Saturday, December 4, 2010

We Count (Butterflies, That Is), by Elane Nuehring

Dina Yellow; photo by Hank Poor

December 1 was the deadline – on that day, all the NABA butterfly counts in North America (Canada, the US, and Mexico) for the year had to be submitted to NABA for publication in an annual report  of results.

NABA counts involve establishing 15-mile diameter circles that do NOT overlap with any other circles and, in teams of four or more observers, walking as many accessible routes within the circle as possible. Some counts with a large number of participants cover many miles and log many hours. In other circles, where just a few observers are available, only limited portions of the area can be surveyed.  Counters are provided with methods to keep their tallies as accurate as possible, to avoid “double-counting” the same individual butterflies, and to make estimates in situations where large aggregates of butterflies are seen.

Count numbers show a steady increase in  interest in butterflies. In 1993, when NABA was new, 211 counts were submitted.  In 2000, the year our Miami Blue Chapter was founded, a total of 421 North American  counts were submitted. To date, the all-time high, in 2006, was 508 counts – a record that we hope this year will top.

Prior to 1993, butterfly counts in North America were conducted by the Xerces Society, an organization focused on conservation of all invertebrates, but with a strong history of attention to lepidoptera.  In 1993, butterfly counts were transferred to the then-new organization, the North American Butterfly Association (NABA).  The oldest Florida counts, begun as Xerces Society counts, were Homestead (1989) and Christmas (1991).

Under NABA, five more counts were instituted in 1994 and included Corkscrew Marsh, Kissimmee Prairie, North Palm Beach County, Sanibel Island, and Wekiva River.  In 1995, four more counts were added…and by 2000, 27 counts were held in Florida.  Topping any other state,  a total of 67 Florida counts were submitted for 2010, including three new circles.  In all, 59 Florida circles were counted at least once during the year. 

NABA chapters are vital engines behind the count program, and Florida has 11 (35%) of the country’s 31 chapters. We also have a cadre of dedicated butterfliers. Remarkably, several of these dedicated individuals around the state have been participating since the very beginning of the Florida counts: Linda & Buck Cooper, Alana Edwards, Mary Keim, Mark Salvato.

Statewide, in 2010, 36664 individual butterflies were recorded, representing 129 species (about 78% of established breeding butterflies for Florida). Of  the species seen, over a fifth are designated as rare and/or imperiled species: Florida White, Dina Yellow, Statira Sulphur, Lyside Sulphur,  Atala, Silver-banded Hairstreak, Martial and Bartram’s Scrub-Hairstreak, Banded, King’s, and Striped Hairstreak, Silvery Checkerspot, Texan Crescent, Cuban Crescent, Dingy Purplewing, Florida Purplewing, Appalachian Brown, Golden Banded-Skipper, Hoary Edge, Florida Duskywing, Neamathla, Dotted, Baracoa, Little Glasswing, Zabulon, Yehl, Broad-winged, and Berry’s Skippers.

Some of our rarest and/or most imperiled species were NOT observed this year; among those missing in action: Mimosa Yellow, Gray Ministreak, Miami Blue, Nickerbean Blue, Eastern Tailed-Blue, Tropical Buckeye, Malachite, and Florida Leafwing.

Miami Blue Chapter organizes three of the state’s  counts: Pinecrest/Tri-County (aka Loop Road), Shark Valley of Everglades National Park, and Coral Gables.  The Coral Gables circle encompasses Bill Baggs/Cape Florida State Park and Crandon Park on Key Biscayne, Virginia Key, Simpson and Alice Wainwright Parks, Pinewood Cemetery (the circle’s center), University of Miami campus, the Kampong, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Matheson Hammock Park, R. Hardy Matheson Preserve, Ludlam Pineland, a USDA Experiment Station, Chapman Field Preserve, and the Deering Estate at Cutler. Although a large number of observers traditionally participate in the Coral Gables Count every June, we have never been able to cover all the sites that this park-rich area contains. 

Get on board and be part of a team if you are in South Florida in June (June and September are our two best butterfly months!!). Joining NABA counts is a great way to learn your butterflies, meet fellow butterfliers, and contribute to useful national data on butterfly populations.

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