Thursday, March 12, 2015

Monarch Butterfly Grove - Pismo Beach, California

Monarch Butterflies - Pismo Beach, California
At the Pismo State Beach North Beach Campground along Highway 1 in Pismo Beach, California is an incredible sight that's very easy to miss. Annually from October through February thousands of Monarch butterflies cluster in the leaves of Eucalyptus and Monterey Pine trees.

Monarch butterflies are easily identified by their bright orange colors. They form clusters up in the tree branches, which gives them warmth and security. Each year they come to the same locations, and the grove at Pismo Beach is one of the largest Monarch gatherings.

The variety of Monarch that spends winter at Pismo has a six-month life expectancy. Most Monarchs live only six weeks. Those that live at the grove will not return when they leave in March. However, their offspring will find their way back in October.
Butterfly Sky - Pismo Beach, California
Parking is along Highway 1 a mile or so north of Grand Avenue. The highway is a busy two-lane road and the butterflies are on the west side, so it's probably better to find parking while traveling south (if you can). It was very crowded when I visited in February.

There's a wide path that leads visitors on a short walk from the highway to the butterfly grove. At first you don't see any butterflies. Then you notice one or two flying around. After that you realize there are a bunch flying high overhead. Finally you realize what you thought were leaves in the trees are actually clusters of Monarchs.

There are volunteers that provide information on the butterflies. Several small telescopes are set up so that visitors can get a closer view of the butterflies. There's also a small gift shop.
Butterfly Tourists - Pismo Beach, California
The butterflies are difficult to see. Young children, especially, will have a hard time noticing them. The telescopes are helpful, but each one had a wait and not all of them worked (or worked well). I definitely recommend bringing a pair of binoculars with you, particularly if you have kids.

Photographing the butterflies proved to be a difficult task. A telephoto lens is a requirement. I used a 55-200mm lens (on a camera with an APS-C sized sensor) and found that it was not long enough for what I wanted to capture. Lighting is also difficult. It was foggy and overcast when I visited, which gave me diffused light, but the sky behind the trees was still much brighter than the butterflies hiding in the forest canopy. I also recommend bringing a tripod.

If you find yourself near Pismo Beach sometime between late-Oactober and February, this is a must-see. It's really an amazing site! Just be sure to bring a pair of binoculars and a telephoto lens, and be careful near the parking area, since it's right off of a busy road.

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