Eleven years ago Bob Lyon, a Loudoun butterfly expert, started the county’s annual butterfly count to add to the North American Butterfly Association’s nationwide count done each summer.
"I realized there was no record in Loudoun County in which there was a checklist of the flora, or the fauna, that is here," he said. "If you are interested in conservation, it would be important to have some information about what the trends are."
Now, more than a decade later, the butterfly count is as much about collecting data as it is about enjoying Loudoun’s outdoors and natural wildlife.
"While it is certainly a scientific endeavor, it’s also a fun activity," Joe Coleman, vice president of the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and one of the count’s team leaders, said. "All beginners and amateurs are welcome."
ON THE DAY of the count, attendees will be split up into several different teams, each led by a butterfly expert that will be able to point out the almost 80 different species that have been identified in Loudoun.
"It is a fun time because people may not recognize some of the smaller ones as butterflies," Nicole Hamilton, president of the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, said. "It is a chance for people to really see the diversity of the species and a great chance to learn. You pick up little clues about how to identify the butterflies."
Coleman said that each team can be catered to meet the needs of the counters that are there, be they families with small children or dedicated scientists and conservationists.
"For teams with kids we would start out at a place we know will have butterflies and spend some time there, just talking about and learning about butterflies," he said. "We try to find some of the caterpillars so we can show them the whole process a butterfly goes through."
WHILE THE IDEA of counting of butterflies, and not accidentally doubling up on any, could seem difficult, Hamilton said it is actually simple.
"On really hot days the butterflies are so focused on nectaring that you can really get within a couple of feet of them," she said. "And with sweat, they’ll actually land on humans."
For those butterflies that are further away, Hamilton said binoculars, one of the many recommended items to bring for the count, are best.
To ensure every butterfly is only counted once, Hamilton said, it is important not to cover any terrain you have already walked.
"They’re focused on nectaring and we cover the areas quickly enough that the butterflies don’t cover that much ground while we are there," she said.
THE BUTTERFLY COUNT does serve an important scientific function, not only about the various butterfly species in the area, but about the environment in general.
"Butterflies are a litmus test of the environment’s quality," Lyon said. "They will burgeon in a good environment and will fall off if the environment is not so healthy."
The information will go to the North American Butterfly Association to contribute to its national, and even international, statistics.
"You can really see the interconnectivity between what happens here and what happens across the country and the world," Hamilton said.