Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: My (first) Butterfly Big Year in Review

One of many Peck's Skippers I saw this year; this one was at Stoneridge Pond near my house.

I had so much fun doing a butterfly Big Year this year! I was limited by budget and free time, of course, but managed to tie quite a bit of traveling into looking for new and unusual butterflies. I ended up seeing a grand total of 81 species, 28 of which were lifers for me! I didn't manage to reach my target of 100 total species, but still I feel pretty pleased.

This Mangrove Skipper was one of the tropical prizes I spotted during a quick trip to southern Florida.

I learned a lot about butterflying while trying to rack up as many species as I could. I found out how to use NABA's sightings page, both current sightings and archived sightings, to target my searches. I explored several parks for the first time, and also grew to understand better how to interpret field guides' notes about flight times.

I found this Eastern Pine Elfin at Calvert Cliffs State Park, on the same trip that we adopted a new kitten!

I met wonderful people along the way of course: scientists, both professional and amateur lepidopterists, park staff, and generally friendly folks. I also discovered that many of my friends were more interested in hearing about my butterfly hunts than I'd expected! That was a nice surprise. I found that having a specific goal really helped get me into the field more often.

Another tropical species was this Ruddy Daggerwing. So exciting to see it in real life, not just on the pages of my field guide.

There are several things I wish I'd done differently this year, though. For one thing, I still didn't get out as often as I should. I didn't take the ephemerality of butterfly flight seriously enough: it always seemed like there would be other chances (of course that didn't turn out to be the case).  Come to think of it, while doing the Big Year I really paid attention to the changes in species flying from week to week, so noticed when we were in between generations of several species more than I usually did.  That was pretty cool.

I also didn't decide to do a Big Year until after the early season was almost over, so missed my chances at many of the early specialties, like Falcate Orangetip. I know a lot more now about local colonies of some of the early species, which would have really helped me waste less time looking in the wrong places. Plus I should have started my planning long before flight season even began.

Even this fairly common Pearl Crescent was exciting to see as part of my growing year list.

So of course I think you can guess where I'm going with this: I'm already planning to do another Butterfly Big Year in 2016! Yep, it's addictive. I've already started plotting out my target parks for early species.

I'm hoping I can make it to 120 species this year, a pretty ambitious goal. Wish me luck! Maybe I'll even get down to southern Texas for the National Interpreter's Workshop in November, in which case I might even make it all the way to 200 species. No matter how many my final total, the search will be fun and I'll learn a lot.

This Atala was definitely the most exciting sighting I made all year. It was great to come back home and tell my friends at the Wings of Fancy live butterfly exhibit that I'd seen one in the wild, not just in captivity!


  1. Thanks so much, SaunieInDiego! I really enjoyed chatting with you on Twitter about your Monarch caterpillars. I hope next time you need to bring them inside you find a rodent-proof solution!

    I'd like to raise Monarchs this year in addition to my usual Black Swallowtails. Guess I better plant some milkweed this spring. Do your local Monarchs seem to prefer a particular type of milkweed, or are they fairly general between the various types?

  2. There is a new app for dragonflies if you would like to keep track, but I can't think of one for butterflies...but I love the idea.... There are several good apps by Birdseye Nature Apps for IOS and android...Michelle

  3. Hi Michelle, good idea to use apps for nature observations. I downloaded several free ones this winter and will try them out soon. I haven't seen many butterfly ones yet (that are free anyway) but I'll keep my eye out. Thanks for the reference!


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