Posted June 9, 2020
Written by Mike Perrin
As many of our members and blog-readers know, I love birds. Okay, yes, obsessed is probably a better word. This summer, after attending a webinar “Intro to Butterfly Watching” with butterfly expert, Dave Pool, I have decided to pursue the observing, identifying, and chasing of a new winged taxa, the butterflies. Much like my discovery of birds, I have learned that there are so many species of gorgeous butterflies hiding right under my nose. In Massachusetts alone, there are five different families and over 100 species of butterfly, with presence and abundance depending on time of year. Summer is the best time to butterfly watch, as the most number of species are living in and passing through New England. In this blog, I will describe where to look for butterflies in Wareham, highlight species that I have encountered in my new-found hobby, and provide resources for additional learning and exploration!
Generally, the best place to look for butterflies are open habitats with various native plants, shrubs, and flowers. These areas include fields and power line clearings. In Wareham, retired cranberry bogs present a great opportunity to look for butterflies. During hikes around the South Coast, I can confidently say that gaps in canopy, parking lots, and other unexpected sunny patches also attract butterflies. Here are some places where I have had good luck…
- Tweedy and Barnes Conservation Area: Specifically on the old rail bed and the sandy spur trail, I have found a number of butterfly species. In the spring, the trails were covered with spring azures, a tiny and blue butterfly. In the sandy area, I have found a variety of species and even witnessed a pair of mating butterflies (photos below).
- Douglas S. Westgate Conservation Area: The network of retired cranberry bogs create a large clearing in this forested area. The regrowth of native plants along the dikes and in the bogs brings a diversity of butterflies, including my first ever elfin species!
- Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary: With trails reopen, one can go look for butterflies in the power line cut off of the Huckleberry Loop. Since this trail was created shortly before COVID and the trails have just reopened, I have not had the chance to explore this area yet. When the Sacred Heart portion opens, this spot will be a premier natural area to look for butterflies in Wareham.
- BONUS Frances A. Crane Wildlife Management Area: While not in Wareham, this butterfly-haven in Falmouth is only a thirty-minute drive from town. This natural area is mostly open with shrubs, flowers, and heathy understory plants providing one of the best places to look for butterflies on the Massachusetts coast. Since this area is regularly managed through fires, it creates a unique and special landscape to look for butterflies.
Some butterflies are easy to identify, and some are extremely difficult. I recommend bringing a camera to take photos to use later to identify butterflies. Some look similar to each other but possess easy to locate field markings, like how the painted lady has four smaller circles on the wings while the American lady has two large circles on the wings. Like fall warblers, many of these species look exactly alike with minute and illusive field markings used to differentiate species, proposing an ambitious naturalist challenge. Let’s take a look at some of the butterflies I have seen around Wareham (and Falmouth)!
Spring azure: Many of these little blue butterflies have left the area or changed form to the “summer azure.” I have seen these butterflies on almost every trail in Wareham, with a particular abundance at Tweedy and Barnes and Marks Cove Natural Areas. There are not many species that look like it, so it is a good one to learn for beginners!
Eastern pine elfin: Since pine stands typically border the open habitats in Wareham, this species can be found in some abundance. The first eastern pine elfin I had ever seen was at Douglas S. Westgate Conservation Area. Since there are many species of elfin that can be found in Wareham, try to pay close attention to the edge of the wing, as this is where slight differences can be detected to help correctly identify the species.
Pearl crescent: This is a beautifully patterned reddish-orange and black butterfly. I saw these two mating in the sandy habitat at Tweedy and Barnes Conservation Area. The two are mating on sweet fern, making this a host plant for the species.
Cabbage white: An extremely abundant butterfly, this species can be seen flitting around lawns, gardens, fields, trails, and even the medians of highways! Either light green or white, these butterflies are best identified by their color and dark, blurred dots on the wings.
BONUS: Gallery of species found at Frances Crane WMA to show the diversity of cool butterflies in and near the South Coast!
- Massachusetts Butterfly Club: The club website is a terrific source of information, including many photos of each species, the flight dates for each species, and where in the state the species can be found. Information about butterfly conservation, gardening, and field guides is easily accessed through this website. The side-by-side photo feature is very useful for the extremely similar species like skippers and duskywings.
- eButterfly: a global citizen science project to enter observations of butterflies. Poke around the map to see where/what butterflies have been reported near Wareham!
- AWG Photography: Wareham resident, Andy Griffith, has been taking photos of butterflies in Wareham for years. View his amazing photos!