by Ryder W. Miller
The 23rd annual San Francisco Butterfly Count, held on Father’s Day this year, “shattered
all records,” according to Liam O’Brien, a lepidopterist and organizer for the annual
“It’s never come together like this, folks, in the last 12 years I’ve been running it.
Yes, we’ve had heat, but the count usually gets disturbed on count day with
the ‘wall of June gloom’ tsunaming out half the circle to the West,” wrote O’Brien via e-
mail to participants.
“I woke up last Sunday, June 18, stepped out on my front porch, looked up at Twin Peaks,
and thought, ‘My God, I think they might see Butterflies in the Presidio today,’”
O’Brien said. “People don’t realize that too hot is just as bad for butterflies as too
cold. They dart into bushes and get into the shade to cool down – not so good when your
trying to inventory them.”
Butterflies, despite some of their bright colors, can be hard to find. According to
Wikipedia, “Butterflies are often polymorphic, and many species make use
of camouflage, mimicry and aposematism to evade their predators.” Bright colors can
also provide a warning in the animal and plant kingdoms – that they contain toxins and
should not be eaten.
Eight parties of 18 people each spread out on a warm Father ’s Day to make SF
Butterfly Count history. The total number of species found were 29, which beat the
previous record from 2012 of 26. The total number of individuals seen was 1,435,
up from the 2011 record of 967.
“Numbers like we never had before,” O’Brien said. “Everything looked pretty
One of the special sightings was of a Spicebush Swallowtail, and the Anise
Swallowtail was seen in record numbers this year.
Some places to watch butterflies in the afternoon without doing any harm include
Golden Gate Park’s Strawberry Hill and Botanical Gardens, and Grandview Terrace.
In related news, the local Green Hairstreak Project is going strong, but more public
involvement is desired. The Green Hairstreak Project connects wildlife corridors for
butterflies and other species in the west side of the City.
This year’s Green Hairstreak Festival, which is held at Herbert Hoover Middle
School, had a larger than usual crowd. “We have begun seeing Green Hairstreaks in the
Hoover Middle School habitat gardens, and this is so encouraging
to the students, who, with Kids in Parks, get immersive outdoor education and
learn a ton about the butterfly,” said Amber Hasselbring, who manages the Green
Hairstreak Project. “We spotted our first male butterfly in mid-December, a
whole month earlier than ever on record.”
The butterfly emerged at the Tiled Steps Project at 16th Avenue and Quintara
Street and was seen during the volunteers’ third Saturday of the month workday.
“The current trend seems to be that butterflies are flying in larger numbers during the
warm, sunny still days of early spring from March through May,” said Hasselbring.
“We are committed to taking care of our 11 existing sites with great care, and we have a
growing backyard natives nursery, where residents care for a number of plants in their
own backyards, and we then plant them in the corridor each winter. We are looking
for new people to adopt plants to care for,” Hasselbring said.
Hasselbring urged local residents to get involved with the butterfly habitat program.
“We have a new batch of signs up that let people know how to see and discover
these butterflies and how they can participate in citizen science efforts, like posting
on iNaturalist. When the habitat is intact, so many other species benefit. And people
also benefit by learning about how important it is to plant native plants so keenly
adapted to our local climates and soils.
“We are looking forward to developing new ways to study the corridor in a more
prolonged way and are looking for volunteers and ideas for how to do this by utilizing
our community ties, best practices and new relationships. However, with a small
part time staff of three people, we need extra motivation,” Hasselbring said.
The SF Butterfly Count results showed numerous species, including: Western
Tiger Swallowtail (23); Anise Swallowtail (125 – a new national record); Pipevine
Swallowtail (38); Cabbage White (487 – a new San Francisco record); Orange
Sulphur (5); Gray Hairstreak (17); Echo Blue (194 – a new count record); Acmon
Blue (50 – a new count record); Western Pygmy Blue (2); Gulf Fritillary (21); Field
Crescent (3); Mylitta Crescent (41); California Sister (4); Harriet Reinhard (1 –
established in 1984, rare in city proper); American Painted Lady (7); Painted Lady
(13); West Coast Painted Lady (8); Red Admiral (28); Common Buckeye (56);
Satyr Anglewing (2); Mourning Cloak (2); Monarch (3); California Common Ringlet
(30); Common Wood Nymph (74); Mournful Duskywing (2); Common
Checkered Skipper (48); Fiery Skipper (11); Sandhill Skipper (6); Umber Skipper
(31); Rural Skipper (5); Unid. Papilionid (9); Unid. Nymphalid (46); Unid.
Hesperiid (7); Unid. Lycaenid (42).
For more information about the annual butterfly count or the Green Hairstreak