Sunday, August 2, 2015

Counting Butterflies

Male Spicebush Swallowtail
On Friday I got to participate in my first county Butterfly Count! I've been trying to brush up on my identification skills in preparation, these last few weeks.

The park and north to the county line was my territory to cover - a huge area, really!

Little Glassywing, with the glassy "windows" visible on its forewings
I gave it my best, and covered as much ground as possible (in the absence of my little buddy, for at least part of the time).

There are 81 species on our park list, and 139 statewide. I was only able to record 31, but such is life.

Grey Hairstreak
It was a perfectly glorious day: hot, but the high pressure system that moved in a few days ago dried everything out, and there was a nice breeze and perfect, clear blue skies.

I didn't get as many photographs as I was hoping for, but luckily Mark got some nice ones.

Butterflies are only out when it's sunny, or when the temperatures are warm. They are cold-blooded, and they must heat their bodies to 86 degrees F before they can fly.

Spicebush Swallowtail
So that's why, first thing in the morning, you will see them basking on leaves, tree trunks or rocks, soaking up the sun.

A male Zabulon Skipper
This is a good time to photograph them, because they aren't very active yet, and the early morning light is so lovely.

Question Mark
I sought them out in a variety of habitats and elevations.

First a walked along a nearby road, a gorgeous location hugged by sheer cliffs on one side and the river on the other.

It's a nice place to take pictures. Just the other day, Mark photographed some otters down there!

There were a lot of things blooming, including Wild Potato Vine....

.... and Cup Plant.....

A Pipevine Swallowtail Mark photographed by the river
Afterwards, I began making my way through the park, from the entrance to the back.

Northern Pearly eye, zoomed way in
Butterflies are most commonly found in open, sunny areas - often where the grass is tall and full of flowering plants.

Little Glassywing
So nectar-loving butterflies can be easy to find wherever flowers are abundant.

A female Zabulon Skipper. Compare to the male at the top of the page. I think they compliment each other beautifully.
It's the non-nectar feeders that can be a little challenging.

Look for these patrolling sunny areas near the woods, or feeding on such unsavory things as feces or carrion.

Red-spotted Purple butterflies like rotting fruit and animal droppings
Another common place to locate large numbers of butterflies are sandy shores and mud puddles. Many species of butterfly congregate around moist soil or sand, sipping at water and especially minerals. 

Eastern Tiger and Spicebush Swallowtails
Often this is a "guys only" affair, with just the males of the species partaking.

There was at least one butterfly on my buck list that I wanted to find above all others: the Goatweed Leafwing.

While not really considered rare, it isn't terribly common, either. It's typically found in the Deep South and the tropics. Luckily, our park is usually a good place to find it.

Lo and behold, at my last stop by the lake shore, I saw a blur of bright orange flitting around in a wide circle, finally perching in a plum thicket. I had to zoom really far with my digital camera, so the quality isn't great, but I was still very excited to capture it!

They could be easily overlooked from the side view, with their impeccable leaf camouflage, but once they spread those wings, you see the flash orange.

Butterflies at Home
Mark joined me and we wrapped up the count on the river trail, chasing the daylight and the lingering butterflies soaking up the evening rays before retiring into the foliage for the night.

By far, the most numerous butterfly of the day, not surprisingly, was the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail at 217. It was followed by the Spicebush Swallowtail, with 107.

Here are the rest of the species I recorded (click on the names to see photos and learn more):

Silver-spotted Skipper: 11
Hoary Edge: 15
Northern Cloudywing: 2
Sachem: 1
Northern Broken-Dash: 1
Little Glassywing: 11
Zabulon Skipper: 18
Pipevine Swallowtail: 7
Zebra Swallowtail: 1
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail: 217
Spicebush Swallowtail: 107
Giant Swallowtail: 2
Cabbage White: 3
Gray Hairstreak: 4
Eastern Tailed-Blue: 17
American Snout: 9
Gulf Fritillary: 2
Hackberry Emperor: 41
Tawny Emperor: 3
Silvery Checkerspot: 2
Pearl Crescent: 21
Common Buckeye: 1
Question Mark: 5
Eastern Comma: 3
Red Admiral: 4
Goatweed Leafwing: 1
Northern Pearly Eye: 3
Gemmed Satyr: 2
 Carolina Satyr: 10

It was a great day, and I'm looking forward to expanding my knowledge of our native butterflies, and participating in future counts!

A Lace-winged Roadside Skipper


  1. Wow, these are awesome photos. I absolutely love butterflies. Thank for you for sharing. Found you on Clever Chicks Blog Hop. Blessings to you.

  2. Beautiful, beautiful pictures of butterflies. Thank you for sharing with the Clever Chicks Blog Hop! I hope you’ll join us again next week!

    Kathy Shea Mormino
    The Chicken Chick

  3. Incredible! I just recently found several red-spotted purple butterflies around here and took some quick pictures, but I would be overjoyed to find the various kinds you did. Great job! :)

  4. This sounds like a lot of fun, and you got so many great pictures!

    Thanks again for linking up with Green Thumb Thursday! I'd love to see you back this week!