History of the Saline Monarch Count

The earliest records we have of monarchs surveys in Saline Valley were from Derham Giuliani, a naturalist from Big Pine, California. Derham began surveying these sites in 1976 and continued nearly annually until 2008. Derham documented monarchs in a number of canyons in the Inyo Mountains, including Hunter, McElvoy, Pat Keyes, Lead, Cougar, Paiute, Willow, and Beveridge at various times of the year. During the fall and winter, he consistently surveyed Hunter, Willow, and McElvoy Canyons, sometimes documenting over 1,000 monarchs!

In 2016, Rachel Williams learned of these sites and was able to obtain digital copies of Derham's field notes. In the winter of 2016, Rachel visited Hunter Canyon and noted at least 50 monarchs present, but did not conduct an official survey. In 2017, she recruited volunteers to help survey 5 canyons in Saline Valley in a single day. In early December, 34 amazing volunteers made the trek into Saline Valley to help in the survey efforts. A total of 145 monarchs were documented in 3 different canyon. Additional volunteers returned to 2 of these canyons (Hunter and McElvoy) in early January, 2018 and were unable to locate any monarchs. The seep willow, which was the primary nectar source during the December surveys, had gone to seed and it is believed this may be why the monarchs were no longer in the area.

In 2018, we changed our approach and spread our survey effort throughout the fall/winter, rather than just a few days. We had a total of 31 volunteers complete eight surveys between October and the end of December 2018. These surveyors documented a maximum of 27 monarchs in mid-December, after which monarch numbers in the valley fell to zero, similarly to what we found the previous year.

This year, we hope to gather additional data throughout the fall and winter to determine when the monarchs arrive and when they leave. In addition, we will be tagging monarchs in an effort to determine when they are going. If you find yourself roaming around the desert this winter, keep an eye out for monarchs that may be congregating near springs! If you see some, please let us know and be sure to look for tags!