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Bring On the Butterflies

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Jim Anderson's daughter Miriam with a tagged monarch. - SUE ANDERSON
  • Sue Anderson
  • Jim Anderson's daughter Miriam with a tagged monarch.

I am one of those fortunate people who married into butterflies. When my wife, Sue, and I tied the knot I didn't have a clue, until one day I discovered this beautiful woman was head over heels in love with those gorgeous, six-legged gossamer-winged insects and started dragging me out to meet them. Today, I go willingly.

It happened the first time at Lava Beds National Monument just over the line in California. We were there at the behest of the National Park Service Head Interpreter from Seattle, who wanted us to help him with presentations on the relationship between the early pioneers and the indigenous Modoc people.

Sue went out exploring from our camp site and came back within minutes raving about butterflies. From that day on we were hooked on the monument. We were back several times during the summer to help the interpreters with their historic campfire talks, and to get to know the butterflies, too. We even conducted an inventory for them, and we still go there every June to help with the seasonal count.

When our children began to arrive, Sue made sure they got to know the butterflies of Lava Beds and the rest of Oregon and California. All three of them, Reuben, Caleb and Miriam, got to be very good at catching butterflies—without hurting them—so Sue could accurately identify and photograph them... but not collect them.

When she got her first monarch tags and we began tagging these iconic butterflies, the kids got to be pros with their nets. Sue was really good at attaching the tiny tag to the leading edge of the forewing. When she received her first return on a tagged monarch that had traveled to Half Moon Bay south of San Francisco, she was ecstatic.

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Over the years she collected books on butterflies, including a field guide written by Robert Michael Pyle, "The Butterflies of Cascadia." It was, without question, the best of the bunch.

Pyle has written several other wonderful books on butterflies, and one on Sasquatch, titled, "Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide." Many of Pyle's books contain what you need to know about butterflies, the nature of the Northwest and a whole lot more. Pyle also started the Xerces Society, one of the foremost organizations dealing with insect conservation.

Well, Pyle has done it again, authoring a brand new butterfly book that's just grand. It's easy to use and beautifully illustrated, with more than 600 color photographs and nearly 200 maps. "Butterflies of the Pacific Northwest" is a must-have for nature lovers in this region.

Published by Timber Press, the profiles include common names for all the butterflies, as well as type, locality, conservation status and distinguishing traits. It also includes preferred foods and nectaring plants, habitat and range. There are 17 illustrative plates to help users compare and identify species. When you leaf through Pyle's new butterfly guide, you'll be motivated to go out and see who's flying in your yard, and ultimately, everywhere you go! A good way to begin this endeavor is to go out with a local group. Sue leads three butterfly walks for the Deschutes Land Trust every summer where you can accelerate your learning in a few short hours (deschuteslandtrust.org/hikes-events).

Folks monitoring butterfly populations have noticed that in recent years, more species from Mexico are immigrating to the U.S. (despite the wall) and species living at higher altitudes are losing their cooler habitat conditions. Butterflies are sensitive indicators of environmental health and change, and they're flashing warning signs.

If you take a trip to Lava Beds to see the butterflies, you can also have a fine time with birds, with Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge right next door.

Along one of the boundary roads is our son Caleb's favorite place to see monarchs. Back in the late '80s, when Caleb was about four, we were slowly driving down a gravel road when suddenly he notified us, "Hey mom, I gotta go pee." As he and Sue were accomplishing this task, there right before their eyes was a glorious patch of narrow leaf milkweed with monarch caterpillars all over it.

My advice is not to hesitate. Head for your favorite book store and buy Pyle's book, then get involved with building monarch way stations. You may want to make the next step and begin tagging adult monarchs yourself.

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