Chasing Monarchs: Migrating with the Butterflies of Passage

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9780618127436: Chasing Monarchs: Migrating with the Butterflies of Passage

The monarch butterfly is our best-known and best-loved insect, and its annual migration over thousands of miles is an extraordinary natural phenomenon. Robert Michael Pyle, "one of America's finest natural history writers" (Sue Hubbell), set out late one summer to follow the monarchs south from their northernmost breeding ground in British Columbia. CHASING MONARCHS tells the engrossing story of his adventurous journey with these graceful wanderers -- down the Columbia, Snake, Bear, and Colorado rivers, across the Bonneville Salt Flats, and through the Chiricahua Mountains to Mexico, returning north along the California coast. Part travelogue, part scientific study, CHASING MONARCHS is one of the most fascinating books ever written about butterflies. "[Pyle's] delightful anecdotes, thought-provoking philosophical questions and personal passion make this chronicle a potential classic" (Monarch News).

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Review:

A long-standing bit of American nature folklore holds that monarch butterflies west of the Rocky Mountains migrate to wintering grounds in California, whereas those east of the Rockies migrate to wintering grounds in Mexico--and that the two classes of monarchs never meet and mix. Robert Pyle, a lepidopterist and nature writer, decided as a matter of curiosity to test the verity of this observation. His loosely conceived experiment took him over much of western North America, from a monarch breeding ground deep in the forests of British Columbia to the pine-clad mountainsides of central Mexico. His long journey forms the narrative frame for the aptly titled Chasing Monarchs, a book that mixes literate, and often funny, travelogue with the natural history of Danaus plexippus and its relatives. Pyle takes his readers along countless dirt roads, forest paths, cliffs, and milkweed-lined meadows to follow his quest, which he describes with plain elegance: "I'll find a monarch. I will watch it. If it flies, I'll follow it as far as I can. When I lose it, I'll take its vanishing bearing--the direction in which it disappears. Then I will quarter the countryside, by foot and by road, until I find the next suitable habitat along that bearing, and do it again." The landscape changes constantly in Pyle's quest, keeping things interesting, and Pyle imparts his evident, abundant affection for butterflies to his readers, a contagiously joyful interest that they come to share as his story progresses. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

ROBERT MICHAEL PYLE is the author of fourteen books, including Chasing Monarchs, Where Bigfoot Walks, and Wintergreen, which won the John Burroughs Medal. A Yale-trained ecologist and a Guggenheim fellow, he is a full-time writer living in southwestern Washington.

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