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March 12-September 20, 2012
Omaha, Nebraska

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the spring of hope, it was the summer of despair, it was a season of new butterfly sightings, it was a season of marked butterfly decline.  So goes another butterfly season.  On the positive side, I saw several new species I had not seen before.  On the negative side, overall numbers were down, way down. This year, my records went from March 12th to September 30th.  Last year, I didn't start keeping records until July 18th, but continued to the end of October.  I take responsibility for this year's shortened year as we had an early October frost and I neglected to protect my zinnias and marigolds.  With nothing left to feed on, there was nothing to bring the few remaining butterflies into the yard.

I recorded twenty butterfly species this year, two more than last year.  Only thirteen of this years species, however, were recorded after July 18th, when I started keeping records last year. This year, I saw 218 butterflies on 87 days, but only 100 butterflies on 44 days after mid July.  Last year, I saw a whopping 222 butterflies on 75 days.  It is difficult to say why numbers were down so much.  I know I was busier this year, with less time for observation.  I'm sure that was a significant factor, but my impression is that there were just fewer butterflies this year.  I'd imagine our drought played a large part.  Also, we had a warm winter and an early spring, followed by a late frost.  That could have been a factor as well.  Whatever the case, it will be interesting to see what happens next year.

Individual species profiles below the fold.

Species are ranked by frequency of occurrence.  Numbers in parenthesis indicate recordings after July 18th.

Butterflies 218(100) recordings

MonarchMonarch
Danaus plexippus

First sighting: May 5th
Last sighting: September 30th
Rank: 1
Last year's rank: 1
Days sighted: 41(32)  
Days sighted last year: 59

Once again, Monarchs were the undisputed rulers of the yard.  They were recorded in seventeen weeks, including twelve straight weeks from mid-July to the end of September. August and September saw a combined 28 days of Monarchs.

Cabbage White Cabbage White
Pieris rapae

First sighting: March 25th
Last sighting: September 29th
Rank: 2
Last year's rank: 2
Days sighted: 36(12)
Days sighted last year: 35

Despite this year's relative abundance of Cabbage Whites, I was unable to get a good picture.  The picture at left is from last year.

RedAdmiral2012Red Admiral
Vanessa atalanta

First sighting: April 1st
Last sighting: September 23rd
Rank: 3
Last year's rank: 6
Days sighted: 30(4)
Days sighted last year: 13

Good numbers for the year, but summer numbers are even more disappointing this year than they were last year. My books indicate that they should be found with fairly high frequency throughout the season.  I'll have to try some new summer blooming plants next year.

Orange SulphurOrange Sulphur
Colias eurytheme

First sighting: April 1st
Last sighting: September 29th
Rank: 4(tie)
Last year's rank: 5
Days sighted: 19(6)
Days sighted last year: 19

Most common in April, May and September.  None were recorded in July

Painted LadyPainted Lady
Vanessa cardui

First sighting: April 17th
Last sighting: September 24th
Rank: 4(tie)
Last year's rank: 4
Days sighted: 19(15)
Days sighted last year: 19

August, with sightings on eleven days, was easily the best month for Painted Ladies.

Eastern Tailed-blueEastern Tailed-blue
Cupido comyntas

First sighting: May 19th
Last sighting: September 5th
Rank: 6
Last year's rank: 8
Days sighted: 14(10)
Days sighted last year: 9

One of only two species to show improvement over last year's recording period.

Question MarkQuestion Mark/Comma
Polygonia interrogationis

First sighting: March 12th
Last sighting: July 28th
Rank: 7
Last year's rank: 10(tie)
Days sighted: 13(1)
Days sighted last year: 4

Commas overwinter as adults, so are often seen on warm winter days.  It is likely that all of the Commas I've recorded are Question Marks, but when in doubt, I just record them generically as Commas.

Gray HairstreakGray Hairstreak
Strymon melinus

First sighting: April 29th
Last sighting: September 9th
Rank: 8
Last year's rank: 13(tie)
Days sighted: 12(9)
Days sighted last year: 2

Gray Hairstreak was the only butterfly to show marked improvement over last year's recording period.  They were most common in August and early September, but were absent in June and July.

AmericanLady1AmericanLady2American Lady
Vanessa virginiensis

First sighting: April 29th
Last sighting: September 30th
Rank: 9
Last year's rank: N/A
Days sighted: 7(1)
Days sighted last year: 0

Not only did I not record any American ladies last year, this year was the first time I had ever seen one, anywhere.  It's intricate beauty quickly made it one of my favorite butterflies.  American Ladies were recorded in April, May, July and September.

Mourning CloakMourning Cloak
Nymphalis antiopa

First sighting: May 19th
Last sighting: September 24th
Rank: 10(tie)
Last year's rank: N/A
Days sighted: 5(4)
Days sighted last year: 0

Another newcomer for the year.  They were active during cooler weather.  I recorded one sighting in May and the other four in September.

Black SwallowtailBlack Swallowtail
Paplio polyxenes

First sighting: July 2nd
Last sighting: September 3rd
Rank: 10(tie)
Last year's rank: 7
Days sighted: 5(3)
Days sighted last year: 11

I have little doubt that the drought affected Black Swallowtail numbers.  Dill, which is their larval food plant and grows like a weed around here, was much less vigorous this year.

Variegated FritillaryVariegated Fritillary
Euptoieta claudia

First sighting: May 6th
Last sighting: July 7th
Rank: 12
Last year's rank: N/A
Days sighted: 4(0)
Days sighted last year: 0

A new record for the yard.  This was a species I was not previously familiar with so previous sightings may have gone unrecorded because of an inability to obtain an ID.  Two Variegated Fritillaries were recorded in both May and July.

PearlCrescentPearl Crescent
Phyciodes tharos

First sighting: May 6th
Last sighting: June 3rd
Rank: 13
Last year's rank: 9
Days sighted: 3(0)
Days sighted last year: 5

Sadly, this tattered specimen was the best shot I could get this year

Common BuckeyeCommon Buckeye
Junonia coenia

First sighting: May 27th
Last sighting: September 9th
Rank: 14(tie)
Last year's rank: 12(tie)
Days sighted: 2(1)
Days sighted last year: (3)

Usually not seen until late summer, May seems pretty early for a Buckeye.

AmericanSnoutAmerican Snout
Libytheana carinenta

First sighting: May 36th
Last sighting: July 2nd
Rank: 14(tie)
Last year's rank: N/A
Days sighted: 2
Days sighted last year: 0

There is no mistaking this butterfly for anything else, except maybe a leaf.  Last year was the first time I had seen an American Snout.  This year was my first backyard recording.  It's just too bad I couldn't get a pic of the colorful topside.

SulphurCloudless Sulphur
Phoebis sennae

First sighting: July 15th
Last sighting: August 11
Rank: 14(tie)
Last year's rank: 12(tie)
Days sighted: 2(1)
Days sighted last year: 3

Usually a late summer/early autumn butterfly.  Mid-July is probably a bit early.  Lack of flowering plants probably prevented me from recording this butterfly later in the year.

Tiger SwallowtailEastern Tiger Swallowtail
Papilio glaucus

First sighting: April 8th
Last sighting: April 8th
Rank: 17(tie)
Last year's rank: 3
Days sighted: 1
Days sighted last year: 31

Probably the biggest surprise of the year.  Certainly the biggest disappointment.  In previous years, Tiger Swallowtails were seen in large enough numbers to almost seem mundane.  This year, just one uncharacteristically early spotting.  The lack of Tiger swallowtails was disturbing.  Even outside of my yard I counted very few.  It will be interesting to see if the species can rebound next year.  The photo at left was taken last year.

DaintySulphurDainty Sulphur
Nathalis iole

First sighting: May 5th
Last sighting: May 5th
Rank: 17(tie)
Last year's rank: N/A
Days sighted: 1
Days sighted last year: 0

This Dainty Sulphur was my first ever sighting of the butterfly.  It must have been a stray as Dainty Sulphurs were commonly seen, throughout the year, at my favorite hiking spot just a few miles away

AzureSpring/Summer Azure
Celastrina ladon/neglecta

First sighting: May 19th
Last sighting: May 19th
Rank: 17 (tie)
Last year's rank: 10(tie)
Days sighted: 1
Days sighted last year: 4

The violacea form of Spring Azures is almost indistinguishable from Summer Azures.  Given I have not previously recorded a Spring Azure, I suspect this one is probably a Summer Azure.  The date recorded falls at about the end of Spring Azure flight, and the beginning of Summer azure flight.

Little Yellow Little Yellow
Pyrisitia lisa

First sighting: Aug 4th
Last sighting: Aug 4th
Rank: 17(tie)
Last year's rank: N/A
Days sighted: 1
Days sighted last year: 0

Another first for me.  This butterfly is easily recognized because it is smaller than any other yellow butterfly except the Dainty Sulphur.

Absentees:
There were three species of butterflies that were recorded last year, but not this year.  Giant Swallowtails(Paplio cresphontes) were recorded twice last year and I had one sighting each of Red-spotted Purple(Limenitis arthemis) and Great Spangled Fritillary(Speyeria cybele).  For the second year in a row, I have not recorded a single Viceroy(Limenitis archippus).

So that was the butterfly season.  Pretty crummy, but there's always next year.

What have you been seeing in your yard?

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