This is the 17th straight week that the Friends has been providing updates on the butterflies that are flying at the Butterfly Park. It has been an amazing year with plenty of interesting and exciting finds. If you haven't been to the park recently, time is definitely running out for this field season. Like the butterflies at the park, these weekly updates will be waning shortly.
While there are still plenty of butterflies to be found, both numbers and diversity are really down from last week. This trend seems to be gaining speed with the cooler temperatures and shorter daylight we've been having with less and less butterflies being seen each week. But it certainly isn't time to give up on butterflying yet. I took short walks at the park on Saturday, Sunday and Monday and found some great butterflies both days. With less butterflies on the wing, it takes a little more searching to find them, but the effort is definitely worth it.
At least for the next couple of weeks, barring any really cold weather, it is still a good time to look for southern butterflies that move north into New Jersey in late summer and early fall. These butterflies can't survive our cold winters and it is unclear why they do this. But they do and often in large numbers. This type of movement is known as "emigration." Now is also the time to see the final flight of many of our butterflies that we won't see again until sometime next year.
But maybe the best butterfly reason to visit the park right now (and over the next few weeks following cold fronts), is the opportunity to see migrating monarchs as they head south to their wintering grounds in the mountains of Mexico. Monarchs migrate just like birds on late summer and early fall cold fronts with northwesterly winds. There were plenty of monarchs at the Butterfly Park when I was there a few days ago nectaring on the butterfly bushes and on the goldenrod. There was also a big fat monarch caterpillar on one of the milkweed plants along the main trail happily munching away in plain sight and a beautiful chrysalis. If you've never seen a monarch chrysalis, they are like little green and gold studded jewelery.
With all the monarchs at the park, keep an eye out for any with small round white tags on them. If you see one with a tag, try to get a photo of the tag or record the number on it. These tags are part of a huge Citizen Science project that has been going on for more than 50 years to unravel the migration patterns of the monarch. If you are interested in purchasing these tags and putting them on monarchs to help scientists plot their migration, visit MonarchWatch.org
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 email@example.com.
So, what's flying now? Make no mistake, Fall is upon us and the days of seeing butterflies at the park are numbered for this year. But don't stop looking for butterflies at the park just yet or you will miss the opportunity to see migrating monarchs and a number of other species for the last time until sometime next year. On warm sunny days there are still plenty of butterflies to be found at the park, but it definitely takes more time and effort to find them. It can still a good time to look for southern strays, at least for another week or two unless we get a really cold snap.
This week the Butterfly bushes are still flowering and attracting butterflies, although the number of blossoms keeps going down. In some ways this is helpful at this season, because fewer blossoms tend to concentrate the lower number of butterflies at the park. The pink joe-pye-weed, which was a super-magnet just a few weeks ago, is basically done for this year. But they have been replaced by the bright pink sedum. The meadows are also filled with bright yellow goldenrod flowers and although with each passing day the intensity of the blooms is fading, they continue to be a magnet for butterflies and other insects, day and night.
As in past weeks cabbage whites are still common and can be found on any warm sunny day. But even this incredibly abundant and ubiquitous butterfly is now reduced to just a few fluttering around the meadow at any one time. Even the skippers that in weeks past were so abundant it seemed like they were literally on every flower, are way down in both numbers and diversity. But there are still a fair number of Silver-spotted skippers, Sachem, Peck's and Fiery skippers to be found.
But the call of the park right now are monarchs. On Saturday, Sunday and Monday I saw more than a dozen, sometimes two to a butterfly bush. I also saw a Common buckeye, a few clouded sulphurs, a few very beautiful fresh Red-banded hairstreaks, a Red-spotted purples, two pretty beat up American ladies, two Question marks, and plenty of little Eastern tailed blues. They are not nearly as common as last week, but they were still easy enough to find. I'm sure there are more butterflies at the park and that if I was able to spend more time, I would have found more species.
If you go to the park looking for butterflies, try and pick warm afternoons with little wind. Look in areas where the sun is hitting flowers. 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!