Heading into our butterfly count this year, many people were asking, “Where are all the butterflies?” Across our area, other butterfly counts had already taken place and numbers were very low. Why? Well, remember that polar vortex and those extreme cold temperatures that we had last winter? And remember that cooler wet spring that we had? Those environmental factors really took a toll on our butterflies and other insects.
Most of our butterflies overwinter as chrysalides or caterpillars. Some overwinter in the egg stage and a few, like the Question Mark and Comma, overwinter as adults. The harsh temperatures may have just been a bit too much for many of them and the cooler spring delayed some of our plants. The earlier butterfly counts revealed the impact of these conditions.
But what about our Central Loudoun Count? Eighteen years ago, Bob Lyon tracked butterfly populations in Loudoun and determined that the first week of August is the peak for us in terms of butterfly diversity and numbers, and so we hold our count on the first Saturday in August each year. This year that decision was particularly pleasing because while the year started out slow, when it came time for our butterfly count, we had a good showing that, while lower than some years, was still decent.
So what happened on August 2nd, 2014? For starters, we had really nice weather. Temperature were high 70s to low 80s and it was sunny. We had 8 teams manned by 76 people covering our count circle and by the time the day was done, we had spotted, identified and tallied 3,063 butterflies across 55 different species!
How does this compare to the past 5-6 years? Well, with the exception of last year during which we experienced a downpour, our count has averaged about 3500 butterflies. So we are a little below that. In terms of species diversity, however, our average is about 50 and this is only the second time that we have ever reached 55 species!
What were the standouts this year? There was a Giant Swallowtail at the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship that got everyone’s attention! We spotted a total of 63 Monarchs, giving us an indicator that Monarchs may see a modest recovery this year.
Silver-spotted Skippers and Eastern-tailed Blues were out in force and our teams found 424 and 487 respectively! We also had the highest number of Zebra Swallowtails (58) ever spotted on our count but other swallowtail numbers were down.
We also saw very few hairstreaks although we did have 5 Juniper Hairstreaks at one location. Fritillaries were also lower.
You can look at the data and compare our results across the years by downloading our summary sheet here: https://loudounwildlife.org/PDF_Files/ButterflyCountData_Summary.pdf
We want to give a big thank you to all our team leads for scouting their sectors, coordinating their people, gathering the data, and teaching new people about butterflies: Larry Meade, Sheryl Pollock, Dirck Harris, Jon Little, Phil Daley, Tom Ramsay, Bob Blakney and Nicole Hamilton.
We also want to thank all the people who joined us for the count – spotting and identifying and having a great time: Bob Ryan, Jo-Anne Burlew, Caroline Kuhfahl, Bob and Tamie DeWitt & Tom Gray, Bill Cour, Norma Wilson, Jane Yocom, John Magee, Gary Myers, Laurie Proulx, David Pollock, Mildred Porter, Barb Good, Kim Norgaard, Albert Ho, Irene Ho and Angela Ho, Donna Quinn, Carol & Chris White, Thomas Dombrowski, Heather Olson, Amy Ritter, Donna Travostino, Fred Gillis, Carol DiGiorgio, Monica Neff, Gail Gillis, Nancy Goetzinger, Tess McAllister, Pidge Troha, Jennifer Lieberman, Tony Murdock, Sarah, Jeff, Carter & Sam Steadman, Michael Seymour and family, Mary Price, Laura and Liam McGranaghan, Marcia Weidner, Janet Locklear, Paula & Chuck Myers, Ashley & Michael Brody +2 children, Jill Miller, Teresa Barth, Candi and Casey Crichton, Teresa Davenport, Donna MacNeil.
And a big thank you to all the people that not only keep terrific butterfly habitat but also allow us to visit year after year (VanHuyck, Kurtz, Wilson, MacDowell, Taylor, Gregory, Lohman, Hamilton, Cochran, Dawson) and all the managers of the public properties, parks and businesses we visited too!
What a great day it was!
Keep Calm and Butterfly On!
[photos: Team action shots by David Pollock, Peck’s Skippers by Nicole Hamilton]