After a great "Back to School" Moth Night on Friday and then a somewhat disappointing walk at the Butterfly Park on Saturday when it was a bit cloudy, I was planning on writing about how the butterflies are definitely beginning to tail off. But then I took another walk there on Sunday in the bright warm sunshine and the park was alive with butterflies. I always seem to forget around this time that late summer and early fall are like a roller-coaster when it comes to butterflies. Some days hardly anything seems to be flying and the days seem to portend winter being right around the corner. But then other days remind me that there are still plenty of butterflies to be found at this season.
As I wrote in last week's update, despite less overall activity, in some ways the best butterfly hunting of the summer is upon us. This is the time to look for southern butterflies that move north into New Jersey in August, September and even early October if it stays warm. 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."
Like last week I went to the Butterfly Park looking for one of these "southern" butterflies, the beautiful Common buckeye and was lucky to find one. Buckeyes are still at the Butterfly Park this week and are well worth looking for. I saw three on Sunday. I also spent time searching the literally thousands of skippers to see if anything unusual might be mixed in and was very happy to find a Fiery skipper. This beautfiul bright orange skipper with black spots on the wings is another "southern" species that emigrates north into New Jersey in late summer and early fall. It was also the first time one has been seen at the Park bringing the species list to 46!!!
Now is also the perfect time to look for migrating monarchs as they head south to their wintering grounds in the mountains of Mexico. There were quite a few monarchs at the Butterfly Park on Sunday including one that I found that had just emerged and was still pumping up its wings. There are also monarch caterpillars at the Park on milkweed that can be found with a little searching. Also, keep an eye out for monarchs 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
On a non-butterfly note, keep any eye out for migrating songbirds and Praying mantids too.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
So, what's flying now? While the peak butterfly activity of mid-summer is clearly past us now, as I found out on Sunday, on warm sunny days there are still plenty of butterflies to be found at the park. This is also the time to look for southern strays like the Fiery skipper. It is also a good time to find the late summer brood of butterflies like the Mourning Cloak and Anglewings that will overwinter as adults under bark or in a tree crevice. These butterflies emerge in the late summer or early fall and over winter in a secluded spot and are therefore among the first butterflies we see on those heavenly warm sunny days in early spring. They actually survive the winter by having chemicals in their blood that act as natural antifreeze.
This week the Butterfly bushes are still flowering and attracting butterflies. The pink joe-pye-weed, while a bit past peak, is also still a magnet for butterflies and especially skippers. The pink sedum are also coming into bloom and are a magnet for skippers too.
As in past weeks cabbage whites are still common. Silver-spotted skippers are also still pretty common along with lots of other smaller skippers including; Sachem, Wild Indigo Duskywing, and thousands of Peck's. With the exception of the big quarter-sized Silver-spotted skipper, these are all small, dime or nickel-sized triangle-shaped butterflies that earn their common name of "skipper" by their constant habit of "skipping" on and off of the flowers. They are incredibly active little butterflies and although at first glance may seem brownish, are worth a closer look. Many are beautifully colored and patterned. They are so abundant that they simply cannot be missed when you visit the park. Keep an eye out for the bright orange Fiery skipper. It looks very different than the much more common Peck's and Sachem.
Monarchs are also common at the Park along with their awesome caterpillars. On Sunday I also saw a few Common buckeyes, a really beat up Spicebush swallowtail, a very fresh Red-banded hairstreak, two Red-spotted purples (look for them on the rotting crabapples near the top of the cinder trail as it enters the meadow), a few Painted ladies and an American lady. The little Eastern tailed blues were also very common and as abundant as I've seen all summer. I also saw two Mourning cloaks and a Question Mark zip by without pausing and an orange sulfur nectaring quietly on the goldenrod. 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 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!