Butterflies call Albany Hill home

Contra Costa Times – November 2004
Berkeley Voice
By Alan Lopez

ALBANY – Monarch butterflies travel hundreds of miles to the mild coastal and Bay-side climates in California every year, and an easy place to see them is among the groves of eucalyptus trees at the top of Albany Hill.

The insect, with a distinctive brownish-orange and black and spotted wing pattern, makes its way every year to California from Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, looking for relatively warm climates and protection from wind and winter storms.

“In the last few years, there haven’t been that many monarch butterflies in the area,” said Mia Monroe, coordinator for California Monarch Campaign, acting under the umbrella of the Xerces Society, an organization dedicated to invertebrates. “The numbers were really low to nonexistent. And this year, monarchs moved to the area. (The conditions were) just right.”

About 10 members of the Friends of Albany Hill visited their namesake Sunday to count the butterflies, part of a statewide effort to keep tabs on the population.

“They want to know if their population is beginning to be cut down by pesticides … or foods that are genetically altered to make them less resistant to bugs or insects,” said Kensington resident and entomologist Bob Langston.

The insects are almost impossible to avoid on the cool, sunny days, hovering around tree branches, sometimes in clusters, one of which had about 80 monarchs, said El Cerrito resident Alan Kaplan, a naturalist with the East Bay Regional Park District.

Albany Hill is one of 300 sites along the California coast where the butterflies migrate, but only one of a handful of public places where the butterflies can be seen in the East Bay, Monroe said.

They’ll remain in their winter homes until about March, when they will fly east, south or north. They’ll return in September.

Carole Fitzgerald, coordinator for Albany Hill group, said the monarch-counting is an extension of the other work the group does, such as removing non-native plants. The group will recount the monarchs in early January.

“I just find them fascinating because they look so delicate and they can make these amazing flights,” Fitzgerald said.

“They’re pretty insects. I like the colors,” added Richmond Annex resident Dave McFarlane. “I just like coming up on the hill and enjoying nature.”