“You’re going to count butterflies?” That’s the response many of us get when we tell the un-initiated how we’re going to spend our Saturday as the day of the great butterfly count approaches, and this year was no exception except that we had more people that ever jump in to help with this endeavor! In past years, our participants have numbered around 35 but this year, over seventy people of all ages came out to count! We were also fortunate to have eight leaders available this year so we could split up into more teams and truly cover our count circle.
Our butterfly count was held on August 1stand we had a great day for it. Butterflies need the warmth of the sun to fly so having the temperatures in the 70s and 80s was perfect. Our eight teams had pre-determined meeting spots and participants met up at 9am. My team started at Ida Lee Park with the master gardener’s butterfly garden and then headed north along Route 15. Cliff Fairweather’s team started at Rust Sanctuary and then went along the W&OD trail as well as other points through Hamilton. Covering the center and north of our count circle was Mona Miller and her team as they started at Phillips Farm and then headed up to Lovettsville. Tom Raque and Eric Raun covered the Purcellville and Lincoln areas, doing justice to some great gardens, farms and parks through there. Jon Little led his team along Appalachian Trail Road and the Blackburn Center, while Bob Blakney and Larry Meade led two teams at the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship.
In all, our teams counted 4,899 individual butterflies and saw 46 different species. While we’ve had slightly higher diversity on a few of our counts, forty-six is pretty much on par. In terms of overall number of butterflies, this was the second highest in our thirteen years (in 2005 we had 5,042 individual butterflies). The higher number of individual butterflies this year may be due to having more participants spotting and identifying but we’ll have to watch this for future trends.
The interesting thing about this year’s count had to do with the species that were low in number versus those that were high. Least Skippers, for instance, made a real showing. In past years we’ve averaged 20-30 individuals but this year we had 386! We had similar observations with Clouded Sulphurs (774 this year compared to 80-100 in past years), Orange Sulphurs (393 this year compared to approximately 60 in past years) and Silvery Checkerspots (227 compared to approximately 20 in past years). Monarch butterflies (193 spotted) as well as Eastern-tailed Blues (242) and Spring/Summer Azures (22), were consistent with past counts.
Overall, the swallowtail and fritillary butterflies were low in numbers and outside of the Least Skipper, we didn’t see as many skippers in general this year. Red-Spotted Purples, while better than last year, were still low in number. Hairstreaks were also either very low or not present. In terms of rare sightings, Mona Miller’s team was lucky to find a Giant Swallowtail at Butterfly Hill Farm in Lovettsville. They are always an impressive butterfly to see.
A big “Thank You” to our count leaders and all of our participants! We couldn’t have counted all these butterflies without you and hope you’ll join us again next August!