Letter From Estela Romero: Monarchs' Triumphant Return

By Estela Romero, Environmental Educator, Angangueo, Michoacán, México


Published: 10/27/2020

Dear friends,

The past week seemed to progress at a normal pace. Monarchs were just a few hundred kilometers from the overwintering Sanctuaries. And then a massive arrival of monarchs! Amazing.

At the beginning of the week, we were all waiting for the monarchs to arrive. We suspect that we could see the first monarch butterflies arrive by the end of this week which would give us enough time to plan our “Day of the Dead” celebrations.

Sanctuaries facilities at both Sierra Chincua and El Rosario continue to be closed as staff prepare for the grand opening in about three weeks. The flag poles for monarch sponsoring countries –Canada, United States and México—remain yet to be erected. Guides, cooks, guards and all personnel assigned to work at the Sanctuaries now have been called to attend special training in our nearest city on protection and hygiene regulations to greet our visitors. Most visitor activities at the Sanctuaries will take place in the open air. 

On Sunday, October 25th, Natalia, Mayte, Juan Pablo, Mariela, Mario and Gabriel, elementary and middle school students living near Sierra Chincua Sanctuary reported zero observations on their monarch arrival map. 

Natalia predicted: “They should be coming soon. They are not too far now. Maybe Thursday or Friday on the 30th? Any day now!

Juan Pablo quickly warned: “Pshhh, lets’ not be loud! They need silence to recognize their areas. Let them hear the noise of our water creeks and get the smell and color of our flowers; every signal shall guide them to their Oyamel trees.” 

On Monday, October 26th, the situation changed.

All exclaimed: “Today is the Day! Today is the start! There they are!”

We all watched as the monarchs quietly but determinedly glided into view, appearing in our bright blue sky! Other reports started coming in.

Rogelio “All of a sudden, I took my sheep out this morning to graze at around 10am and I saw the first one. A minute later two —then three more and so on! Now they do not cease passing by every minute. There are arriving in small groups from two to four butterflies, not more. This is only the start, wait for the week to go on, this is just the start of their arrival.” Rogelio registered the first monarch butterflies of the season in our monitoring map. 

As I came closer to the entrance of El Rosario Sanctuary, children came out to ask if I had the monarch monitoring map with me.  

Here… there… wait… wait a little bit… look, look…!” Heads and necks twisted left to right, and toward the sky to make sure the monarchs had truly arrived. They all shouted for me to take photos of these first arrivals. It was hard to capture the flight of the Monarch with a camera. The sun was so intense. 

They are the leading spirits of our Dead heading forward; grandpas, grandmas… they know the way by heart. They have the wisdom. They have the knowledge. Just look at them!” older children would all exclaim as the little ones would steadily listen. They registered dozens on the arrival map.

This is the earliest we have seen monarchs arrive. We did not expect their arrival so soon. This arrival date is certainly earlier than previous seasons.  

On October 27th, the arrival becomes a massive arrival! During the day, it was quiet. Then in the late afternoon, almost at sunset, village residents from the El Cerrito site confirmed the massive arrival had begun. El Cerrito is located at the middle of both Sanctuaries and has traditionally been a favorite resting and nectaring spot for a large portion of monarchs before they head into the Sanctuaries.

Exclamations abounded: “There the tiny clusters”! “Huuurrraaa”! “One hundred”, “No, two hundred, I would say”, “Maybe several hundreds now.” 

Soon we will be celebrating our “Day of the Dead” which is about mysticism, our faith, rediscovery, reemergence, and reconnecting with our ancestral culture, ancestral traditions and our cosmology. 

The opening of the season is here.