Archive for February, 2013

DSC_7486Today we had a simple day.  We started by birding near Sierra Chincua and managed to snag a couple of lifers (meaning we saw two new species that none of us had seen before).  One was the Red warbler and the other a Mexican Chickadee.  However, to be honest, I have been disappointed with the lack of wildlife, birds in particular.  Hawks are nearly nonexistent yet there is plenty of habitat to support them.  We have seen no mammals species with the lone exception of a single squirrel at  the Indian mound of Los Alzati.  What there are plenty of however, are lots  and lots of dogs.  They are everywhere, walking the streets or lazing around on sidewalks and in the doorways of shops.

After a half day of birding we revisited Magic Town to walk its cobbled streets, absorb the flavor of its people and the surroundings as well to learn about its history.  One stop was a large 18th century Franciscan cathedral with a beautiful gothic facade and  ornate interior.  Next to stood an even older church built in the 1600′s.

With our tour over we headed back to our home base of Angangueo but along the way we were able to see where the local , but abandoned, gold and silver mine that played such a crucial role in the town’s history and development.  Word has it that a new mine will open soon but its impact economically and environmentally is unsure.

It was a luxury to return to the motel early and  after such an easy day. Tomorrow we head out to Alternare, an organization that teaches sustainability practices  to the locals and to school groups, after that we revisit El Rosario for a final farewell visit to the monarchs.


Today our group took a little break from the monarchs and searched for Mexican birds.  We saw the Red Warbler, Violet Green Swallows and my favorite, the Slate Throated Whitestart and lots more besides.

The habitat is varied and really provides for wildlife.  There are streams, flowering plants and berries are abundant.  Nature has provided for the butterflies because things are in bloom here so that the monarchs as they become more active, there is plenty of nectar for them to eat.


DSC_7236Yesterday we went up (and I mean up) to El Rosario via a narrow winding road starting in the streets of Angangueo.  On the edge of town we began to see a few monarchs fluttering above the street.  As we drove further up the steep hillsides the few monarchs turned into thousands and then tens of thousands.  They were  pouring down the mountain like an orange river.  It was simply spectacular and breath taking. It was so powerful an image that a few members of our group began to weep at the sight.

At El Rosaio we had another steep climb to find the monarchs but once there we were once again greeted by the sight of thousands of monarchs flying above our heads and landing on the trees.  A small group of school children arrived and were soon drawing pictures and trying to get the butterflies to land on them.  It had us all laughing.  After  a couple of hours of watching the monarchs we headed back to Angangueo to visit the historic sites.  Mario our wonderful guide explained the unique history of the town and the role the  Spanish played along with the gold and silver found in the towns hillsides.

A highlight was meeting Estela Romero who works with “Journey North” an important watch group for monarchs.  Estela told us of her work with the many schools of the area and how they were slowly making the people understand the importance of protecting their forest, not just for the butterflies but for themselves as well.

We ended our day visiting an old Hacinda built in 1630 (see photo) The hacinda is now crumbling but the attached church is still standing and being used today.

Question for yesterday: Which country, Iceland, Mexico or the United States produces the most geothermal energy?

Click on the photos below to see larger versions:


IMG_1257Wow!  Yesterday, our band of travelers visited the most magnificent splendiferous fantastic amazing unbelievable sanctuary for butterflies called El Rosario here in Angangueo! There simply are no words to describe how it felt to be walking up the mountain while streams of butterflies flew by me!

I was walking, and everywhere I looked — everywhere, everywhere there were butterflies floating past!!!  The forest around me had wings!  The monarchs are getting very active— flying and nectaring on plants.  They are getting ready to fly north in another week or two.

They were streaming down the El Rosario valley and into the town below so that you can walk along and see monarchs flying by the shops!

We were honored to meet Estela Romero, from Journey North. We visited her in her home in the town and sat in courtyard of her charming home and discussed what we could do to save the monarchs for the future.

Second graders, you probably remember in the fall we made paper monarchs and mailed them to the Mexican school children — that was organized by Journey North.

We all decided to work together with the people of Angangueo to help bring the Monarch population back to full strength.  Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and Journey North are both working to save the Monarchs.

Click on the photos below for the full views.



DSCN0361As soon as we arrived at Cerro Pelon, this butterfly landed in my hair!  It felt like a butterfly kiss, the kind you give with your eyelashes on your baby’s cheek!  Lovely and light.

Mr. Hester’s class asked if we had seen any other animals or insects, and I asked our guide if they have many other mammels….  so, there are possums, skunks, raccoons and tons of great dogs!  also coyotes but we haven’t been lucky enough to see any.  Besides the dogs. They are everywhere!

We have seen other butterflies too, Dainty Sulphers, spiders and a squirrel.



DSC_6799Yesterday we took time off from the monarchs to visit the archeological site of Los Alzati.It is the site of one of the largest pyramid mounds in Mexico.

Built by the Matlatzinca indians nearly 1200 years ago, it served in part, to honor the autumnal return of the monarchs.

Never having seen one of these pyramid mounds I could not but be impressed by their size and thinking of all the man power it took to create them.

The placement of the ceremonial mound gave a commanding view of the Zitacuaro valley and served as a sign post to their domain.

After our visit we took a beautiful and long winding road to Los Azufres were I visited a geothermal electric plant while the other members went to relax in the nearby hot springs.

DSC_6803Unfortunately I was not able to tour the inside of the plant because I lacked the proper insulating boots.  I was however shown a bubbling hot spring outside the plant and tour the outside.

Steam vented everywhere and the strong odor of sulfur hung in the air.

The plant produces 194.5 megawatts of clean renewable energy.

A second plant is being built a few kilometers away to double the generating capacity.

In all we had a very productive day but I for one was glad to get back to the motel ( 8:30 pm our earliest) for some R & R before our next adventure tomorrow.



Yesterday we had a tour of some archeological sites in the area.  First, we visited some 16th century churches in San Felipe.  The churches were built by the Franciscan Monks after the Spanish conquered Mexico.  The churches are Catholic ones, with beautiful statues of saints inside.

Our guide, Mario,, explained to us that they were built of a material the local peoples mixed together.  It is made of the inner plant material found inside the stalk of corn, mixed with roots, bugs and orchids.  This material is so strong that even today the statues are in perfect condition.

Next we went to the ancient pyramids of the Matlazinca people who lived around 800 A.D.  This local culture knew about the Monarcas and the pyramids were partly built to honor the return of the Monarcas each autumn.

They built the pyamid along an ancient trade route used by the Aztec  people.  The Mayans and the Aztecs joined forces to protect this trade route.  The people carried their goods on their backs and ran from town to town because the horse, donkey or pack animal did not live in Mexico until the Spanish brought them in about the 16th century.

The air and the sun at the top of these pyramids was so refreshing and envigorating!  We all used plenty of sunblock though!  In Michoacan, the Mexican state we are visiting, there are over 3000 archeological sites which the people are trying to save.  This one, the Los Alzati pyramid is partly rebuilt.

Click on the photos above for larger views.


DSC_6507Yesterday we visited a new monarch site at Sierra Chincua.

The forest there was even larger than the one at Cerro Pelon. A long walk of 5 km dropped us into a small creek valley at 8200 feet where millions of monarchs were gathered in the Oyamel firs.

Thousands of others flew around us as they gathered at the creek to take a drink.  It was magical!  It was astouding too to think that the entire North American population of monarchs were wintering in just a few small locations such as this in Mexico.

Though we saw some evidence of logging it appeared to be kept at a minimum thanks to the military, federal police and locals who benefit from the ecotourism.

DSC_6510For dinner we stopped by the beautiful old town of Tlapujahaua for dinner of enchilada and soup.

Okay two questions:

First – It took us 8.5 hours to get to Angangueo.   How long would it take a 1/2 gram monarch to make the same journey flying 40 miles a day?

Second question, The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico is a Unesco World Hertiage Site, what is the criteria used to become such a site?




DSC_6509Yesterday we traveled to Sierro Chinqua Monarca Preserve just near Angangeo, where we are staying.

We rode horses (again!) and went up and down the mountains until we came to a small canyon with a stream running through the bottom.  Here, the Monarchs floated by in even greater numbers than yesterday!

It was overwhelming!  We climbed up a steep mountainside and found trees heavily laden with cluster upon cluster of the beautiful orange travelers.

They have been here all winter, resting and waiting for spring to lay eggs and complete their life cycle.  We found them at 8200 feet above sea level.

Do you know how many feet above sea level Purcellville is?  Adios, mi amigos!



Join us for this amazing film!

Secret-Pond-Title-ImageThursday, March 7, 7:00 – 8:00 p.m.

Naturalist and filmmaker Brian La Fountain has been fascinated with fairy shrimp – tiny crustaceans that live in seasonal ponds – since he was a boy.

With Sweet Briar’s naturalist-in-residence, Mike Hayslett, as his guide to the hidden places where they live, La Fountain finally discovered the elusive critters in the wild and captured them in incredible high-definition detail.

Created in part to raise awareness for the protection of the fairy shrimp’s vulnerable habitat, “Secret Pond” is a surprisingly poignant portrayal of the microcosmic world of these delicate creatures.

Fairy Shrimp have been found in two locations in Loudoun so far – perhaps they live in a vernal pool near you!

Join us for this free showing on the big screen!

Location: Woodgrove High School Auditorium, 36811 Allder School Road, Purcellville.