This year’s Butterfly Count, held August 4, 2012 was a good one indeed!
Seventy people came out for the count and were broken into 8 different teams that spanned out across our count circle in search of butterflies. Thank you to everyone who came out for this event and made it such a success! We had a tremendous time because of all the great spotting, identifying and photographing of these wonderful insects!
While it was a hot day, neither the butterflies nor our counters were deterred. Counting seemed low at times but in fact, we spotted a total of 51 species and counted 3477 individual butterflies, which is right on par both in diversity and in numbers with a good count year and in fact, an improvement over last year when we only had 43 species.
Counters started with their teams at 9:00 a.m. and some wrapped up a little past noon while others pushed on until almost 5:00 p.m. Count leaders then started tallying the data and sending it in to be compiled. As we looked at the data we saw some interesting things jump out:
– Monarch butterflies were fortunately on par with last year. We were curious as to how they would fare this year. Last fall, the migrating population had to travel through more than 1,000 miles of dry land through the Midwest and Texas, and nectar plants were scarce. The population of Monarchs that reached the mountains of Mexico was the smallest ever recorded and they were skinny – unable to put on the fat they typically would from nectaring along their migration.
As this small population headed back north this Spring, they pushed into the East and into Canada faster than normal due to higher winds, but we only started seeing them in Loudoun with any regularity in the last few weeks.
During the count, we tallied 57 individual Monarchs (compared to 52 last year). This is not great but not as bad as in 2002, following the storm that killed 95% of the population, when we only counted 9.
Now it is up to this generation and to find milkweed, lay eggs and for the young in coming weeks to find the nectar needed to make it back to Mexico. Let’s hope the drought through Texas and the Midwest breaks.
– Cloudless Sulphurs were on the rise with five out of eight teams reporting sighting. This is a species that we may see every few years and only by 1 or 2 teams so it was exciting for it to be more widespread this year.
– Eastern Tailed Blues (403 compared to a previous high of 242 ), Tawny-edged Skippers (194 compared to a previous high of 66) and Variegated Fritillaries (216 compared to a previous high of 110) were standouts with the highest numbers ever seen on the count. You can view the summary data from all 16 years of our count on our website here.
– Lower numbers were seen for the Common Buckeye. This is a butterfly that in the last two years seemed to have a population explosion and we saw them everywhere. This year things had wound back down.
In addition to the tally sheets, counters shared their photos from the day through online photo sharing sites and wow, this is a case where the power of the web and the whole community came together to make an id that surprised us!
Sheryl Pollock, had sent over her photo site from shots she had taken at the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship and asked for help identifying a particular skipper.
As we shared her album around through listservs like the Washington Area Butterfly Club and emails to address the skipper, a couple of people looked across her shots, beyond, and said, “Hey, that photo of a fritillary that you got is an Aphrodite!”
We had an old record for an Aphorodite Fritillary but having not seen one in Loudoun for the entire time that we’ve conducted the count, we thought that perhaps the species was no longer in our area. But there it was and with a photo to document it!
This just goes to show that the more we look, the more we find. By doing the count each year we get an invaluable glimpse into the health of our environment and the diversity of species that are all around us. As we do each year, we’re sending our data in to the North American Butterfly Association, so that our local data can be aggregated regionally and nationally and used by scientists, researchers and students across the Country. Thanks again to all our volunteers and the property owners who allowed us to explore the wild side of Loudoun!
Enjoy a great spread of photos from people on the count:
Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy facebook Album: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151151085836093.497860.99514581092&type=1&l=4f90976fc2
Gary Myers: http://www.flickr.com/photos/naturebuggin/sets/72157630902477656/
Sheryl Pollock: http://www.flickr.com/photos/39432681@N05/sets/72157630912353874/
Norm Gresley: http://OpalMiner.zenfolio.com/p718823674
Matt Muir: http://www.inaturalist.org/calendar/muir/2012/8/4
If you need help identifying butterflies in your garden or other places around Loudoun, check out our Field Guide to the Butterflies of Loudoun County.