Annual Yosemite National Park Butterfly Count
Following introductions, instructions, and the dissemination of count datasheets, the larger group broke up into 5 smaller groups, each led by one or two butterfly experts. Each group was responsible for counting and identifying as many butterflies as possible in their respective area. The butterfly count circle included such hotspots as Dana Meadows, Gaylor and Granite Lakes, Saddlebag Lake, Ellery Lake, Warren Canyon, Hall Natural Area, lower Lee Vining Canyon, the western edge of Mono Lake, and Lundy Lake.
The day was intermittently cloudy, sunny, and breezy. The butterfly counters had to read the weather to know where to find the butterflies, and search all habitats for species that specialize on different plants, varying degrees of moisture, or that exhibit different behaviors at different times of the day or under different conditions. All the while, each person had to be completely focused, conjuring a particular search image, depending on the conditions, circumstances, and target species. The leaders were not only adept at identifying species, but also enthusiastic teachers, helping the less knowledgeable participants learn all sorts of facets of butterfly identification and ecology.
At the end of the day, the group convened back in Tuolumne Meadows to share highlights from the day and report their count results. Lively discussions ensued as the experts tried their best to figure out some of the more difficult fritillary and blue species identifications. The final tally for the day was decidedly good, with a fairly high species count considering the high elevation mountainous habitats. In total, 25 participants counted 1761 individual butterflies of 53 species. Of those species, 14 were new species never before observed during the Yosemite Butterfly Count. Highlights were many, including a single Pacific Fritillary at over 10,000 ft elevation, 445 coppers of 8 different species, and a surprising Indra Swallowtail near the road toward the end of the day. Already looking forward to next year’s count on July 28, 2014!
Did You Know?
Giant sequoias are a fire adapted species. Their bark is fire resistant and fire helps open the sequoia cone and scatter the tiny seeds. Fire also clears forest debris from the mineral soil and provides a nutrient rich seed bed as well as clearing competing species.