While at the Butterfly park yesterday I decided that looking for butterflies is like yoga for me. Although I've never done any yoga, I know enough people that do and the way they describe it, it seems an awful like butterflying to me. Looking for butterflies forces me to slow down, to clear my mind, to focus on only what is around me. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
The Butterfly park continues to be Butterfly Central right now. This weekend there were flowers blooming and butterflies everywhere. In fact, like the last few weeks, it might be more appropriate to call this post, What's NOT Flying? because there are so many species on the wing right now. It is really a great time for a visit! The Butterfly bushes are in full flower along the main trail and along with the joe-pye-weed are a magnet for insects. On warm sunny days they are simply swirling with activity.
This weekend we also added "What's Crawling" to this update because the first Monarch butterfly caterpillar was found on the milkweed. If you dont know about the Monarch's amazing natural history check out Monarchwatch.org and prepare to be dazzled because it is pretty much mind-blowing. Monarchs migrate south to Mexico each fall from North America and then in successive spring and summer generations repopulate North America. What is most amazing, is that the last generation of late then fly south to Mexico. But these butterflies are three generations removed from Mexico and yet fly thousands of miles south to the same groves of trees that their great, great, great grandparents spent the winter in the year before. And they have never been there! It is one of the great biological migrations and an amazing feat of evolution.
East Brunswick is right on the flight path of the fall migration and the monarch butterflies we see in late August, September and October (and occassionally even early November) are all in transit on their incredible 3,000 mile flight south to Mexico (of course they don't all make it). We assist the migrating monarchs by providing nectar sources like the many butterfly bushes at the Butterfly Park to help them gain essential nutrients for the long migration.
The monarch caterpillar is equally fascinating. It sports bright in your face warning colors advertising its presence and making it clear to potential predators that it does not taste good and is poisonous. The caterpillars only feed on common milkweed at the park. If you have ever broken a leaf of milkweed, you know that it has a white milky sticky sap. This sap and the entire plant contain powerful poisons that are transferred to the caterpillar as it eats the leaves. The caterpillars are making it clear that they are poisonous. But these caterpillars also use another technique to hopefully avoid predators. They feature fake antennas on both ends of the body. It is believed that this may confuse a predator in some way. Look for monarch caterpillars at the park in the large milkweed stands.
Amazingly, the East Brunswick Butterfly Park turns 10 this year! Kudos to all the volunteers that have helped make this park so special. Despite its small size and location in a heavily developed area, the park provides lots of opportunities to find a wide variety of butterflies throughout the spring, summer and fall. It just takes a little looking.
Throughout the years, dozens of species of butterflies have been seen in the park. The Friends has developed an Online Field Guide to them that has photographs, ecological notes and tips on how to tell butterflies apart that look similar. The park also has a Facebook page so that everyone can share what they find at the park.
While the Butterfly Park is too small to have much in the way of rarities or butterflies of special habitats, it offers a convenient respite and an opportunity to find many common species right in the middle of 50,000 people. And since "butterflying" is a lot like a treasure hunt, you just never know what you might find even in a small place like the East Brunswick Butterfly Park.
Each year we try to do something new with the Park. This year, with the help of the Patch, we are posting what is being seen at the Park each week. We can't always get there ourselves to see what is flying, so please share your observations and photos with us either on the Facebook page or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So, what's flying now? There are butterflies everywhere at the park right now. They simply can't be missed. With some careful observation and a bit of time, everyone should be able to find at least a half-dozen species without any trouble and many more if interested. Butterflies are nectaring all over the butterfly bushes and the joe-pye-weed and can be closely approached for photographs too. Although lots of the butterflies are out in plain sight, with a little patient searching many more will be found.
During visits on Saturday and Sunday there were cabbage whites and Silver-spotted skippers literally everywhere and in huge numbers. They simply cannot be missed when you visit the park. It also wasn't hard to find the very tiny Eastern tailed blue by looking in grass areas with white clover. I also saw monarchs, Tiger swallowtails, Spicebush swallowtails, dozens, if not hundreds of Peck's and Zabulon (and probably Hobomok too) skippers, a few Wild Indigo duskywings, plenty of little bright orange Delaware skippers, Red-banded hairstreaks, hummingbird moths and a Common Wood Nymph. I'm sure with a little more time, even more species would have been found.
If you go to the park looking for butterflies, try and pick warm mornings or afternoons with little wind. Scan the meadows and walk the woodland trails and let us know what you find. Looking for butterflies is a lot like a treasure hunt. You never know what you might find. Not every butterfly will be evident or just flying around in plain sight. Finding butterflies takes a little practice, but once you begin to know what to look for you will be amazed at what is at the Park. Happy Butterflying!