarchs begin the flight back. The miraculous part is this: Because they only live six to 10 months, they make the journey once, puzzling scientists who aren’t sure how the offspring find the same wintering spots year after year.

In Ventura County, there are about a dozen layover sites, but most are on private property. One of the best public viewing locations is Camino Real Park.


* WHAT: Monarch butterfly walks.

* WHEN: Saturday and Sunday, and Dec. 10 and 11; all walks are from 10 to 11:30 a.m.

* WHERE: Camino Real Park, Dean Drive and Varsity Street, Ventura. Group meets between the tennis courts and the barranca.

* HOW MUCH: $3.

* FYI: 658-4726. Preregistration is required.

* ETC: Children on the walk must be at least 6 years old. Children 12 and younger must be accompanied by an adult.