Here’s an unusual sight in early April: a Monarch butterfly. It was feeding alongside bumblebees on the nectar of the Pride of Madeira (Echium) on the southwest side of the park, near the parking circle at the end of Spinnaker Way.
Monarchs are in deep trouble this year. There’s been “an alarming, precipitous drop in the western monarch butterfly population in California this winter,” according to a January article by Peter Fimrite, science editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. Even in good years, they’re usually in this part of California only for the winter, and most leave in February, with a few lagging into March. Seeing one here in early April is almost sensational.
I was stalking the Pride of Madeira, hoping for a hummingbird. I was jolted as if by an electric flash when I saw a large orange butterfly. The insect and I played tag for a while. Just as I got set up to snap a shot from one side of this abundant flowering bush, it fluttered to the other side, with me racing after it. And repeat. But I managed to get a few seconds of video and several snapshots of this beautiful creature. So unexpected was the sight that I did not recognize what kind of butterfly it was; I had to get home and check the web to get a firm ID. I had never seen one in the park before.
Checking the amazing inventory of plants in the park I don’t see milkweed (Asclepias) growing here anywhere. Milkweed is the Monarch’s main source of life support early on. But once fully grown, the Monarch will take nectar from a large variety of flowering plants.
It was fascinating to watch the insect’s long and flexible proboscis dip into the Echium’s flowers. The Monarch worked more slowly than the bumblebees that were also working the plant in considerable numbers. But possibly the Monarch was able to penetrate more deeply into the flower. Like the bees, the Monarch helps the plant by carrying pollen from one flower to another so that it can set seed and reproduce.