June 14, 2007

Counting birds and butterflies

A bench tile in Bradner Gardens Park, Mt. Baker neighborhood, Seattle The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is doing it, Nature in the City is doing it, and a Mount Diablo group is doing it: counting birds and butterflies. 45 butterfly species were recorded in this year's Mount Diablo and environs count, part of the annual North American Butterfly Association count. Entomologist and co-coordinator Rich Kelson told the Chronicle that "we are not seeing a huge decrease in diversity but we are seeing a decrease in abundance. And it's much harder to find the variety. You have to climb all over the place" (June 14, Bay Area section). Across the Bay in San Francisco County, 14 species and 314 individuals were recorded. The SF urban nature organization, Nature in the City, sent the following information to its list serve (June 12): 1) Western Tiger Swallowtail ( Papillio rutulus ) - 22 2) Anise Swallowtail ( Papillio zelicaon ) - 11 3) Pipevine Swallowtail ( Battus philenor ) - 1 4) Cabbage White ( Pieris rapae ) - 83 5) Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme ) - 6 6) Echo Blue ( Celestrina ladon echo ) - 8 7) Acmon Blue ( Plebejus acmon ) - 43 8) Field Crescent ( Phyciodes campestris ) - 35 9) Mylitta Crescent ( Phyciodes mylitta ) - 1 10) Chalcedon Checkerspot ( Euphydryas chalcedona ) - 4 11) Mourning Cloak ( Nymphalis antiopa ) - 1 12) Painted Lady ( Vanessa cardui ) - 3 13) West Coast P. Lady ( Vanessa annabella ) - 14 14) American Painted Lady ( Vanessa virginiensis ) - 1 15) Red Admiral ( Vanessa atalanta ) - 4 16) Buckeye ( Junonia coenia ) - 2 17) California Ringlet ( Coenonympha tullia californica ) - 19 18) Common Checkered Skipper ( Pyrgus communis ) - 9 19) Umber Skipper ( Poanes melane) - 32 20) Fiery Skipper ( Hylephilia phyleus ) - 4 And all over the country, people participated in the Celebrate Urban Birds data collection and celebration sponsored by the Cornell University Ornithology Lab and Urban Bird Studies program. In a San Francisco area location (finer geographical detail not provided), house finches, mallards, mourning doves, American crows, Baltimore orioles, Bullock orioles, and white tailed kite were recorded (listed in order of abundance; the first four species were seen in equal numbers). The participation in and celebration of urban (and suburban) natures is part of the antidote to "the extinction of experience" recommended by Robert Michael Pyle. Rich Kelson, one of the coordinators of the Mount Diablo count told today's Chronicle "we used to count butterflies in alfalfa fields that are now massive suburbs." So, the other element of Pyle's antidote is the conservation of areas - formal and informal - which enable our local ecologies to thrive. He writes, "But nature reserves and formal greenways are not enough to ensure connection....we all need spots near home where we can wander off a trail, lift a stone, poke about, and merely wonder: places where no interpretive signs intrude their message to rob our spontaneous response. Along with nature centers, parks, and preserves, we would do well to maintain a modicum of open space with no rule but common courtesy, no sign besides animal tracks "(2002, in City Wilds, ed. Terrell F. Dixon).

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