South County Beat: Monarch Grove Aflutter with Activity

On a beautiful, sunny morning earlier this month, the monarchs were all aflutter in the Monarch Grove in Pismo Beach.

It’s not quite mating season, but due to the warm weather, couples were floating together in the air and pairing up on the ground. Mating season reaches its peak around Valentine’s Day. The Monarch Grove is active from November to March 1.

Docents John Stilwell and Terri Jackson at the Monarch Grove in Pismo Beach.

Five generations of butterflies migrate up and down California each year.

Docents Terri Jackson of Arroyo Grande, Robin Knapp of Grover Beach and John Stilwell of Pismo Beach and volunteer Gizella Miskolczi of Nipomo were on hand to explain the happenings in the grove. They belong to the Pismo docents, who in turn are part of the Central Coast docents, who fall under the California State Parks docents and volunteers program. There are 70 volunteers and docents at the grove during the season.

There is a three-weekend docent-training program offered at Montaña de Oro, the Morro Bay Museum of Natural History, the Monarch Grove or the Pismo Nature Center in Oceano. Docents can give talks, lead school groups, and lead walks and hikes. Volunteers receive a shorter training session and can work in the butterfly grove trailer, the Museum of Natural Histor and the Nature Center and as “rovers” to assist visitors.

“People always ask us, ‘Do you get paid for doing this?’ I tell them ‘We get paid, but not in monetary units,’ ” said Terri, a former nursing supervisor. And from Robin, retired from a law career: “To me, it’s just a joyous place to share with the public.”

Gizella, who is retired from the corporate world and now does some scheduling, adds, “I wanted to volunteer to do something and fell in love with this place and the people — best job I ever had.”

This year, there is a new garden at the grove. Docents and volunteers have planted five oak trees, poppies, silver dune lupine and more. The dew in the garden hydrates the butterflies while the flowers provide nectar.

The area has been fenced off by State Parks, which also supplied the trees and plants.

Sadly, the butterfly population has diminished significantly over the years. This is likely due to the destruction of its habitat and milkweed, which the monarchs need for laying eggs. The docents encourage people to plant milkweed, the only plant on which the monarchs lay eggs.

John, retired from United Airlines, said “Butterflies brought me into this.” One day, he was in the grove and heard a huge roar. Thirty bikers on Harley Davidsons stopped at the grove. The riders looked “scruffy,” and John was a little uneasy. But by the end of his talk, they all applauded.

“Everybody loves butterflies,” John said.

Monarch Butterfly Day is Feb. 5 from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Children are encouraged to dress as butterflies or as other animals. They will receive butterfly buttons and stickers. Activities will include a children’s art table, a butterfly story station, quilting and tattoo stations, a State Parks exhibit, docent talks, and a table with cake, punch and balloons.

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