Monday, September 23, 2019

The Southward Migration Has Reached Us

The early front of the southward monarch butterfly migration has now reached our area of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is more or less south of Asheville, North Carolina.  This past weekend, I stopped at various places listed in my guide and saw anywhere from 2 to a dozen monarchs feeding on goldenrod, aster, and one on Joe Pye Weed. On the previous weekend I stopped at the Mills River Gap Overlook and met some of the hawk watchers.  They said they expected a peak of Broad Wing Hawks in four days or so, and sure enough, just five days later, as reported at for the station called Mount Pisgah, they counted 5,781 on Friday, September 20. I drove up on the following Saturday and saw large “kettles” and the birds streaming from it for the first time in my life.  It was spectacular.  You’ve missed main flow of Broad Wings for this year, but maybe you can catch it next year.
 Another migratory creature I observed in large number for the first time was the dragonfly.  Nobody was counting them, but they easily showed in our binoculars.  I guess there were hundreds in the air at any one time, all zooming south over the ridge.  I need to do some reading on them.

I double-checked my book, and the peak day for the monarch migration over the southern Blue Ridge Parkway last year was October 13th.  One observer told me personally she estimated as many as 3,600 butterflies per hour passing overhead at Haywood Gap, which is just parkway north of the Caney Fork Overlook.  I will do my best to witness that spectacle this year.  It has to be incredible. I hope to catch some video. 
Haywood Gap features a Mountains to the Sea Trail crossing and a little parking area in gravel.  The best viewpoint for the monarchs is from the guard rail across from the parking area.  A long band of aster and goldenrod grows just there along the road.

A bit of good news for viewing:  The National Park Service has cleared quite a few trees on both sides of the road just downhill from Cherry Gap Overlook.  They seemed to have done a good job of balancing both opening views and leaving many of the beautiful trees, the oaks and hemlocks.  I think this will make monarch viewing better.  It also will allow for the fall nectar plants to have more sunlight.

My monarch migration guide is available for sale in several locations along the southern Parkway, including the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center, the Folk Art Center, the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center, the Pisgah Inn Gift Shop, and the Pisgah Inn Country Store.  I have updated it for this fall.

About the photographs:  I take a lot of photos of monarchs, so many it’s hard to sort through them and pick out the best.  The ones I select for publication are often either just the most beautiful or instructive I can produce, or else they show some different perspective or detail.  For instance, the first one is both backlit by sunshine and frontlit by my flash.  The second photo shows the male gland (near the end of the abdomen) to be a slit or narrow oval, rather than the usual black dot. I just like the color of the third one, which is from 2018.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

My Milkweed Garden is a Love Nest

click to enlarge
A few days ago I flushed this couple from a large Asclepias tuberosa (orange flowers and often called Butterfly Weed). He flew them up into a pine tree, she hanging beneath and still attached. Later on in the day and several times since, I've seen males patrolling our whole property, flying like mad everywhere and giving special attention to any bright color, especially the orange flags I have out to mark places related to construction and landscaping.

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Migration Miracle Continues!

This is the first monarch butterfly larva I've seen this spring.  It's tiny, hardly big enough to be seen with the naked eye. The tell-tale evidence is the white chewed sections of milkweed leaves. A half dozen plants have larvae so far.  I haven't seen eggs... have hardly looked for them.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A Big Migration Day on the Parkway

Click to Enlarge
There was a solid stream of monarch butterflies passing over the Pounding Mill Overlook on the southern Blue Ridge Parkway last Sunday.  Here they're feeding on an aster plant at the edge of the overlook's steep bank.

Monday, September 3, 2018

The Southern Migration has Begun!

We found this beauty and a few others like it along the southern Blue Ridge Parkway yesterday. The monarch butterfly migration seems to have begun early this year. I have also seen several in my garden and at various places in Asheville.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Hawk Moth

This a large hawk moth I found last week on our property in western North Carolina, but I don't yet know the exact species. The photo isn't the best and I had hoped to take a good one, but the moth escaped before I had the chance to set it up. This photo is made with a smart phone of an in-law relative.  

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Happy Earth Day!

My monarch butterfly migration guide has been approved for sale in the Blue Ridge Parkway bookstores in our vicinity.  I should have the new edition ready by the end of July.

I've got an orange theme going, and in this photo is the cedar fruiting body of the fungus, Cedar Apple Rust (Gymnosporangium juniperivirginianae).  These hairy, slimy, bright orange balls decorate local cedar trees, making it look like Christmas in April around here.  As its name states, this disease lives in stages on both cedar and apple trees.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Upcoming Earth Day 2018

I picked up 13 bags along a mile stretch of road one Sunday in March
Letter to the Editor

Hey everybody, why not pick up some roadside litter in your neighborhood for the upcoming 48th anniversary of Earth Day? We live in these beautiful mountains, and let’s dress them up for spring. No matter what their politics, all conscientious, self-aware people hate litter, right?  Local environmental groups could get behind this. The big date itself is Saturday, April 22nd, but it might be better for some people to do their litter patrol on Sunday.  If you’re paying for curb service, Waste Pro will pick up as many as a dozen of those white 13 gallon kitchen bags per household, but recycle what you can, especially plastic and aluminum.  Be safe, like wear radioactive green or phosphorescent orange vests.  Watch for speeding motorized vehicles.  So, go out and do something real.

Hunt is the author of “A Pictorial Guide to the Monarch Butterfly Migration over the Southernmost Blue Ridge Parkway.”  The national organizer of the first Earth Day grew up in his small home town.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Our Io Moth

Female Io moth, cocoon on corn leaf, and eggs.  CLICK TO ENLARGE
Remember the giant green Automeris io caterpillar from last summer?  The one covered in poisonous stinging spikes.  (See the September 1, 2017 entry below.)  Here is the moth form of that same individual, and not a fellow as I supposed, but a gal.  I kept the cocoon in a jar on my workbench outside, but when I feared it might freeze, I brought inside and placed it on a shelf on my dresser.  Well, that wasn't good either, because it emerged early when no males were out yet.  She laid her eggs, anyway, unfertilized, and died.  She is still alive in the photo.  

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Notes and Reflections on the Western Monarch Migration

A Cluster Near Light House Field Beach, CLICK TO ENLARGE
During the end of December and the beginning of January we visited seven monarch overwintering sites on 250 miles of the California coast. For the first two we were supposed to count for the Xerces Society for Inverebrate Conservation. What follows are my notes from this trip:

12/29/17 Friday
Arrived at SFO, checked into Westin Hotel.  Took naps.  Not enough time left in the day to scout sites.  The reason is that getting the rental car took a couple hours longer than we expected.  The rental company was supposed to have a car at the Marriot Hotel, and instead we had to chase it down.

12/30/17 Saturday
Visited Stern Grove (1) and looked around for a couple hours. Asked several people if they had seen monarchs and where.  We got no real specific information about a cluster. At last we saw one individual flying overhead, but did not see where it went.  I took a photo of the location.  The temp was 55 degrees F at the car.

Left there and drove north to the Rob Hill Campground at the Presidio (2).  Walked everywhere in that site, on, and pretty much off trail, but found no clusters and saw no butterflies.  I noted that the official naturalist for that site said on the video that the habitat was “sensitive” and visitors should stay on the trails.  The habitat was not sensitive.  The ground was covered mostly by English Ivy, which is not native and is extremely durable.  We had decided to leave, but I wanted to walk one more loop.  Eventually at the top of the hill, near the open, cleared area, we saw a monarch or two.  A man with a mountain bicycle was standing there.  I asked him if he had just seen butterflies and he said, Yes.  That was 2:pm.  He told us of his interest, and while we talked I counted 24. Some of those may have been counted twice, and I’m sure we missed several.  He was originally from the Highlands of Scotland and said his name was Fraser. He did organic farming and sold produce.  Had done “tech” before.  After awhile it cooled some and we saw no more monarchs.  Did not find a cluster, but I think we might have if we had seen before what they looked like and how high they normally were.

We left there and drove to Big Basin Redwoods State Park.  It was a long and confusing drive, and once we turned around and went back because we weren’t sure we had the right road.  We didn’t yet have a California road map, and using Siri on Edie’s photo did not tell us north from south.  We eventually made it and set up our tent in the dark in a redwood grove containing mammoth trees.

12/31/17 Sunday
In the morning we packed up and went for a short loop walk in a redwood grove that featured one tree 60 feet around at chest high.  The state park is a place worth returning to someday.  From the park we drove south and bought a road map at a small town, probably Ben Lomand.  From here we traveled around the outskirts of Santa Cruz to Natural Bridges State Beach (3).  We never actually went to the beach, and the one natural bridge we saw didn’t seem terribly impressive.  We first spoke with a park ranger who told us that the blue jays were attacking the clusters and eating the monarchs, and most of the butterflies had moved south to a different site.  I met a docent who was about to leave for the other site.  She sent me a photo of the cluster at Natural Bridges. The monarch grove at Natural Bridges was down a paved path into a dell.  There were lots of people.  We saw one small cluster and a lot flying.  Two great horned owls tried to sleep in a close-by tree.  I got pictures of them.  I and others speculated that the owls kept the jays away.  I shared with a woman and her husband about the new, southern site, which we left for as soon as we could.  We did not stay for the program.

I believe the other site is called Lighthouse Field State Beach (4), which is in a eucalyptus and Monterey pine grove next to a neighborhood.  I heard from someone (I think the park ranger) that this site contained 15,000 monarchs.  The clusters were certainly larger than anything we had seen before or since.  There were four or five of them in the pine boughs.  I took the best pictures there, though the light was not very good. Actually, I just looked at a map and the site we went to was not at the Lighthouse Field beach, but a couple blocks north, down a residential avenue, just east of the Surfer Sculpture.

We left there and drove down Highway 1 around the Monterey Bay and then slightly north through the town of Monterey, including Cannery Row into the town of Pacific Grove.  The whole area is highly developed.  The Pacific Grove monarch grove (5) is a square of land, covered in trees, in the middle of a residential area.  It features a nice, paved (I believe), winding trail.  Right next door on the uphill side is the pink Monarch Inn, or an inn of a similar name.  We hadn’t made any reservations for the night and we would have stayed there, but it was full.  New Year’s Eve and all. We walked up and down the path a couple times, and while we saw flying monarchs, we couldn’t find a cluster, nor could anyone else we spoke to.  It was starting to get dark and cool, so we left and drove through Carmel and down the 20 miles to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.  Because online it was saying it was full, I hadn’t reserved a campsite, but we found one anyway.  We set up our tent in the dark.  About midnight some of the campers let out a whoop and a cheer, waking me up.  Their new year celebration.

1/1/18 Monday
We had heard that Highway 1 had been blocked south of us, but I didn’t know exactly where.  We finally figured out in the morning that we could not get where we wanted to go without backtracking.  We drove south a ways further just to see more of the famed coastland, and then turned around.  We had passed Andrew Molera State Park (6), said to have a monarch site, in the dark on the way down, but I decided to check it out now.  The park didn’t look like much.  No more than a gravel parking lot, two overbusy outhouses and a trail to the beach.  A good bit of the park was closed due to winter storm damage.  I guessed that the monarchs were in the closed part.  A Hispanic maintenance man pulled up to maintain the outhouses and I asked him where the butterflies were.  He told me that it was up the trail a mile, passed the yellow tape.  He said that it was dangerous to go there and there was no other access, not a road to it from the highway. We waited until he was not visible, ducked under the tape and walked up the trail.  It meandered along a wide creek and in places was washed out, but it was nothing we couldn’t bypass and there wasn’t anything remotely dangerous, unless it was the six-point buck we flushed.  I got some good pictures of him.  The trail led to a large green field that was the park’s campground.  It was a nice place. It appeared that the park was closed due to lack of funding as much as it was to damage. We happened to see no damage to the campground, actually. From the northern end of the campground, I could see a large eucalyptus grove and sure enough, we saw flying monarchs there.  I could also hear bees among the flowers in the tops of the trees.  We walked further until the trail was totally washed away by the stream and the water was more of a lagoon.  We could hear the waves crashing on the other side of the dunes.  We walked a road back to the highway up the hill from the campground and did not return via the trail, proving the maintenance man to be dishonest about the information he gave us. 

From here we returned to Carmel and cut across to Highway 101, taking it south to Atascadero and 46, which crossed a mountain pass and was lined with dozens of well-arranged vineyards.  At Los Osos we stocked up at Ralph’s Grocery, part of the Kroger chain. My camping reservation was for site 42, but after seeing it, I was able to change it with the host to 44 between two giant art pines.  I gathered leftover firewood from the pits of the empty campsites and found a chunk of pitch pine.  One piece of wood was smoldering so I didn’t need a match.  As a birthday party, Edie and I shared a little chocolate cheesecake that we got at Ralph’s. I made a video of it, and me singing Happy Birthday.

1/2/18 Tuesday
We walked on the beach in the morning and got our boots soaked.  We left our tent up since we planned to return, and drove south to Pismo State Beach.  The campground gave evidence of the monarch grove, but it never said exactly were it was.  We had to ask.  Turned out it was a very short distance further south.  I want to write extensively about our experience at the Pismo Monarch Grove (7), so will save it for later and in a more reflective style.  We spent the entire day there.

Written 1/15/18
The Pismo Grove monarch experience, and indeed the whole western monarch phenomenon, is very much different than anything in the east.  For us in the eastern states, we know monarch butterflies in the spring, summer, and fall.  For us the migration, sometimes in large numbers, captures our attention.  When we think of the winter monarchs, we immediately think of Mexico.  Many people here have heard of monarchs and seen them, either in fields or on the move south, but few of us even know of the western migration and overwintering butterflies on the coast of California.  It simply isn’t within our field of vision.  Neither do we in the east have much in the way of organized observations.  Educational efforts, yes, but nothing like what I saw at Pismo Beach.

It stands to reason.  The overwintering season lasts three months or so.  The butterflies hang out within small geographic areas, sometimes in clusters adding up to thousands of individuals.  Many sites are near high density human populations. It makes sense that people would establish preserves and ways for people to see the clusters and the feeding, mating, sunning, watering and anything else monarchs might think of doing on their winter grounds.

The Central Coast Park Association (CCSPA) organization is a private auxiliary to the California state parks.  When I first arrived at the Pismo Grove, I met one of CCSPA’s docents, Jene Schaefer.  She told me that they have 80-90-some docent staff members in the monarch program (120 in the whole district), who explain and interpret the monarch site and happenings to the visitors who flood the grove during the monarch winter season, anywhere from 800 to 2,000 a day.  In 2015-2016, as one of the two docents I talked to said, the total number of visitors was 100,000.  In 2017-2018, 80,000.  They arrive by car or by the busload.  Some, I imagine, camp in the next door state park campground.

The docent who seemed to be in charge that day was Betty Sleeth.  I talked with her at length, though not as much as Jene.  Betty told me about the IMAX film that covered the monarch migration.  Flight of the Butterflies.

The Pismo Grove site has the feel of a small fairground.  Gravel walkways comprise the public parts of the grove and the eucalyptus tree area is protected with a split rail fence.  The grove has no permanent bathroom facility, but a couple smelly outhouses serve the urgent needs of the thousands of visitors.  As with most such places, the outhouses are located right next to the heaviest foot traffic, so if a sense of privacy is needed, forget it.  Those with less urgent need who wish for better facilities may hike through to a campground bathroom to the north.

A small trailer with a large window functions as a bookstore and information center.  The docents use this as their headquarters.  The docent trailer makes $80,000 a year for the monarch program. Nearby is a circle of benches where the docents give presentations twice a day.  They set up telescopes that are focused on the clusters and the docents make sure that no one touches the scopes so as to keep them on target.  The docents seem knowledgeable, though some are more up to date than others. 

The grove is right next to the busy Highway 1, which was crowded with traffic, some of which being heavy trucks.  On the other side of the highway was an active rail track.  During the hours we were present, two, maybe three Amtrak trains passed by.  The grove has only a handful of parking spaces, so most people parked along the road in either direction as they found space, and they have to negotiate their way across the traffic.  There are no crosswalks.  I spoke with two docents about this, and they both had the same response.  The California transportation system owns the road, and the margin of the road, so the monarch people are afraid that if they ask for crosswalks, “Caltrans” will punish them by forbidding parking.  They both said, separately, that they only thing that will change the situation is if a “child is killed.”  Clearly this subject has come up before and the docents have a ready answer.  My response was to say that there was risk either way.  One on hand a risk that someone will get killed, and on the other hand, a risk that Caltrans will be a big butthole.  I wouldn’t assume that such an institution, one with the purpose of serving the public, would act that way. 

The site is far from pristine.  What the monarch situation teaches is that monarchs do not need pristine conditions in order to survive.  Pristine and protected might be necessary for them to flourish and thrive, however.  They are not likely to find those conditions everywhere in western California.  But with 460 sites, as compared to the 20 in Mexico, it’s clear that monarchs are highly adaptable.  It makes me wonder if the decline in overwintering numbers both on California and Mexico is due to the difficulty for humans in finding the sites, meaning that there very well could be many more than 460 and 20.  We certainly had difficulty in finding clusters.  Flying monarchs are much easier to see, but they can be easily missed unless someone is looking for them.

The story told by the park ranger at Lighthouse Field beach certainly testifies to the monarch’s adaptability.  Their traditional site was hostile with attacking bluejays, and the butterflies moved south.  Naturalists responded by putting up a few signs and yellow tape and posting their docents. 

There’s weird irony in the California monarch picture.  So much of the thinking and conversation about conservation centers on preserving the migration and the numbers.  But in California at least the migration may not be natural.  The reason is that it seems the overwintering butterflies depend upon eucalyptus, which is not native at all.  The tree originated in Australia, was brought to California supposedly to produce lumber, blooms in the winter, and provides nectar.  I wonder of the western migration occurred at all prior to when the tree was introduced.  I’ll have to look into this more, to see if historical records give evidence of the monarchs spending the winter in the region.

The public viewing groves for me are more like zoos.  The monarchs are protected, as they should be.  But the setting is far from ideal.  I’d personally rather experience the butterflies in wild places and apart from crowds of people, if it is all possible.  The public groves are a place of intersection.  They are where people can see the monarchs without going to too much trouble, because most people aren’t going to take a lot of trouble.  For them, visiting the monarch grove is one event of what is likely a busy day with a number of goals, or destinations.

We, even visitors to the crowded groves, think of the monarch migration as a wonderful, natural event or process, and it is.  Quite possibly it’s been going on for thousands of years.  This seemingly frail, small creature embarking upon and completing an epic journey while encountering unthinkable obstacles.  It’s almost supernatural.  For me it’s like contemplating anything that resembles the eternal.  Like gazing at the stars or a wild land or seascape.  When we take time for this, when we allow our minds to rest in the vastness of the created universe, we feel at home.  We see that we have a place.  The troubles and conflicts of our lives seem small in comparison, and from that perspective.  We might feel cold and lonely with this contemplation.  And yet, I don’t.  I feel at such times that I am part of the eternal, and this gives me comfort.

Note: Part of our trip was to visit a relative who was dying. The relative, however, sustained an injury and died while we were looking for monarchs.  We changed our homeward flight to be able to attend the memorial service.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Discussion of "The Cruller Twist"

Welcome Christ Community Church, Montreat.  Leave your comments below. Thanks!

P.S. If you want to share the story, a link to it is in the right column.

Sunday, October 15, 2017


Monarch observers have reported on Journey North some huge numbers crossing the southernmost Blue Ridge Ridge Parkway yesterday, October 14, and the day before.  As many as 2000 or so an hour at Cherry Cove Gap and perhaps that many at Haywood Gap.  Edie and I stopped at the latter today and witnessed a short flurry of heavy traffic.  Though we didn't count, we saw dozens flying right over our heads in a few minutes.  This is the heaviest flow I have ever seen.  It's possible tomorrow will be quite heavy.  Haywood Gap is at Milepost 426.5. This is not an official overlook, but you can find a bit of parking on gravel and there is some space in the grass.  Sit on the guardrail along the south side of the road.

UPDATE for 10/16, 8:00 am: The high temperature today in Asheville is expected to be 55 degrees F.  Monarchs can only fly when their muscles reach 54 degrees, and it will be cooler than Asheville at higher elevation, so the flow might not begin again until Tuesday or later. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Go up the Blue Ridge Parkway NOW!

    On Saturday, October 7, I gave an evening slide presentation and talk at the Julian Price Park amphitheater.  The beautiful park with a 47 acre lake is at milepost 297 of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Elevation, something like 3400 feet.  The presentation was not particularly well attended, but it was worth the trip, nonetheless. Afterward I camped overnight, sleeping in my 4Runner, parked in the drive of an RV spot.  Oak trees kept dropping acorn bombs on my roof and that made it hard to stay asleep. They sounded like bombs, or rather gunshots. At about midnight, I moved the vehicle to the empty neighboring campsite where the acorns fell less frequently.  

      On the way to the event, I drove up the parkway from Asheville, stopping at likely gaps to see if monarchs used them to cross the ridges.  The absolutely best place was the Ridge Junction Overlook.  This overlook is about 100 yards north of the entrance to Mt. Mitchell State Park. It has a fantastic long view and I counted 20 monarchs in half an hour, most sailing over.  As the temperature warmed, other monarchs stopped to feed on the violet asters along the parking area.  Before I left, I did a spot count and got 15.  I will definitely be including this location in the 2018 edition of my guide.  Further north I counted six at the Bald Knob Parking Area, five on the private land adjacent to Gooch Gap, and two in the meadow at the turnoff to Linville Falls Visitor's center.  (I will add milepost numbers later.)

      So, get up on the parkway and look for monarch butterflies.  The migration will not last much longer!

      I plan to create a YouTube video of the slide presentation, which itself contains videos of monarch life cycle transitions. I learned quite a bit during the preparation of the presentation, in particular something of the natural and culture history of milkweed and the overwintering monarch population in California.  Mexico has 12 known sites, but CA has 400!

      Oh, and why did the government buy milkweed pods in the 1940s?  To make life vests from the floss (the silk) for the war effort. More later.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Monarch Guide Update

Goldenrod and a solitary female in flight near the Pisgah Inn.  10/4/17
October 4, 2017

The NC Arboretum’s annual Monarch Day is over for this year.  I had been invited to set up a table to sell books and talk with people.  Along with me was a National Park Service interpretive ranger.  I brought a flower arrangement I made with zinnias, goldenrod, and a American beech branch from which I hung three chrysalises to show.  I also brought a couple hundred almandine garnets I had collected locally to give away to children. (The garnets happened to be more popular than my book!)  The arboretum sold milkweed plants, some having live monarch larvae on them.  I thought that was great.  I didn’t mention it in the book, but the arboretum has had an ongoing live butterfly display for several months.  It’s called Winged Wonders and lasts through October 29.  Next year the Monarch Day is set for Saturday, September 8, but as the date nears, check the arboretum’s website to be sure it is still on, because there is some discussion about only holding the event every other year in the future.

The Cradle of Forestry’s monarch event also is past.  Next year check their schedule for the time and date.  I went this year and learned a lot from the speaker.

Observers reporting for Journey North’s Monarch Peak Migration Map say they’ve seen monarchs this fall at the following locations not given in my book. I’ll be including these southernmost Blue Ridge Parkway places in the 2018 edition.  To locate specific overlooks, zoom in and click the splash symbols on the BRP Road Closure Map.

The entrance road to Mt. Mitchell
Hornbuckle Valley OL
Woolyback OL
Scott Creek OL
Woodfin Valley OL
1 mile south of View Mt. Lyn Lowry
View Mt. Lyn Lowry
Roy Taylor Forest OL
Double Top Mountain OL, (mm 435, 100+ monarchs, 9/29)
Cradle of Forestry OL

One of the most interesting entries is this filed by “Keith.”
Date: 09/29/2017   Location: 35.33, -82.87
Number Sighted: 1000
Comments: Two miles north of the Blue Ridge Parkway, in Pisgah National Forest, 1:00-2:00 pm EDT, partly cloudy, 55°-60°, Monarchs feeding below Tennent Mountain on the Graveyard Ridge Trail between Ivestor Gap and the Mountain-to-Sea Trail.

Below is the report I filed at Journey North.  See all the Peak Migration Map reports and the accompanying photographs at:
Date: 10/1/2017
Number Sighted: 95
Comments: On Saturday, August 30, we drove between the Mills Gap Overlook and the Caney Fork Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway and didn’t see but two monarchs in five hours. On Sunday the following day we counted 95 in the two hours between 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm at the Cherry Cove View, milepost 415.7. Most didn’t stop to feed. Plenty more came over afterwards in that location until it got colder at about 6:00 pm. I drove up and down on the parkway, but didn’t see any monarchs at any other places and times. The weather was mostly clear to partly cloudy. A light breeze drifted from the north. The temperature midday was about 70 degrees F. Cherry Gap is where the National Park Service placed a monarch migration informational plaque. A dozen or more monarch watchers gathered there throughout the afternoon, including Jennifer who had lost a newborn son 20 years ago to the day. She had come to release a butterfly helium balloon at sunset in his memory, and she found support and fellowship in the company of other monarch lovers who she had just met. That morning a female monarch had eclosed at my home and I gave it to her to release.
                                                                                                        Mickey Hunt

Monday, October 2, 2017

A Monarch Butterfly Memorial on the Parkway

Edie and I drove south up the Blue Ridge Parkway on Saturday.  We gave a few of my monarch books to people who gave clues they might be interested.  Some books to the hawk watchers at Mills Gap Overlook.  One to a man riding a Harley motorcycle.  Another to a woman taking pictures of butterflies at Caney Fork Overlook.  The man had been an Interpretive Ranger for the National Park Service up north and on the BRP.  He now drives a tour bus and is a professional photographer.  He showed us a photo of a lovely, huge timber rattler he had seen the day before at the Caney Fork Overlook. The woman had been an environmental lawyer for years and now she’s working on a book on black bears in the Smoky Mountain NP.  She also does photography professionally and offered me a little critique on my photos.  We had long talks with both of them and I hope to stay in touch.   We only saw two monarchs all day.

On Sunday, yesterday, I drove up by myself and spent most of the afternoon at Cherry Gap Overlook.  (There weren't any monarchs at Pounding Mill and John's Rock overlooks.) Again, I gave out books.  After I arrived I noticed a woman in green who seemed to be taking pictures of a monarch I had seen feeding on aster.  It was the only monarch around at the time.  Since I had arrived, three others had flown over, not stopping.  I stood beside her and made some comment.  Yes, she had come up to see the butterflies.  And when I gave her my book she was more or less flabbergasted because she had been intending to buy it at the Botanical Gardens on her way, but she had run out of time. As we talked, two other women came up, Jennifer and Renee.  They said they had been eavesdropping.  Of course we were happy for them to join us and I gave each of them books, too.

Jennifer, then told her story, which I will recount as best I can.  (She said she’d write it and send it to me, but for now I’ll go off memory.)  Twenty years ago that very day, her baby, Blake, had been born, but not alive.  Stillborn at full term.  For his memorial service, Jennifer had released some monarchs, and now every year on the anniversary she honored, mourned, and celebrated her son by coming up to the parkway and releasing a butterfly balloon.   When I heard this, I said, “I brought a monarch butterfly with me that emerged just this morning and I’ll let you release her, if you like.” 

I had used this monarch as a chrysalis at our table at the NC Arboretum’s Monarch Day.  I tied thread around the cremaster stem, plucked the silk pad off of the wire frame it had been attached to, and hung it and two others on a lovely flower arrangement of zinnia, aster, goldenrod and beech I had made.  When the butterfly emerged yesterday morning, I just carried it, still hanging on its chrysalis shell, to the car and hung it from my rear view mirror.

Well, Jennifer took pictures of the butterfly hanging there, and later as it rested on the car seat after it had decided to try to fly a little.  Jennifer carefully coaxed the butterfly onto her finger and then walked it to some aster blooms where she coaxed it onto them.  Later on, when she was ready, the butterfly flew away, on to Mexico, we hope. 

I was certainly moved by hearing Jennifer’s story and by the opportunity to be a part of her memorial day.   The other woman, Renee, did not know Jennifer before yesterday either, but as I was talking with someone else, I heard them praying together.  I told Jennifer that one of my life themes was “The heavens declare the glory of God” from Psalm 19, which goes on to say, “the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.”  Renee said she also had lost a child.

Perhaps another dozen or more other people came up for monarchs through the rest of the day.  I spoke with many of them.  We formed a little Cherry Gap counting team and between 1:00 and 3:00 pm we counted 95.  It was a steady flow of flyovers, none stopping to feed.  I’m sure we missed some because we were so busy talking.  I’d like to round the number up to 100, but that wasn’t what happened, even if five flew over in a group just after I stopped my count.

At about 3:30 I drove out to Caney Fork Overlook and didn’t see any monarchs there at all, even though it was warm and calm and a lot of asters were in bloom.  Jennifer was there and that’s when I took pictures of her balloon.   

On the way home I stopped at Cherry Cove Gap again and the butterfly traffic was still strong.  A couple I knew from church had come up with another couple just to see the butterflies.  I showed them my book, and it was funny that they weren’t very interested.  I had given them a three minute talk on life cycle and I guess that satisfied their curiosity.  Perhaps when people know you, they take things for granted.  I didn’t give them a copy partly because I was running low.

All in all, it was a satisfactory day.  I listened to Bach solo violin partitas on the way home and the drive went fast, even if I got sleepy at the end.  Not only am I continuously amazed about the monarch migration, yesterday I was amazed at the human migration of people who journey every year to see the monarchs.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Monarch Butterfly Front Has Arrived!

There are no monarchs in this photo, which I took at 2:30 pm today, but at 11:00 am as I walked in the door here at Mr. K's Used Books, I saw three just gliding and flitting by maybe 15 feet off the ground right in front of the building.  In the next 25 minutes, as I stepped outside now and then waiting for my book deal appointment with the manager, I counted another dozen.  In total, just going about my business today, I counted 27 in four different locations, including when I was blowing leaves off the roof of our house. 

So far, in addition to Mr. K's,  the monarch book is for sale at:

The Botanical Gardens at Asheville
The Compleat Naturalist (in Biltmore Village.)
BB Barnes Nursery and Landscaping
Town Hardware in Black Mountain
The Cradle of Forestry (near Brevard)
The North Carolina Arboretum gift shop

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The NC Arboretum's Monarch Day

We didn't sell many books at the NC Arboretum's Monarch Day today, but we had a good time talking with people. We did give away a lot of garnets to children. I made the flower arrangement with zinnias and goldenrod, with three chrysalises hanging a beech branch.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Mountain Xpress Features My Photo

My cover photo was featured in the Mountain Xpress Community Calendar section, the paper edition, this week as part of an announcement of the arboretum's Monarch Day, which is this Saturday.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Cradle of Forestry

Here’s my book on display at the Cradle of Forestry’s gift shop yesterday. We attended their excellent “Bring Back the Monarchs” program, lead by Joyce Pearsall.  On the way to the event we stopped at the Mills River Valley Overlook and met Jerry and Liz Fishman who were bird watching there.  Later they e-mailed me an “unofficial” hawk watch count for the day: Broad-winged Hawks, 92 (70 streaming out of a single kettle), Falcon, 1 (not a positive ID but possible Merlin).  Turkey Vulture, 3.

After the monarch event we returned home via the parkway, but stopping on the way at mile 409-410 to hike to and climb the fire tower, where we met a 14 year-old young man on top.  He was there alone—some of his family members had dropped him off. He had been whistling a simple three-note tune through his hands sounding much like an ocarina. He said he had been born in Mexico. We enjoyed the cool breeze and fantastic views for a while, then we left the tower and the boy sitting on top of one of the other buildings on the ridge.  At the bottom of the trail his mother drove up and I gave her a copy of my book for him. We pulled out to leave and his sister approached to ask for my autograph, which he had requested by phone.  I told her about the monarchs overwintering in Mexico.  I was thinking the boy needed some encouragement, even if just a little book from a stranger, a book about something he might take an interest in.  (The fire tower hike is mentioned in the book.)  Or maybe he might find direction in life as a scientist or naturalist.    

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Praise for the Monarch Guide

"Just wanted to touch base with you and let you know that we received your books today. I am very happy to have them on hand for the Butterfly event this weekend. The book is very nice with great photography and a super price point for our visitors."

-The Director of Interpretive Sales at the Cradle of Forestry in America in an e-mail today.


"I don't know if I told you, but I think your book is wonderful! I love your writing style, as if we were sitting and having a conversation. There is wit and humor and great information... I am actually reading it [a pdf file] again and I cannot wait to have a copy in my hands."

-A Blue Ridge Parkway Interpretive Ranger at the Moses Cone Memorial Park.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Clouds Fall to Earth

Sunset from Craggy Gardens Visitor Center, BRP.  9/10/17
Chapter 1.
Hunting Day

Rho Aquilae encounters earthbound people for the first time. 

I began writing Clouds Fall to Earth in 2011 and worked on it off and on for two years, roughing out seven of the planned twelve chapters. I also created much of the world in some detail, including history, economics, technology, and culture. It actually connects with my short story "Shoreless Ocean of Eternity", which you can find in my when earth whispers collection. "Shoreless", then, is a prequel. Clouds Fall has been "on the shelf", untouched, since 2013, but always in the back of my mind.  This is chapter one.  It's not perfected yet, but I think it might be of interest.  I'd rather have something of the book out for people to read than for it to lay buried in my computer.  And this might motivate me to finally finish writing it and get it published.

Read the chapter HERE.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

News Release


New Book Ready for the Monarch Butterfly Migration

“A favorite scenic road of the eastern United States, endless gorgeous views, and one of the most amazing migratory creatures in the world—all make for an ideal fall day outdoors. This guide will help you make the most of your day, with tips on when and where to look, facts and photos of the monarch life cycle, information about learning more, and practical ideas on how you can help the monarch butterfly population grow.”

So says the back cover of the newly released book, A Pictorial Guide to the Monarch Butterfly Migration over the Southernmost Blue Ridge Parkway by local hobby beekeeper and entomologist, Mickey Hunt.

This small book—a mere 37 pages—is timely because the monarch’s southward migration to Mexico is poised to begin, peaking in the Balsam Range south of Asheville toward the end of September. Biologists and amateur monarch watchers all over the country are wondering if the numbers of the butterflies overwintering in Mexico’s Trans-Volcanic Mountains this coming season will be larger or smaller than last winter.

“The known high point of the total monarch population in about a dozen sites in Mexico was the winter of 1996-1997,” said Hunt. “The butterflies covered 18.19 hectares. It’s been down and up since then, but with a downward trend toward the lowest point in the winter of 2013-2014 at .67 hectares. That’s a huge decline, and it alarmed a lot of people.”

One hectare is 2.47 acres. According to the World Wildlife Fund, whose volunteers do the estimating in the mountainous monarch wintering areas, the hectares occupied by the butterflies increased to 4.01 from that lowest point and then dropped to 2.91 last winter.

“But everyone who is paying attention is optimistic,” said Hunt. “We believe our conservation efforts are making a difference. I’ve seen monarch larvae in my milkweed garden all summer long and I’ve raised some of them in my bay window. It’s been a joy seeing the released males patrolling for girlfriends to create another generation.”

Hunt’s monarch migration guide contains dozens of his often close-up photographs of the varied stages of the monarch life cycle, a bar graph showing the monarch population changes, and a migration route map, as well as information about where to buy milkweed seeds and plants, the exclusive food for monarch larvae in North America. There is a section on where to learn more, including some of the best organizations that focus on education and conservation, and monarch educational events in western North Carolina.

One of those events is the Cradle of Forestry’s “Bring Back the Monarchs” program on Sunday, September 17.  Another is the North Carolina Arboretum’s annual Monarch Day, to be held this year on Saturday, September 23.

“I’ve been invited to be a part of the Monarch Day,” said Hunt. “No one really needs this little book, but it might be helpful in giving the wider ecological context. It’s great for younger students. In a nutshell, I’ll just tell people at the arboretum to drive up to Cherry Cove View or the Caney Fork Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway as quick as they can. Watching the migrating monarchs is an amazing aesthetic experience. It’s a window to a natural, global force expressed by a small and beautiful creature. It’s possible to understand an issue in the abstract, but actually seeing the monarchs gliding overhead, or clustering on goldenrod and aster is what shows you their value.”

A Pictorial Guide to the Monarch Butterfly Migration over the Southernmost Blue Ridge Parkway is available now on and Create Space, and will soon be in some of the independent bookstores and garden centers in the Asheville area.

Mickey Hunt has been exploring along the southern Blue Ridge Parkway with his family for 30+ years. He lives in east Asheville. His book website is and his blog,

Contact Hunt:

Image © Mickey Hunt

[Note: High quality photos of monarchs on the BRP are available to accompany this story.]

[For wholesale orders, a direct link to the book’s Create Space page:]