Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival soars in San Antonio

Musicians, artists, advocates and educators were setting up their displays around 8:30 AM on Sunday when an aggressive storm suddenly blew through the Pearl complex, dramatically dropping temperatures and rain. Mother Nature was strutting her stuff for the final day of the 2017 Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival, San Antonio’s unique celebration of the Monarch butterfly migration.

Monarch butterfly takes a break on bouganvillea at the Historic Pearl. Photo by Monika Maeckle

But like a rabble of migrating Monarchs, the storm dissipated as quickly as it showed up. Within 15 minutes, the clouds parted, blue skies returned, and music, laughter and thousands of people filled Pearl Park. They came “with their wings on.”

By 10 o’clock, Adam Tutor, musician and Community Outreach Director for San Antonio Sound Garden, whipped up the crowd as percussionists Michael Madison and Thibeaux led a drum procession down Pearl Parkway.  A merry band of butterfly aficionados followed. Up  front, the Earnabike Coop’s Pedaling Pollinators’ butterfly bikes escorted our custom-made “mariposa pyramid” set atop a colorful gardening wagon bedecked with late season nectar plants and Fiesta fringe. We made our way to Pearl Park where cantora Azul Barrrientos plucked her guitar and sang indigenous musica folklorico.

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At noon, a trinational cast counted down from 10 in French, Spanish and English. As we reached “four, three, two, one,” much of the crowd joined in and hundreds of Monarch butterflies erupted from the “mariposa pyramid” designed by our friends at TBG Partners and built by German Morales, a master carpenter at the Mexican Cultural Institute San Antonio.

Spectators sighed as wafts of the orange-and-black insects soared to the sky, some lighting on surrounding sycamore trees where hummingbird feeders filled with fructose nectar offered a fuel stop for their long journey south. “We want them well fed and fat so they make it through the winter,” said Drake White, Chief Docent for the Festival, who organized the volunteers.

Some folks were moved to tears. Others danced, swayed and spread their wings.

A dozen docents, many Alamo Area Texas Master Naturalists, performed more than 500 one-on-one tagging demonstrations with children of all ages. Those who tagged a butterfly and  learned about the Monarchs’ amazing life cycle and migration were also “tagged” with an official Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival butterfly-shaped sticker.

“I got tagged at #samonarchfest!”

Twenty educational partners explained, educated and enlightened the crowd about the magical Monarch butterfly migration, native and host plants, and how insect pollinators make one of every three bites of our food possible. Our award-winning water utility, SAWS, staged multiple butterfly gardening workshops at the Pearl Studio led by botanist Charles Bartlett and Albert del Rio of Greenhaven Landscaping.  TBG Partners set up a Papalotl art installation at the Pearl courtyard where children could draw wishes on a ribbon which will be sent to Mexico.

“It was a beautiful day and a ton of fun,” said Gabriela Santiago, a local educator and artist who attended the Festival and served as a docent.

The Sunday parade, butterfly release and educational events consummated a week in which thousands of people joined together online and in person to celebrate the Monarch butterfly migration during peak Monarch migration season in San Antonio, the country’s first Monarch Butterfly Champion City.

Avery Roan shows off her educational  Monarch migration poster at the SAWS butterfly landscaping workshop. Photo by Monika Maeckle

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg set the stage for the festivities by renewing the city’s Mayor’s Monarch Pledge to the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) on October 16th. Standing on the west bank of a new pollinator garden along the San Antonio River, Nirenberg pointed out how San Antonio’s unique geographic location is strategic to the Monarch butterfly migration route. Read full coverage by Nicholas Frank in the Rivard Report.

Former Mayor Hardberger joined current Mayor Nirenberg to tag and release a butterfly. The joy on their faces set the tone for the week. Thank you, Mayors!

Monarch Butterfly Champions: San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg watches as former Mayor Phil Hardberger releases a tagged Monarch Butterfly on the San Antonio River. Photo by Monika Maeckle

Nirenberg’s predecessor Mayor Ivy Taylor signed the NWF initiative in 2015.  It commits cities across the country to increase Monarch butterfly and pollinator habitat. San Antonio became the first city in the country to become a Monarch Champion and commit to all 24 action items recommended  by NWF. One of those items: stage a Monarch butterfly festival.

Thanks to widespread community support and collaboration, we have.

On Friday, Monarch butterfly experts from across the continent–Dr. Chip Taylor, founder of Monarch Watch, Elizabeth Howard, founder of Journey North, Dr. Carlos Galindo Leal, Director of Scientific Communication at the National Commission of Biodiversity in Mexico  (CONABIO), and Louise Hénault-Ethier, Director of Science, the David Suzuki Foundation, Montréal–gathered at the Pearl Stable to discuss atmospheric and political climate change and its impact on the Monarch migration.

Louise Henault Ethier, Carlos Galindo Leal, Chip Taylor and Elizabeth Howard discuss climate change and the Monarch migration with moderator Dan Goodgame. Photo by Bonnie Arbitier, Rivard Report

The takeaway: citizen science holds the keys to conservation success. Politicians come and go, but we, the people on the ground who elect them, must keep pushing for fewer pesticides, more pollinator habitat and conservation minded land management–as well as resources for education and outreach. Read full coverage of the event by Rocio Guenther of the Rivard Report here.  

Dr. Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch leads a butterfly walk and talk at San Antonio Botanical Garden. Photo by Veronica Prida

On Saturday, art, science and education activities filled the calendar. Public school teachers learned how to use Monarchs in the classroom from Journey North’s Elizabeth Howard at the San Antonio River Authority. Louise Hénault Ethier, an expert in entomophagy, the eating of insects as food and feed, hosted a bug lunch at the Witte Museum while Monarch Watch’s Chip Taylor led a butterfly walk and talk at San Antonio Botanical Garden. Several events included yummy insect snacks–seasoned, dehydrated crickets, grasshoppers and mealworms provided by our friends at Little Herds. Recipes coming soon.

In the afternoon, children tagged Monarchs at Yanaguana Gardens in downtown San Antonio’s recently reimagined Hemisfair Park while Mexican artist Luis Moro conducted a Tree of Life drawing workshop. Saturday evening, CONABIO’s Carlos Galindo Leal gave a lecture on Mexico’s biodiversity at the Mexican Cultural Institute San Antonio. Moro’s beautiful watercolor paintings, a mezcal tasting and chapulines (dehydrated, seasoned cricket snacks) followed.

For an inspiring overview, check out the video below assembled by our friends at the Rivard Report.

Merci, gracias and thank you to all our sponsors and partners. We look forward to seeing you next year.

Got photos of this year’s Festival? We’d love to see them! Please share them on our Facebook page or send them to butterflybeat@gmail.com

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