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  • Writer's pictureShrew

A Butterfly Retrospective

Those snowy days in mid-May sure feel like a distant dream. Though the cooler-than-average temperatures persisted well into June, we've since seen little apart from typical summer heat. What's notable is how little it has rained. Sure, the odd late-afternoon storm has materialized, but despite looking ominous with their dark cumulonimbus clouds, these systems have resulted in scarcely more than a drop in the proverbial bucket. Yes, we are mired in a drought, and this immediately recalls our two latest dry summers in 2016 and 2012.

Like this year, the summer drought four years ago was preceded by a markedly cool spring. Four years before that, however, warm temperatures started early — very early. In some parts of southern Ontario, the third week of March 2012 included several days with record-breaking daytime highs in the mid-20s. Buds opened, flowers bloomed, bees emerged from their winter slumber, and butterflies rode the blast of southern air into our parks and gardens. I remember seeing a Red Admiral on March 21st of that year flutter through a yard in suburban Scarborough. It was one of those pinch-yourself moments — the first of many more to come that spring.

Fast-forward a few weeks to April 15th, 2012. That was the day something truly magical happened. With a drastic change from north to south winds, southern Ontario was suddenly inundated with Red Admirals along with fellow migratory butterflies like Painted Ladies and Question Marks. There were millions of them. Literally.

The Great Admiral Invasion of 2012, as it was quickly dubbed, lingered into May, delighting even the least nature-curious folks. Those strong south winds that initiated the phenomenon continued, and by summer's end, butterfly enthusiasts had enjoyed multiple sightings of rare southern species like Pipevine Swallowtails (pictured to left), Variegated Fritillaries, and Common Checkered-skippers.

Early returns this summer have been promising. While we're unlikely to witness anything as spectacular as the 2012 event, we're optimistic that the persistent southerly winds will make for a fine season of "butterflying." Species diversity is at its peak right now, so we've planned an outing to get an inside look at the lives of some of our most dazzlingly-coloured creatures.


Note: Read this account of The Great Admiral Invasion of 2012 that Ian wrote for the Spring 2013 issue of Algonquin Park's long-standing natural history newsletter The Raven.

Title photo: Red Admiral (front) and Painted Lady (back) at Presqu'ile, May 2012, IS

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