The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Victoria’s 2008 NABA Butterfly Count
by Ro Wauer

Every year since 1998 a handful of nature lovers have spent a day in the field counting butterflies. Our results are reported to the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) that is then published in an annual NABA Report. Last year there were 447 counts within the United States, including 37 in Texas. All of the counts must be conducted during June and/or July, all within a 15-mile diameter area, and they must include at least six hours in the field. Some of the counts are conducted by only one or two individuals while others, like the one for Boulder, Colorado, includes three dozen or more individuals.

Five individuals participated in the 2008 Victoria Count: Bill Farnsworth, Paul Julian, Linda Valdez, Betty Wauer, and I. From about 8am to 5pm, with scattered breaks due to the temperature and need to eat, we covered a number of potential butterfly sites. These included Riverside Park and Saxet Lake Recreation Area, the Master Gardeners Demonstration Garden and area at the Victoria Regional Airport, all the Victoria nurseries, various roadsides around the city, and a number of private gardens, all within the count circle. Our results include 485 individuals of 45 species.

Although the majority of the species were more or less expected, because they are commonplace most of the years, a few others were unexpected. This is generally typical for butterflies, as butterflies, unlike birds, move about to much greater extent. Birds, except during migration, generally settle in to specific locations and remain in place. Butterflies wander far more, as females must locate specific larval foodplants on which they can lay eggs. That is a major reason for butterfly gardeners to include proper foodplants, besides planting only nectaring plants. The most surprising species found on the Victoria Count included rounded metalmarks, mazans scallopwings, and Texas powdered-skippers. Although these do appear on occasion, they can never be expected.

Another species on note was the coyote cloudywing. Not that this species was unexpected, but we recorded 101 individuals, probably a new national high. This is a butterfly that until recent years was known only for the Lower Rio Grande Valley where, according to various authors, they utilized only Texas ebony for their larval foodplants. But in recent years I have found it egg-laying on blackbrush acacia, a common shrub throughout our area. And the numbers of coyote cloudywings that frequent my garden and adjacent areas have been exceptional. Although it has a white hindwing fringe, like funereal duskywings, it rarely perches with spread wings and is brownish color rather than dark gray or black like funereal duskywings. Victoria County has recently become recognized in the butterfly community as the centerpiece of the coyote duskywing range.

A few other butterfly species found in numbers (20 or more) on the Victoria Count included (in descending order) pipevine swallowtails, fiery skippers, little yellows, common checkered-skippers, giant swallowtails, and Celia’s roadside-skippers. Species that tallied 19 to 10 included whirlabout, white-striped longtail, gray hairstreak, large orange sulphur, and cloudless sulphur. All the other species were found in smaller numbers or as loners. But even the loners were welcome.

The majority of our recorded butterflies were located in various gardens. This year, because of the extreme aridity in our part of the country, butterfly numbers are lower than what they might be during normal years. So gardens become extremely important for maintaining butterfly populations. But a garden is always are a marvelous part of our world.


At 3:35 PM, Anonymous trula said...

That sounds like so much fun. a day spent counting butterflies :)


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