Sunday, September 7, 2014

Butterfly Census at Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary

What do you get when you combine misty dense fog, a strong breeze and temperature in the mid 70s?  An epic day for counting butterflies, that's what!  (I would never have guessed it.)

I had agreed to help out at the butterfly census at Mass Audubon's Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary in Westport, MA (southern Mass very near Rhode Island).  The weather forecast was pretty good for the morning, but storms were supposed to move in late afternoon.  Since the census was taking place between 10-12:30, I figured we had a pretty good chance of getting most of it in before the weather turned.  However, as I drove south, I encountered more clouds and less sun, and then when I neared the coast, it was completely socked in with wet, misty fog.  It sure didn't look like our prospects were very good for counting butterflies!

I had a little spare time before the census was to start, so I stopped at Horseneck Beach and looked for shorebirds.  The wind was coming in off the water, and my glasses and binoculars and camera lens were immediately dotted with water droplets.

Great Egret in the fog

I cannot figure out what kind of sandpipers these I will leave it for now.    I believe that these are all Sanderlings, the first photo appears to show one molting out of its breeding plumage to its winter plumage.  I believe the others are already in winter plumage.

Next, I drove to the field station at Allens Pond, where I was surprised to find several other members of the Massachusetts Butterfly Club.  It was quite a turn out!  We were not too enthusiastic about the likelihood of finding anything flying about on such a foggy day.  We checked the butterfly garden in front of the field station and found nothing but bees.  When there are no butterflies, you have to look for other ideas for photographs like mist on spider webs, snails and caterpillars!

See the snail on the right of the center flower?  It's wearing a striped shell.

Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillar

Still, we prepared for the census, taking turns at the port-a-potty and gathering water, jackets, etc.  While we were waiting, I spotted an American Copper on the slope of the garden, then two, then three.  We were all so enthusiastic to see anything in flight!  Then someone saw a monarch fly by!  And so the count began!

American Copper

We carpooled to the Allens Neck trail system, because the property manager thought there might be less fog there as well as more nectar sources, and given the weather, we decided not to split up into two groups.  As we started along the path through the meadow, people started calling out monarch sightings.  Soon, we left the path and started walking right through the meadow, and monarchs were lifting up out of the grass and fluttering all around us.  It was magical.  (Note:  I didn't see the final census count at the end of the day, but I suspect the monarchs easily number around 210.)  Just amazing.  Soon, monarchs were joined by Clouded Sulphurs, Orange Sulphurs, Pearl Crescents, Painted Ladies, Least Skippers and Black Swallowtails.  Oh, and I almost left out the poor Cabbage Whites, the only butterfly I thought we might see today!    We were all quite stunned and felt so lucky to be seeing so much, and it was still mostly foggy and quite breezy!


Least Skipper

Peck's Skipper


 Moth - working on ID

 Scorpion Fly

Monarch caterpillar!

Corn Earworm Flower Moth

Black Swallowtail


When we came out of the meadow and returned to the paths, most of us were soaked from the thighs down, and not a single one of us cared.  I think we were all so happy to see so many monarchs and glad that there were other "witnesses" to this special foggy census!

another Scorpion Fly

On the trail back to the car, most of the group spotted a Red Banded Hairstreak.  I was late to the party and only saw it flying off.  I wasn't expecting to see anything new, and I was sorry to have missed it, but  it may just be my motivation to come back for week 2 of the butterfly count!

Eastern Tailed Blue

Zabulon Skipper (male)

Cabbage White

American Pelecinid Wasp (female)

 The White-Speck Wainscot Moth

Zabulon Skipper (female)

Pearl Crescent

Peck's Skipper and Zabulon Skipper


We broke for lunch at the field station, and at this point in the day, there were a few butterflies in the garden.

Painted Lady

Broad-winged Skipper

After lunch, we drove over to Sylvan Nursery where we saw even more butterflies, including Red Admirals, Monarchs, Zabulon Skippers, Cabbage Whites, Broad Winged Skippers, Painted and American Ladies.  The buddleia aisle was the most popular spot.  Still no sun....but an amazing display again!

Zabulon Skipper


Great Spangled Fritillary

Red Admiral

Painted Lady

American Lady

Red Admiral

Gray Hairstreak

ditto (rear view)

Don't you think the rear end of this butterfly is set up to look like a menacing insect with hairy eyes and antenna?  Pretty good defensive disguise, in my opinion!

American Lady

Painted Lady

Broad-Winged Skipper

Finally, our last stop was at a local ice cream shop.  The clouds parted, and the sun broke out at last.  A fitting end to a beautiful day!!

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