Monarch Watch Blog

In Pursuit of a Little History – A Retraction

Monday, December 5th, 2016 at 5:43 pm by Chip Taylor
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“In Pursuit of a Little History”
Monarch Watch Season Summary 1998

Mea culpa is a Latin phrase that means “through my fault” and is an acknowledgement of having done wrong. The expression is used also as an admission of having made a mistake that should have been avoided. In other words, I messed up and should have known better. So, what am I confessing to? The publication in the 1998 Monarch Watch Season Summary of an article entitled “In Pursuit of a Little History” (pages 24, 25 & 50) and it is with these notes that I wish to retract this publication and to declare that all statements therein should forever be ignored. I also wish to apologize to Cathy Brugger, as she was then known, and now as Catalina Trail, for the publication of this article.

Catalina and I have been communicating about the article for several months. She has had several specific objections to the content such as not having met the “guide” mentioned in the article and NOT being led to the monarch colony on Cerro Pelon. She feels that the latter point specifically diminishes her role in the discovery of the first monarch colony by those not native to the area. In addition, I made the mistake of telling the story mostly from the standpoint of Ken Brugger thus ignoring Catalina’s leading role in the discovery of the monarch colonies. On 2 January 1975 Catalina and Ken hired a local person (not a guide) to help them carry their equipment and supplies up the mountain side since they expected to spend nearly the entire day exploring the mountain. Catalina and Ken came upon their first colony on Cerro Pelon that day at a location known as Carditos. Finding the first colony was a major achievement. The search had been long and hard with many days on holidays and weekends spent exploring likely locations throughout this mountainous region. Failures on many searches, although discouraging, surely led to insights and maybe a bit of intuition. The bottom line is that we owe a debt of gratitude to Catalina and Ken Brugger along with their partners Fred and Nora Urquhart for their persistence and dedication – an effort that solved one of the major biological puzzles of our time. Further, these discoveries made the world aware of the magnificence of one of the world’s most amazing migrations. Thanks, Catalina, and thanks to your team for opening our eyes to this extraordinary force of life.

Catalina has been interviewed many times over the last several years. The story of the discovery of the monarch overwintering colonies and her role in this effort has been well defined in these write-ups. Here are links to several articles with notes that relate to the above comments:

Austin woman remembers finding monarch sanctuary

Q & A: Catalina Trail, founder of the Monarch butterfly roosting sites

Founder of the Monarch Butterfly Roosting Sites in Mexico Lives a Quiet Life in Austin, Texas

Trail said she and Brugger had hired a local “so we wouldn’t be alone” and routinely hiked 18 kilometers a day over the skirt of the mountain and back to their camper or inn at day’s end.

Finally, on January 2, 1975, the couple came upon Cerro Pelón, a dramatic high elevation summit that spills into an arroyo, or dry streambed. “That’s when we saw them,” recalled Trail.

The location hosted what seemed to be a Monarch butterfly superhighway and fir trees laden with millions of the roosting creatures. Occasional dead butterflies littered the forest floor.

Trail was first to the site. Brugger and their helper (you can see him behind Catalina in one of the above article’s photos) brought up the rear with food, water, and gear, including a camera that snapped the photographs reprinted in this story:

Historic Gathering of Those Who Located Monarch Butterfly Roosting Sites Draws Crowd of 200

“Trail is the only living founder of three people present at the “discovery” of the site where millions of Monarch butterflies roost each winter.”

Maiden of the Monarchs: Discoverer of butterfly wintering site breaks decades of silence to tell her story.

Loaded with three backpacks and sturdy walking sticks, Brugger, Trail and Kola set off at 4 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 2, 1975, on the trail bike. They met up with a local man whom they’d hired and tied their packs onto his uncle’s horse. Their equipment included three cameras, canisters of film, topo maps, water, food and notebooks.

As to why I chose to write the story in question, all I can say in my defense is that I was misled and more than a bit naïve and gullible. Mea culpa.

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