It's late summer and there are signs at the Butterfly Park that the heady butterfly days of the past month are coming to a close. I walked through the park 3 times last week and while there were still plenty of butterflies, the amazing swirling activity of the past few weeks was clearly toned down a bit. But there were still lots of butterflies to be found and in some ways the best butterfly hunting of the summer might still be to come.
(The Friends is also holding the last Moth Night of the summer next Friday night at the Butterfly Park, so if you live locally, come join us for the "Back-To-School Moth Night" and lets see what is flying at the Park after dark.)
Late summer 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".
This week I went to the Butterfly Park looking for just one of these butterflies and although it took me three visits, I found my quarry: The beautiful Common buckeye. Buckeyes sport rich brown, orange and white wings and lots of eye spots. The males have a curious habit of perching on the ground, sometimes even right on the main cinder trail, as they wait for females to fly by. It's much more common to find them on the ground then on the flowers. If you do spook a half-dollar sized butterfly off the ground, it might just be this butterfly. They often will come right back to the same area, so patiently wait and you might get a good look at this beautiful butterfly.
I worked this week in southern New Jersey and saw two other southern butterflies that could find their way to the Butterfly Park: the Cloudless sulphur and the Sleepy orange. There has been a huge influx into New Jersey of the large bright almost fluorescent yellow Cloudless sulphur over the past few weeks. This silver-dollar sized butterfly is often seen flying at fast speeds and can show up pretty much anywhere in New Jersey, but we've only seen it once at the Butterfly Park. The beautiful Sleepy orange is much rarer in New Jersey but there were lots of sightings of this quarter-sized butterfly in southern New Jersey last week including dozens that I saw in Salem County. It's highly unlikely that one would show up at the Butterfly Park, but you just never know. And that is half the fun of looking for butterflies - you simply never know what might show up! If anyone finds these butterflies or anything else that seems unusual, let us know. And of course, share all your photos with us!
Now is also the time to look for migrating monarchs as they head south to their wintering grounds in Mexico. 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 the big black and yellow Golden Garden spider and Praying mantids now too at the Park.
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 summer is clearly past us now, on warm sunny days there are still plenty of butterflies to be found at the park right now. This week the Butterfly bushes were still flowering and attracting butterflies. The pink joe-pye-weed, while a bit past peak, is also still a magnet for butterflies and other insects. Even now with fall fast approaching, it is simply impossible not to see a wide-variety of butterflies, even in a short visit. Although lots of the butterflies can be easily found on the flowers along the trail, make sure to walk the trails through the meadow too.
As in past weeks there were cabbage whites everywhere. Silver-spotted skippers are also still pretty common along with lots of other smaller skippers including; Sachem, Common Sootywing, Wild Indigo Duskywing, Delaware and 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. There are also quite a few southern species that can show up at this season, so keep an eye out for anything that looks different.
Monarchs are also plentiful at the Park now, as they plump up with the fat reserves they need for their amazing long journey to Mexico. This week I also saw the first Common buckeye of the season, a few Tiger swallowtails, a few Spicebush swallowtails, a Red-banded hairstreak, a few Pearl crescents, a Red-spotted purple, and a few Painted ladies. 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!