Saturday, July 23, 2016

Annual Virginia Master Naturalists North American Butterfly Count

Butterfly Count in the forest at Kemper Park
It was an privilege for me to be able to participate in the North American Butterfly Count for Albemarle County. Today 2 teams of Virginia Master Naturalists (for the exception of a few of us) headed out at 9 am to count butterflies. I was assigned to the team that went to the amazing Kemper Park nature trail that traverses up to Monticello. When I left the house it was 77 degrees, when I returned after noon, it was 97! Needless to say, it was a hot day. We were very fortunate to be able to walk deep in the forest to escape the oppressing heat. The other group was dispatched to Crozet, another area in the county.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Thistle, parking lot Kemper Park
The official numbers have not been tabulated but it was obvious that the numbers were lower this year. The most commonly spotted butterfly, and one of the largest, was the yellow with black stripes Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Of all the butterflies in Virginia, it probably is the most recognized.

I found this photo amusing given our addiction to cell phones. This little American Snout is trying to grab the attention of one of our young nature lovers that was on the count. Almost to say, hey you, get off that thing and pay attention to me! Check out the unusually long snout on that guy.

The small Silvery Checkerspot
There are many reasons for a species to decline. One of the best ways to encourage butterflies in your yard is to plant natives and other trees, shrubs, and flowers that caterpillars like to eat or that butterflies prefer for egg laying. I finally have a little patch of three Paw Paw trees that are coming along nicely in my yard. This attracts the stunning Zebra Swallowtail, one of which we saw today but it was so high in the tree I could not photograph it.

Cardinal Flower and Joe Pye Weed
Not only do we see wonderful Butterflies but also interesting plants and little critters. We were lucky to have a budding entomologist along that magically spotted unusual insects that I had never seen before. It's a thrill to see something new. Of course being on the trail with Master Naturalists, most plants are also identified.

My first sighting of the Hackberry Emperor
It was a hot day but when your mission is to "spot the butterfly" it some how takes a backseat to your quest to find the next elusive beauty. Especially when you find a species that you have never seen. I was happy to see a Hackberry Emperor complete with a crazy pattern and many "eyes". All designed to confuse predators and make it blend into the environment.

The Kemper Park group
Training prior to the event was prepared by Nancy Weiss and Terri Keffert of the Rivanna Master Naturalists. Many thanks to both of them for their dedication to this effort and to our team leader, Laura Seale.


1 comment:

  1. Great account of our hot time counting butterflies! It was exciting to get such a good look at our cooperative snout butterfly. Best wishes for continued discoveries!


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