When it comes to counting butterflies, Rappahannock holds U.S. record

Ninth annual count this Saturday; participants are welcome

Tiny Rappahannock County has something else to brag about: it holds the North American record for the highest number of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies sighted during one count.

The record was established in 2013, when 2,375 Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies were counted.

And that’s not all: the 2016 North American record for highest number of citizens participating in the annual one-day count — 55 — was also set here in Rappahannock.

Farmer Rachel Bynum drives a wagon full of new citizen scientists into a flower field at Waterpenny Farm. Photos by Caroline Watts

The Old Rag Master Naturalists (ORMN) — hailing from Rappahannock, Culpeper, Fauquier, Orange, Madison and Greene counties — sponsor the annual North American Butterfly Association (NABA) butterfly census, which takes place here in Rappahannock County.

The ninth annual event will be this Saturday, July 22. And fortunately the weather will cool off a bit by then. Hot weather causes a dormant-like period of inactivity in butterflies just as it does in humans — in other words they also prefer to take it easy on hot days.

“We will count (not catch or harm) butterflies at 17 separate sites that represent various ecosystems in Rappahannock County, including some lovely private properties,” says ORMN Butterfly Team member Caroline Watts. “Our goal is to contribute reliable data from consistent sites to scientists to study butterfly populations trends and ecosystems.

“This ORMN NABA count continues to hold the North American record,” Watts points out. “We are still recruiting people to join our seven teams counting butterflies around the county on Saturday, July 22.”

[Pre-registration site: butterflycount2017@gmail.com. Participants are asked to wear sturdy walking shoes; bring water, sun and insect protection and binoculars if available; $5.00 registration fee paid at sign-in at 9 a.m. at the Rappahannock County Park at the intersection of U.S. 211 and Park Lane].

We had 21 kids participate in the Kids Count Butterflies event on Saturday, July 15, at Waterpenny Farm in Sperryville,” Watts adds. “They were joined by 12 parents and grandparents and led by 10 ORMN volunteers. They chose from five butterfly-related activities before assembling to learn butterfly and citizen science facts from veteran teacher, leader of the ORMN butterfly team and Sperryville resident Jane Smith.”

Rachel Bynum, proprietor of Waterpenny (described as “great butterfly habitat”) drove the tractor pulling a wagon full of our newest and youngest citizen scientists into the flower fields where the kids used photographic identification and tally sheets to log all of the various butterflies they sighted.

Meanwhile, 31 people attended Shenandoah Park Ranger Mara Meisel’s talk on butterfly identification and the importance of citizens counting butterflies for scientists’ research. The event was held this past Sunday at the Washington Fire Hall.

Shenandoah National Park Ranger Mara Meisel teaches the finer points of identifying butterflies during a talk last Sunday at the Washington Fire Hall. Photos by Caroline Watts
About John McCaslin 415 Articles
John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at editor@rappnews.com.