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May 24, 2004

Author keeps lookout for butterfly sites

By Bill Bishop
The Register-Guard

As a 9-year-old, Neil Bjorklund wandered with his father in a wildflower meadow high on Steens Mountain, spellbound by the hundreds of orange-and-black winged Milbert's Tortoiseshell butterflies he found there.

It was the beginning of a lifelong interest in lepidoptera that inspired Bjorklund to write "Finding Lane County Butterflies," a 100-page guide for when and where to observe the 80 butterfly species found in Lane County.

The new book, soon to be available in local bookstores, is a companion volume to "Pocket Guide to Butterflies of Lane County," a field guide produced by Marta Makurushka, a member of the Eugene-Springfield chapter of the North American Butterfly Association. Proceeds from both guides go to the nonprofit group.

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Nelson's hairstreak butterfly

Enthusiasts often can capture the Nelson's hairstreak on film.

Photo: Neil Bjorklund

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Growing interest in nature observation is creating a boom in butterflying, or "lepping," says Bjorklund, who is president of the local NABA chapter. More than 40 people attend the chapter's meetings and a couple hundred are on the mailing list.

"People in general are getting more interested in watching nature," Bjorklund says. "It's a very natural shift from watching birds. I know a lot of bird watchers who are very avid butterfly watchers."

But the hobby goes well beyond entertainment, connecting butterfly watchers to the worlds of songbirds and wildflowers. Lepping leads to a greater understanding of larger ecological systems, Bjorklund says.

"Butterfly larvae are the favorite food of the millions of songbirds migrating northward from the tropics," he says. "Butterflies are indicator species for the health of a habitat because they have this relationship with these native plants. Where you have a healthy and diverse butterfly population you know how healthy and diverse the vegetation is. It's a great teaching tool to understand these ecological relationships."

Bjorklund spent nearly three years compiling information for the Lane County guide and currently is engrossed in a four-year project to document butterfly sites statewide.

Exposing more people to the sites risks damage to the butterflies. But by revealing more sites, Bjorklund hopes to lighten the impact on the best-known and most-accessible sites. In any case, Bjorklund advises watchers to abstain from collecting plants or butterflies at the sites.

"The ethic we're trying to encourage people to have is, certainly, do no harm," he says. "Don't collect plants unless you have the necessary permits. Know what (butterflies) you are collecting. Don't do it for trophies. Coordinate with other collectors. Collect in a sustainable manner."

Bjorklund, who does not collect butterflies, says collectors should give back by educating others, volunteering to restore habitat and contributing to groups such as the NABA.

"Right now, only a few spots in Lane County are known as butterfly `hot spots,' so those few sites get a lot of visits. By increasing the number of good butterfly sites that people know about, it is my hope to spread the visits across more sites and avoid heavy traffic at any one of them," Bjorklund says.

The 33 Lane County sites identified in the new guide should keep the lepping public busy for some time, he says.

"Statewide, I've identified over 200 sites and I'm learning about more all the time," he says. "I'll aim for the same effect in the statewide book."

BUTTERFLIES OF LANE COUNTY

The Eugene-Springfield chapter of the North American Butterfly Association benefits from sales of two field guides, including a new one: "Finding Lane County Butterflies."

What: The new field guide lists places and times to go to observe various butterfly species in Lane County. It's a companion to "Pocket Guide to Butterflies of Lane County."

Where: Available beginning this week at The Book Mark, Down To Earth, University of Oregon Bookstore in Eugene; The Bookmine in Cottage Grove.

Information: www.naba.org/chapters/nabaes/index.html

- Local chapter, North American Butterfly Association