Thursday, August 26, 2010

Counting Butterflies

Recently I had a comment on my post on the Durham Butterfly Count about how do you count butterflies? Well answering this in comments just did not seem to be the best way to answer this.

First having the knowledge to ID each and every butterfly comes with practice, a lot of practice. Some get the IDs easily others no so easy. We always have a team leader that knows the butterflies so everyone in the group does not need to be an expert. Many that come along it is their first time on a butterfly count, still they can be quite helpful and learn along the way.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Swamp Milkweed.
These guys stole the show on the Durham Butterfly Count. They were everywhere, our group tallied 394 of them. At one spot with lots of yellow composites along both sides of the road I was walking fast and counting them as I went. Just getting the ones I could see and hoping not to over or under count, it is actually estimating them. If I had moved slowly I believe they would have been more confusing to tally from mixing back and forth. Some you will always miss and others might get counted twice, so the missed ones make up for the counted twice ones. That roadside composite patch on both sides of the road for 200 yards I tallied up 130 Eastern Tiger Swallowtails. Down the street a massive roadside patch of Hercules Club I estimated 55 tigers on them.

Zebra Swallowtail on Brazilian Verbena. This verbena grows wild along our roadsides and is a big butterfly attractor.  Zebras on our previous counts have mostly tallied 1, this year 16!

Above and below is the Silvery Checkerspot. The yellow flowers above are narrow-leaved Sneezeweed. This plat is very drought tolerant and a good butterfly magnet. We walked about 3 miles in the Flat River Impoundment and probably 2 -21/2 miles of the gravel road was completely full of sneezeweed. We counted the butterflies on it as we approached it, not looking back or where we had been already. Record numbers of the Silvery Checkerspot were found this year as well.



These two butterflies, the Viceroy above and Red Admiral on Swamp Milkweed  below were a challenge to count. The impoundment has Black Willows growing in the ditches. One had to look for moving wings or butterflies flying in the willows then set binoculars on them. We would find Viceroys, Red Admirals, Question marks, Eastern Commas,  Hackberry Emperors and Tawny Emperors in the willows. I know we missed a lot of them, over counting them was not an issue in the willows.

Here is the Variegated Fritillary above on sneezeweed and Common Buckeye on a blade of grass below. Both of these can be flying all about you and your crew! Best to count them as you see them in front of you then hope they don't sneak in from behind. Buckeyes this year seem to be everywhere, normally open areas are the best places to find both of these species.


Here we have the Cloudless Sulphur above and Little Yellow below. Cloudless Sulphurs are very large and look like a pat of butter when in flight, easy to ID on the wing once you learn them.

The Little Yellow is sometimes missed on our count, it comes up from the south and might not make it here at all. We had 3 total of them on the count this year. It is small and yellow, not orange like the very common Sleepy Orange which is slightly bigger.
Well I did not get to the skippers! I bet a lot of you are glad of that. Skippers take a lot of practice to learn them and some a photo is a great idea to make sure you are right.


Next stop the Wilmington NC Butterfly Count this Saturday, I'll have to leave by 5AM to make it there by 9AM. For those of you that want to get involved with a butterfly count please check the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) for a count near you.

18 comments:

Cameron said...

Great photos and info!

There are five Monarch caterpillars on the milkweed and four butterflies in my garden right now. Hope to see more!

Southern Lady said...

Great pictures and thanks for all of the wonderful information. A butterfly count sounds like a fun activity. Carla

Carol said...

Fabulous photos and variety of butterflies Randy. The Viceroy shot is unbelievable! They are all gorgeous. 200 yards 130 butterflies... wow!

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

394 Tiger Swallowtails? Awesome! I'd love to see so many. We do have quite a few Western ones here, but nowhere near that many! The Zebra Swallowtail is absolutely stunning, but unfortunately we don't get those :(

tina said...

I can see where walking and counting would be simplest. There would be no way to possibly count every single butterfly and do it only once. Estimates are close enough. I have a ton of those buckeyes here so I'm not surprised they are so abundant. This year has been splendid. I was on Fort Campbell yesterday and as we drove on a back road (I was in a bus) there were brown flying things all along the railroad tracks. I thought at first leaves but then realized they were butterflies. Probably fritillaries. There were literally clouds of them. It was so amazing.

Thanks for identifying my pipevine. I think the two rows of yellow spots makes it so? I am trying to learn but since I'm not so good at ID I just call them all swallowtails. I have to come here to learn!

Jan (VA Zone 7A) said...

It's so nice to see your photos...I love them! And it's really fun to see what you all encountered during your count. It sounds like a lot of fun, not to mention a bit of work along the way! I am thinking I need to be on the lookout for zebra swallowtails. I have just made an 'assumption' that the yellow ones are all Eastern swallowtails. Will keep that in mind. I have some photos of more butterflies I've recently had in my yard, but haven't yet posted them. One is apparently a Buckeye, based on your photo. I have never seen one here before. I'll double check though, it could have a different I.D. I'll post about it soon.

Frances said...

How fun to see so many butterflies at once! I can only imagine it, like being in heaven! These are some great shots, thanks for sharing them and explaining the counting process. We only count birds. I have been stung by the saddleback catt in the previous post, ouch! The gray hairstreak is the same as ours, such a sweet creature and does let you get close for the shot, which is very polite of them! :-)
Frances

compost in my shoe said...

It is amazing how over the last two weeks the number of butterflies has just exploded in our garden. I need to start trying this counting thing. I love your photographs.

Rosie@Journey to Charm said...

What pretty butterflies.

Rosey said...

The close-ups help for ID, they are great, as usual. I saw 1 monarch in my garden this week.

Catherine@AGardenerinProgress said...

What an amazing variety! Right now the Skippers are everywhere here. They are so fast I can't imagine seeing one long enough to be able to id them.

Dawn said...

Wow! What pretty butterflies, I especially like the buckeye. We don't have those or at least that I've seen. I know I'm careful walking around here, mostly fritillaries fluttering and zg-zagging.

Gail said...

Thank you for the information and these wonderful photos! It seems to be a decent year for butterflies~I have guessed that the dry weather is to their liking, but~ gail

Shady Gardener said...

Wonderful photos, as usual, Randy! It's such fun visiting you here. :-)

Q said...

Being involved with a butterfly count sounds so fun. I count in my backyard....
I think I need to find a group!
Sounds like fun to be with all these butterflies!
Wonderful photos as always. Skippers are hard! Photos do help!
Sherry

ShySongbird said...

That sounded like quite a tricky endeavour but great fun too! I love all the photos, the only one we have here is the Red Admiral but the Cloudless Sulphur looks very much like our Brimstone. I love the Buckeye :)

Corner Gardener Sue said...

How cool to see so many butterflies in one area. I forgot how big of an area you were counting in.

Awesome photos!

Friend of HK said...

The butterfly photos are amazing! Really love you blog and the beautiful butterflies in your region.