Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Butterflies at Point Pelee on the shores of Lake Erie
       As any nature lover will know, migrations of varying magnitude have taken place throughout time all over the world. In Alaska and Canada about 1.2 million caribou migrate annually in the spring to their breeding grounds on the Arctic tundra. In Africa the wildebeest, a meandering assortment of clownish buffoons, trek in unimaginable numbers across the Serengeti plains to the Masai Mara. In the distant past when buffalo were a force of nature in North America, these magnificent animals during their migration, were a source of food for the various tribes who eagerly awaited their passing each year.
       When contemplating migration, for me, the most miraculous migration of all is that of the Monarch butterfly. Each year in September, butterflies in the millions gather at Point Pelee on the shores of Lake Erie in south-western Canada. When the conditions are right – cool days and gentle winds – colourful clouds of these minute creatures rise en masse, flutter around in a distracted manner for awhile, then, as if programmed by an unseen hand, set off on the most hazardous and epic journey of their brief lives.

       Their destination is the same each year, a predestined location in the mountains of Mexico. To reach it they must cross vast expanses of water and land, and all the while surviving on the tiniest sips of nectar from flowers along the way. Even more astounding; the destination is unknown. An innate instinct draws them like a magnet to their place of wintering.

       I decided to travel to Point Pelee to witness this epic event, but like many before me...the time was not right. Walking in the Point Pelee National Park, one of the few Carolinian forests left in North America, I did see some evidence of the gathering. Like brilliant flowers, clusters of butterflies clung to drooping branches but they were few compared with the millions that would eventually arrive.

        Some butterfly enthusiasts have travelled to Point Pelee for 20 consecutive years and have yet to witness the peak of the migration. It seems, strangely, that the only ones who really know what is going on are the butterflies.

Photo copyright Anne Gordon
Posted on Wednesday, 5th September, 2012


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