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June 5, 2012 > Butterfly and Bird Festival

Butterfly and Bird Festival

By Gustavo Lomas
Photos By Courtesy of Dino Labiste

Imagine looking outside the window just as you wake up to see a Monarch butterfly gently floating by. You had originally thought that only a nice cup of coffee would get you "up and at 'em," but now this simplistic sight has changed your mind. You begin to wonder about the Monarchs journey and realize just how little you know of butterflies in general. They are agile, graceful and somehow visually soothing, but just like most things, there has to be more to the story. Where do they prefer to live? Do they have any natural enemies? What do they eat? Why is it that they are not seen as much as they once were?

The Butterfly and Bird Festival at Coyote Hills Regional Park is dedicated to answering these questions and more. Now in its thirteenth year, the festival continues to raise public awareness on butterflies, moths, and birds. The festival began in 1998, an idea of Jan Southworth, retired Coyote Hills Naturalist, who was inspired after reading an article that stated that in the 1940s and '50s there were 70 to 100 different species of butterfly found in the San Francisco Bay Area. But today, there are less then twelve due to habitat loss, pesticides, and heavy grazing.

"We want to increase public awareness on how to stay truly green and give instruction on how people can create an urban garden and contribute to saving the butterflies," says Dino Labiste, Park Naturalist for the last five years. "Even certain weeds, if left alone, can be helpful in restoring homes for the butterfly population."

Plants that butterflies need to survive and populate are called host plants; Coyote Hills has a garden dedicated to growing such plants called The Nectar Garden. It contains both native and non-native host plants alike, such as Narrow Leaved Milkweed, Showy Milkweed, and the non-native Blood flower and Family Jewels. "We think it's a good idea to have at least one host plant in bloom year round, which is why we have a variety here in our garden, but for an at home urban garden we recommend native plants," Labiste says.

In 2011, the park released over 500 Monarch Butterflies into the wild with the help of numerous volunteers. "It is not only host plants that need to be protected, but the butterflies themselves in their transformation state, especially the chrysalis." Labiste says that when in the wild and in the chrysalis stage, sometimes wasps will lay eggs in the monarch chrysalis, which then will take all the nutrients away from the butterfly causing it to perish. The Nectar Garden started as a plant demonstration garden for urban living and has inspired neighboring communities and schools, even becoming a part of one school's curriculum, motivating students to grow their own garden at school to attract wildlife. "Today if you were to ask a student what butterflies they have seen they would most likely list three different ones: orange butterfly (Monarchs), yellow butterfly (Swallowtails), and white butterfly (Cabbage Whites) so the goal of urban gardens in communities is to provide a corridor of habitats for birds and butterflies alike," says Labiste, "as well as help people understand that there can be, and often in a home garden should be, simplicity in conservation."

The Nectar Garden is located at the Visitor's Center. Upon entering, art tiles dedicated to the garden by children from previous years can be seen, but most likely the doorway into the garden will catch your attention first - a large circular wooden door reminiscent of something out of the Lord of the Rings with a butterfly handle. Within the garden, visitors will see plants and pathways and various donated items given by patrons wishing to help the garden thrive. "I like to watch out of the window in my office and see the birds playing in the fountain," Labiste admitted. Who could blame him? The garden is a tranquil environment; the information and history only add to the experience. Twelve species of butterfly can be found in the garden; local and migrating birds are year round visitors too.

The Butterfly and Bird Festival will have food, music, garden tours, themed activities, educational speakers, and a photo slideshow featuring photography of nature from local photographers. The event is free and open to all ages, but there is an automobile parking fee of $5. For more information call (510) 544-3220.

Butterfly and Bird Festival
Sunday, June 10
10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Coyote Hills Regional Park
8000 Patterson Ranch Rd., Fremont
(510) 544-3220
Automobile parking: $5

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