Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Monarchs and More


My friends Doug and Leon came to visit for a week - and the highlight of that week was going to the El Rosario Monarch Reserve, where hundreds of thousands of these butterflies spend the winter after migrating from the eastern United States and even Canada.

It took about 6 hours in a series of buses to get to Angangueo, an old mining town near the sanctuary, where we spent 2 nights at Hotel Plaza Don Gabino.

View from one of the buses.
Pastel-colored buildings on Angangueo's main street
Mine shaft entrance - almost directly below our room at the hotel
After spending the night at our unheated hotel - which fortunately had lots of blankets to keep us warm through the chilly night - we headed up to the sanctuary. Before the sun warmed them, the Monarchs were hanging in huge clusters up in the evergreen Oyamel trees

  With wings folded, the Monarchs look like dead leaves.

Tree trunk covered in Monarchs
Me beneath the Monarchs.  As the sun warmed them, the butterflies spread their wings, revealing their orange coloring.
Wings spread - ready for flight
And then they took flight!  Here's a link to my YouTube video of the Monarchs flying up in the trees: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lik8WNiLx3A&feature=youtu.be

Some of the Monarchs flew down to a nearby meadow to feast on the available nectar:

And many butterflies were landing at a damp spot on the trail:

Doug - a butterfly expert who has written scientific articles about the Monarch migration - was delighted to be at the sanctuary again:

The trip to the Monarch Reserve took up 3 days of my friends' stay, but we had more to see!  We had been on buses for 2 of the previous 3 days, so on the 20th we stayed close to home and hiked out to the petroglyphs behind the neighboring village of Uricho.

Leon and Doug as we headed to the petroglyphs
Little old man in his wagon of wood
The angle of the sun brought out some petroglyphs I hadn't previously noticed

View as we headed home
On the 21st, Leon, Doug and I took a trip down to the "hot land" (tierra caliente) below Tacambaro.  At  Aroyo Frio,  there's a beautiful waterfall as well as a swimming pool fed by a cold mountain stream (we didn't go in!). We saw lots of beautiful butterflies and dragonflies.Through the owner of the little resort we "ordered out" for a roast chicken lunch, delivered from the town of Pedenrales via motorcycle.

From where we ate our lunch, we looked out across the pool to the waterfall
It was a grand waterfall!
We were down in a gorge - and on the walls of the gorge grew these yellow-barked trees.
Here are some of the beautiful butterflies and other insects (identified by Doug) that we saw near the waterfall and along the stream:

A longtail Skipper

Zebra Longwing

White Morpho - with about a 7-inch wingspan - over the pool

Bright red dragonfly

Ruddy Daggerwing

Hummingbird Moth

A giant sulphur on bouganvillea

I  enjoyed visiting with and sharing this special place with my friends Doug and Leon.  Here they are enjoying one last look out over Lake Patzcuaro before they left on the 22nd of January

That evening I enjoyed a wonderful concert by the fabulous Nora Murillo at Hotel Casa del Naranjo in Patzcuaro.  Here's a YouTube video of her singing one of the songs she performed that night.  What a voice! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJZmBaVaWPY

When I took a walk through Mal Pais the next day, I was delighted to see that orchids were still blooming there this late in the dry season:

On the 25th I went on an exploratory hike for the expat group, in lovely country with lots of impressive stone walls, passing by the pyramid ruins in Ihuatzio,

On the loop to the ruins
Rectangular pyramids, overlooking a huge plaza, seem to predate the Purhépecha occupation of the area
On the 26th I hiked from Tocuaro out to Ajuno and up to a dirt track that went between the twin volcanoes and became a trail down to the petroglyphs. It was a nice 4 1/4-hour stroll.

Hay and corn stack on a horse

Dirt track crossing the railroad tracks after they've passed between the twin volcanoes

We're getting farther into the dry season, so some leaves are falling. This is as close as we get to fall foliage season
Trail through the wood toward the petroglyphs
Blooming prickly pear cactus
Me at a tall stone wall on the way home
Went off the trail  to an area where I had heard there might be more petroglyphs. Didn't find any - but found this colorful lichen-covered rock
The next day I took combis to Ajuno and then walked up to the railroad tracks, which took me to Ajuno Station and then looped around to get me on roads to take me home to Arócutin.

Church in Ajuno - with woman eating her breakfast by the door

The day before, it was fallen leaves; today it's fruit trees blooming. Seasons here are nothing like in Vermont!

Cattle following me up to the tracks - where they continued to follow me. Unherd of!

View from the tracks back toward Ajuno and the twin volcanoes.
In a railroad cut you can see why there are so many stone walls here.
Scarlet Pimpernel along the road
As I walked through the village of Tocuaro on my way home. multiple rockets were exploding. Checked out the church and a Mass had just started for a girl's Quinceañera celebration. Exploding rockers are used for every possible occasion here.

On the 29th I spotted these birds in a tree in Mal Pais:

Red-shafted Flicker

Acorn Woodpecker
On the 30th I took combis to Tzintzuntzan and visited the 16th-century Franciscan Monastery:

Temple of Our Lady of Health on the monastery grounds
Courtyard of the monastery
Purhépecha Pottery
Monastery Window Nook
Olive tree planted in the 16th century by Bishop Vasco de Quiroga - with me for perspective
After touring the monastery I was hungry, so I stopped at this little stand on the street in Tzintzuntzan for a couple of tasty gorditas (stuffed tortillas) and a glass of hibiscus water.

Then I walked around the peninsula on a road above the lake, through Ukuzanaztacua and Cucuchucho to the Patzcuaron road junction - about 9 miles.

Little chapel between the road and Lake Patzcuaro
Adobe ruins above the lake

Wild Marigold along the road

Island and mountains
Castor Bean Blossoms
Adobe wall and wooden gate, with thunbergia
Approach to the church in Ihuatzio

Stone wall, corn and mountains
Picking strawberries in one of about 30 long greenhouses by the road
On February 1st  I tried out some new trails in Mal Pais and came out where I never had before.....

I came out on the hill above Campestre Aleman, the German restaurant
Grain beneath the bark of a dead oak tree I passed
View as I approached the road

Morning view, February 2nd:

Later that morning I took back lanes to head up the road that leads to Pichataro, then walked on a pleasant dirt road toward Zarzamora and down the old road to Erongaricuaro.

From the road to Pichataro: fields and mountains (with the twin volcanos).
From higher up, looking over an avocado orchard to the mountains
Gray squirrel. I often see squirrels here that seem bigger and shaggier - but they disappear so quickly that I haven't been able to get a photo.
Folks here tap the pine trees to collect the resin, which they sell.   It's used for turpentine, rosin, sealants, medicines, etc.. I like this example because it uses a nice little bucket instead of the usual plastic soda bottle.

View from the pleasant lane connecting the Pichataro road with the old Eronga road
Madroño tree, with its lovely reddish-brown bark on sinuous branches, by the old road to Erongaricuaro.
I got photos of a couple new butterflies on the hike (Identified, as usual, by my friend Doug Taron):
Mexican Dartwhite (Catasticta nimbice)
Mexican Yellow (Eurema mexicana)
After the hike I treated myself to lunch at the Campestre Aleman: macadamia-encrusted trout dinner with a beer for less than I spend for a sandwich with a coffee back home.

On the 4th of February I joined the expat group for a pleasant hike through a pine forest on the way to Cuanajo.

On the dusty trail through the pines
My botanist friend Mike Duffy identified this plant pushing up in the middle of the trail as the Mexican cancer-root
Thistle bud and flower atop about an 8-foot plant

Back in Patzcuaro, the traditional "Dance of the Little Old Men" was being performed on the Plaza Grande:

And yesterday I took yet another loop hike through Mal Pais, leading a couple of friends.  I waited for  them on the top step of the shrine in the cliff, down by the road, enjoying the view:

Parting shot:  Sunrise View from My Terrace: