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home : columns : columns June 25, 2016

7/15/2014 1:28:00 PM
Counting butterflies is fun!
Bela Chladek and his buckeye. photo by Sue Anderson
+ click to enlarge
Bela Chladek and his buckeye. photo by Sue Anderson

By Jim Anderson

For 28 years, my wife, Sue, our family, and her team of volunteer helpers have been counting butterflies in Central Oregon for the North American Butterfly Association (NABA).

The season begins with the Ochoco count in late June, when the team conducts a day-long search in a 15-mile circle that includes Big Summit Prairie, east of Prineville. In July comes the Metolius count.

Three of the main goals of NABA's Butterfly Count Program are to gather data that will monitor butterfly populations; give butterfliers the opportunity to socialize and have fun; and raise public awareness by hosting events that increase general interest in butterflies.

Just about every one of the young people who have taken part in the butterfly counts have fond memories of those times. Our daughter Miriam, who came with us every year from cradle to college, remarked during the day, "I can't remember the names of the places we stopped, but they all had wonderful butterflies, birds, snakes, and insects."

That's goal number two of counting butterflies: providing the opportunity for everyone on the count to get together for a fun time in the forests and meadows, and enjoy interacting with the bountiful treasures on this wonderful old Planet Earth.

Last Friday - the day before the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show - a group of 23 people, made up of knowledgeable butterfly watchers, beginner citizen-scientists, and a bunch of enthusiastic home-schoolers, met in the Sisters Ranger District parking lot at 9 a.m. to go out and count butterflies.

The Metolius count covers a 15-mile circle that includes both sides of the Metolius River, Green Ridge, and Prairie Farm. The team of butterfly watchers from the Eugene NABA chapter took the western part, while Sue and her group of parents, grandparents, and home-schoolers went out Road 11 to work their way up to various springs counting butterflies, and eventually to Prairie Farm for a lunch stop (and for me to take a nap).

Before lunch, a stop was made at Six Creek Springs (once made into a horrifying mess by "mud-boggers" and now healed over and again a colorful and especially fruitful butterflying spot). After lunch, the crew spent another couple of hours in the Prairie Farm area (while I was taking my nap), then traveled down the switchback road to Bridge 99, and eventually to the fish hatchery, where the compilation was undertaken, along with a picnic supper.

It was at the muddy remains of the pond at Prairie Farm that 15-year-old Joshua Newton, of Sisters, discovered several long-toed salamander larvae gasping their last breath, stranded in a soggy elk track. He carefully placed them in a plastic bowl of fresh water, and transferred them to a bigger pond so they could live out their lives. He also found a young Northwest garter snake he showed to everyone before releasing it - but not before it wrapped itself around his wrist and dosed him with it's defensive musk that left him with a stink that would gag a maggot.

This year's Metolius count yielded 49 species, with two unusual butterflies: a common buckeye observed by Bela Chladek, and a large wood nymph spotted by Joshua


As the home-schoolers were returning from a small pond where the large and beautiful pale tiger swallowtails can be found in grand profusion, 11-year-old Julia Chadwick of Bend caught one so she could take a closer look.

"I know a lot about butterflies," she said as she carefully held the fresh new specimen in her hand, "but I've never seen the pale tiger up close."

As she looked the butterfly over closely, she looked up and with a smile you could see a mile she said, "I love doing this."

Then, as we all watched, she lifted the butterfly high above her head, opened her hand and we all watched it flutter off into the sky.

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