The Nature Writers of Texas

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Sunday, July 11, 2004

30th Annual Butterfly Counts
Ro Wauer, July 11, 2004, The Victoria Advocate, © 2004

Since 1975, butterflies counts have been conducted all across North America in an attempt to acquire up-to-date information on butterfly distribution and abundance. Like Christmas Bird Counts that are held annually around Christmas time, butterfly counts are limited to 15-mile diameter areas during a single day. Butterfly counts can be scheduled between June 12 and July 25, although there is some flexibility for bad weather, like this year. The first of the local counts was undertaken at Goliad on July 2. Although only 29 counts were held the first year, 470 counts in 44 U.S. states and 5 Canadian provinces were conducted in 2003. Texas led with a total of 46 counts.

Bill Farnsworth, Paul Julian, and I tallied a total of 47 species on the Goliad count. Extremely high numbers (30-plus individuals) were recorded for pipevine swallowtails, pearl crescents, tawny emperors, sickle-winged skippers, common and tropical checkered-skippers, and southern skipperlings. Also abundant (10 to 29 individuals) were rounded metalmarks, bordered patches, and clouded, fiery, and eufala skippers. All of the other species tallied were less numerous. There were no surprises, as all of the species recorded were more-or-less expected. Goliad has a reputation in the butterfly community as being a good place to find a good variety of species. Over the years, a grand total of 107 species have been documented for Goliad.

The reason Goliad can boast about their butterfly abundance is that the area lies along the northern edge of the South Texas brushcountry and the southern edge of the eastern forest region. Species such as rounded metalmark, white peacock, coyote cloudywing, mazans scallopwing, and laviana and turk's-cap white-skippers are southern species that reach their northern limits in Goliad and adjacent counties. Silvery checkerspot is an example of a northern species that reaches the southern edge of its range in Goliad. Plus, the presence of the San Antonio River is also influential in that some butterfly species, especially summer/fall wanderers such as julia and zebra heliconians that often follow river corridors, occur there with some regularity.

Several more butterfly counts are scheduled within the region during the July count period, and anyone interested in participating is welcome. The dates and meeting locations (all starting at 9am) include: Palmetto State Park on July 9; meet at the HQ building. Choke Canyon State Park on July 12; meet as the South Unit entrance station. Indianola/Magic Ridge on July 15; meet at the entrance to Zimmerman Road along CO 316. Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on July 17; meet in front of the visitor center. Rockport on July 19; meet at the butterfly garden on Business 35.

All count data are submitted to the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) and published in an annual summary report. Although the original butterfly counts in 1975 were begun under the auspices of the Xerces Society, a national butterfly organization, NABA now has responsibility for the count coordination and publication. Count results and additional information about NABA is available at Count forms can even be downloaded for anyone interested in starting their own count(s) at new locations.

The hobby of butterflying is one of our fastest growing hobbies. It attracts anyone interested in spending time in the outdoors. It takes less energy than birding, but has many of the same challenges. Since numerous excellent field guides have become available, the majority of species found in our yards and fields can be identified by sight. Close-focusing binoculars (those that focus to 6 feet or less) help considerably with identification in the field. Butterfly-watching can be great fun, whether undertaken in your our garden or along a trail or roadway in the wilds.


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