New Film: A Flight of Monarchs

When watching, know that the first two minutes of the film were shot in Gloucester. I think you will be dazzled by the sheer numbers of Monarchs that travel through Cape Ann’s backyards and meadows during the peak of migration.

I began photographing the Monarchs in 2006, which was a year when we had an extraordinary number of Monarchs visiting our shores. At that time, I became determined that if ever again this phenomenon were to occur on Cape Ann, I was going to have the ability to document on film, rather than only through still images, this beautiful event for my community. It’s hard to imagine without observing and here you can see what I have wanted to share.

A Flight of Monarchs begins on a September day as first one and then passels of Monarchs begin to arrive to the fields and meadows of Cape Ann, carried across Massachusetts Bay on a tailwind. By the early evening light they begin to pour into the surrounding trees, clustering to stay warm in the branches furthest away from the prevailing breezes. The following morning as the sun begins to touch their wings, they alight from the trees, seeking the freshest wildflowers from which to drink nectar to help build their lipid reserves for the several thousand mile journey south. They drink and drink until the last of the sun’s rays dip below the tree line. As they arrived on a tailwind, they again depart, and are carried to the next gathering area. For coastal Monarchs, Allens Pond, which is located in Westport, Massachusetts is often the next stop.

In the next scene, the butterflies have arrived to the sacred oyamel fir forests of Angangueo, Michoacán, deep in the heart of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt. It’s early morning and the butterflies are suspended in great primordial branched clusters that may become so heavy from the weight of so many butterflies the boughs of the trees bend to the breaking point. Later in the day, as the sun begins to warm their wings, the butterflies begin to stir. During the winter, it is imperative that the Monarch’s body temperature remains relatively low. They leave the sunniest branches in search of shade and a drink of water from nearby mountain streams. Occasionally in late February, as the air temperatures begin to warm with the coming springtime, for a short period during the day, the butterflies leave the trees all at once. This phenomenon is called a butterfly “explosion,” and is a truly magnificent event to observe.

A Flight of Monarchs is set to the evocative and tender “Fields of Blue,” written and performed by composer and guitarist Jesse Cook and his band, to which permission was granted by the artist for the purpose of this short film. Here is a link to Cook’s website. I highly, highly recommend attending a live performance of Jesse Cook and Company. As was I, you will be completely taken by their gorgeous music, exquisite artistry, and with Cook’s songwriting, will travel in beautiful melodies inspired from around the world.

I am currently editing my feature length documentary, Beauty on the Wing, which after months and months of organizing and editing three years of footage, is currently running at approximately twelve hours in length. At eleven hours too long, I have a great deal of editing to accomplish in the coming winter months!

A Flight of Monarchs presented here is the shorter version of the film that I created for the Berkshire Museum’s “Butterflies” exhibit. The first version is six minutes long and played on a continuous loop in the main gallery of the exhibit hall. The longer version will soon be posted on Vimeo.


40 thoughts on “New Film: A Flight of Monarchs

    1. We are so very fortunate on Cape Ann to have this unfold in our own backyards and meadows. Fleeting in terms of how long they stay, but I pray not fleeting in terms whether this extraordinary natural phenomenon will continue continent-wide.


    1. Yes it was wonderful Les!! Very fortunately on Cape Ann I am able to get very close. In the mountains of Angangueo access is restricted to a certain distance, understandably so because of all the many visitors to the butterfly’s overwintering sites.


  1. This is just visually stunning and to think that it is real and happens in our back yard makes it even more incredible. The visuals you’ve captured are just over the top and if I didn’t know better would have thought they were computer generated.





    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Chief. Means much coming from you because I know you don’t throw your awesomes around lightly.

      You are beyond awesome for providing the GMG forum to enable filmmakers/artists/authors/designers/photographers to bring their work to the community. Thank you too for being such a tremendous supporter by hosting at Captain Joe and Sons the Cape Ann Milkweed Project. Your positivity is infectious. But thanking you doesn’t express adequately enough how GMG lifts our community. Paying it forward is your modus operandi and its an exemplary example from which we can all take our cues.


    1. Thank you Anonymous–I think you are accurate, that the light is prettier on our island however, in all fairness., the butterflies alight at midday in the mountains, here they awaken at daybreak.


  2. Gorgeous! I’ve got to get out there again some year. I have seen them at Eastern Point in the past, I was amazed by the numbers!


  3. Stunning flight it is love the music also – the background and flight so much in the wind! Thanks Kim! 🙂 Dave & Kim:-)


      1. What a beautiful blending of filming and music. Kim, you have captured the true essence of the butterflies. Hopefully with the awareness of beach goldenrod and milkweed as essential host plants, the number of monarchs will increase along the entire eastern coastline. I’m observing them in NJ during the migration.


  4. What a beautiful blending of filming and music….Kim you have captured the true essence of the butterflies. With the awareness of milkweed and beach goldenrod as essential monarch plants, hopefully the numbers of monarchs will increase along the entire eastern coastline.


    1. Thank you David and yes it truly is. I think it is one of the natural wonders of the world. There is no other butterfly migration like this anywhere else and it is a magnificent ecological link that connects nearly every region of the United States with Mexico and Canada.


  5. absolutley stunning! I have watched it three times already and will watch it many more. The music is perfect for the footage. Who knew there were so many monarchs in one place…kudos to kim for sharing this beautiful piece of nature with all of us!


  6. This is beautifully done! No doubt your stunning film will help to save the sanctuaries. The forest scene in Michoacán is from a fairy tale, so deep and dense, with its almost secret treasure.We tried to see the butterflies this mid-September at the Cape Ann sanctuary and missed them altogether. Did they come in good numbers? Thank you for your hundreds (thousands?)
    of hours of work!


    1. Thank you Lise for your very kind comments. Secret treasure is an apt description!

      The Monarch migration through our region was much, much better than last year, but not quite as good as 2012. I think mid-September was a little bit on the early side. This year the greatest numbers were here from about the last week in September through the first week of October.


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