Sunday, January 29, 2017

Flowers and Pollinators near the Monarch Sanctuaries

Last post I talked about some of the help Alternare is giving to enable local people to reforest their lands. The monarch butterfly overwinters in these forests, way way up in the mountains.

Today I'll show you a little bit of the afternoon of a pollinator in January in those mountains.

But first, where are we talking about?

The state of Michoacan in Mexico is shown in the map. A line drawn due west of Mexico City hits the border of Michoacan in rugged mountains. It's here that the butterfly nestles in branchs of the "Oyamel" fir tree at 3,000 meters above sea level elevations, in the "Reserva de la Biosfera Santuario Mariposa" - the Biosphere Reserve of the Butterfly Sanctuary.

The places where I saw monarchs are to the west of the state line (red in the map), where afternoon sunlight is stronger than morning.

Frost is common at these heights but mostly on the ground in places with a view of the sky.

The monarchs are up in the trees, not at the top where they would be exposed, and not at the bottom where the cold air sinks, but in the middle.

By morning, the butterflies are chilled - far too sluggish to fly, but not harmed either.

Much of the Oyamel forest is about as closed-in as a typical Canadian spurce-fir forest, with sparse undergrowth.

But in places where strong winds have blown down a patch of trees, the January wildflowers are very abundant.

The splashes of blue and red are some of the many native Mexican sages - Salvia species.

It was in these clearings that we saw some pollinators even in the cool mornings.

This bumblebee flew even in early mornings. She's been busy collecting pollen (see the gold speckles on her head?) which means even in cold January she's raising young. I think she's Bombus ephippiatus, a reasonably common bee in the highlands but one that's being over-collected for use in greenhouse tomato pollination.

We saw a few honeybees, but they were more abundant lower down where it wasn't soo cool.

I caught a glimpse of a fritillary butterfly on flowers beside the road but it disappeared before I could take a picture.

This groundsel, Senecio callosus, was in bloom everywhere and in the afternoon the monarchs loved it. I haven't found a common name for it.

Here's another clearing with many, many sages blooming.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A real Alternative for monarchs: a visit to Alternare A.C.

Monarchs roosting in the Monarch Biosphere Reserve

Almost 6 years ago I posted about work by Dra. Isabel Ramirez of the University of Mexico in Morelia (UNAM). Since then I have been supporting the non-governmental organization Alternare (web, facebook) which works in the Michoacan area where the monarchs overwinter. Founded 20 years ago by two peasant activists and two biologists, Alternare focuses on improving the lives of local people (campesinos) in ways that also help conserve water, soil, forests, and the air.

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Dra. Ramirez and pollinator biologists Drs. Silvana Marten-Rodriguez and Mauricio Quesada and their students at UNAM. Then I went to the Alternare training center which is located just at the base of the mountains where the monarchs overwinter.

Alternare is very active in several ways of conservation; I'll post about some of these in the future. Today I want to focus on just one of the ways Alternare helps preserve the forests in this area.

Campesino family-run tree nursery
In the picture you can see members of a small community in their tree nursery. Members of several families work in the nursery on Saturday mornings. Children come too and help, learning skills they can use the rest of their lives. Seeds are collected from native trees in land owned by the families, and planted in organic soil mixes they make themselves. At any one time they have about 2,500 seedlings of pines, firs, oaks, and other trees growing. At the beginning of the rainy season, they plant them on their land. Any excess seedlings are given to other campesinos - this is not a profit making enterprise.

By growing healthy, vigorous seedlings and by taking care in when and where they are planted, the survival rate of their seedlings is over 85%. By comparison, government-funded tree planting programs may have survival rates as low as 5%.

Almost all the land in and around the Monarch Biosphere Preserve is privately owned, mostly by small farmers such as these. Sustainable forestry is important for meeting their needs for timbers and fuel, and provides some income. Small family groups like this were trained by Alternare in these organic tree growing techniques, which they then took back to their own land. They take pride in their nursery and the prospects it provides for their children and grandchildren, and the ecological services the trees provide for the area.

Alternare depends on donations. I have donated through the Paypal link on their site (red button at bottom of page). If you pay US taxes, you can get a tax receipt by donating through GlobalGiving, which I did while I was earning $$ in the U.S. I'm not aware of any Canadian registered charity to which we Canucks can donate and have the funds reach Alternare - if you are, let me know and I'll post it!

Artemio in Alternare's tree nursery