Monarchs all aflutter in Santa Barbara

Steve Ellwood monarch
Monarchs cluster on eucalyptus trees at the Goleta Butterfly Grove. Photo courtesy of

Actually, they were at the Goleta Butterfly Grove, on Ellwood Mesa, just west of Santa Barbara. We were there in December, the same time we caught those amazing sunsets. The flutter-bys migrate to Goleta November through February, and an easy trail leads to the eucalyptus grove where they congregate.

Adjacent to the Coronado Butterfly Preserve, the Goleta site is the largest overwintering monarch butterfly grove in Southern California. Considering how cold it’s been up north, who wouldn’t want to overwinter in sunny SoCal?

And starting tooday, romance will literally be in the air because, according to a docent at the Goleta grove, Jan. 20 is when “like clockwork” these butterfly beauties start their spiraling in-air mating flights. The lovefest lasts til about Feb. 14 — appropriately — and then after the females lay their eggs on milkweed plants, they skeddadle on their spring migrations to the Central Valley, Sierra, and Rocky Mountains.

Thousands of monarchs gather in Goleta but unfortunately, monarchs are in decline throughout the U.S. due to threats such as loss of habitat— especially their beloved milkweed. The Xerces Society is monitoring where milkweed still exists. All you green lawn lovers might consider replacing it with monarch-loving milkweed. Due to farming, suburban development, overuse of pesticides, drought, etc., this important monarch habitat is in severe decline. The New York Times did an excellent piece on this a few months ago.

From the monarch grove, it’s a short hike to Ellwood Mesa and we caught some great coastal views of Santa Cruz Island. From the bluffs, it’s a short walk down a path to the beach.

Goleta beach

The beautiful 137-acre Ellwood Mesa site was once in danger of being developed for residential properties, but about a decade ago, a land swap between a developer, Santa Barbara County and Trust for Public Land protected the site forever. For that we’re grateful, and so are the monarchs, I’m sure.

Ellwood Mesa on the edge of the Pacific, with views out to Santa Cruz Island.
Ellwood Mesa on the edge of the Pacific, with views out to Santa Cruz Island.

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