More Observations of May 4th Flight

Will Kerling managed to capture all three species of the migrating flocks in one image at Lizard Tail Swamp Preserve.

It’s hard to keep up with the red admiral/Am lady/question mark flight, as it is continuing. For the most recent reports, please go to our log. You can also add your own observations — there on the log or as a comment here in our blog. (To join our observing team, click on “Here’s Our Live 2012 Log” to the right of this post.)

In follow-up to the Saturday morning notes below, some other observations of the great flight on Friday, May 4:

Don Freiday on his blog, The Freiday Bird Blog, described the count he and his fellow Forsythe NWR employee Tiffany Kersten conducted that evening (May 4).

Bear with me while we do some math.

I handed Tiffany Kersten a clicker on the way home from work today, to click butterflies along the Garden State Parkway from the exit for Forsythe NWR where we work (mile 40) to mile 6, our exit. There’s been an amazing movement of butterflies, primarily Red Admirals, and it should be quantified. The butterflies have been apparently flying up from the south, coming in off the ocean, and flying in a generally west-northwest direction.

Tiff clicked 652 butterflies in the 34 miles, or 19 per mile. Let’s say 20 to keep the math simple.

We figure we had a three-second window to count individual butterflies from a vehicle moving at 70 mph. In other words, a car three seconds behind us would be counting new butterflies. In other words, 400 butterflies per minute per mile were crossing the Parkway.

Let’s say this movement extended from Forsythe to Cape May, about 40 miles. That’s 16,000 butterflies per minute, 960,000 per hour.

Okay, it’s not quite a million. But if the movement lasted three hours (or more, as it apparently did) several million butterflies passed through southern NJ today!

Jim Dowdell counted from his backyard in Villas, near the Delaware Bayshore:

“They were moving northward at 300 to 340 per minute between 3:15 pm and 4:15 pm.”

Dave Amadio was in Belleplain State Park:

What began as a day for birding Belleplain turned into an expĂ©rience that I must admit I had not prepared for. I was aware of a good flight of Admirals taking place, but was not expecting this type of spectacle. With every step I would flush two or three on the powerline cut in Belleplain. In the overgrown field off of Jake’s Landing Rd., my expĂ©rience was similar to what Pat Sutton described from Goshen. The wild cherry trees were just dripping with Admirals, Am ladies, with some Q-Marks. The spectacle had me in such awe that my counting suffered greatly.

As I headed furthur south on Rt47 the Admirals were just blasting by in groups of 5, 10, 15 and more. From Dennisville to South Dennis, I was hitting the wave of Admirals head on. Not sure how many ended their flight by making contact with the grille of my truck. With the Friday afternoon on-slaught of shore bound travellers, It is most certain that thousands of Admirals and other sp. had their journey cut short.

As I crossed the toll bridge at Grassy Sound to Nummy’s Island, I drove through a cloud of butterlies, mostly Admirals. As I scoped the marsh for birds, I counted a flight of 150 butterflies per min.

Barbara and Jack Miller watched the flight in their backyard in Petersburg (Cape May County):

“We [averaged] about 12-15 per minute for hours. How often can one say, ‘Oh yes, I had 4 or 5 thousand butterflies in my yard today’?”

Shawn & Jessica Wainwright counted from their backyard in Ocean County:

“From 8am – 7pm we counted 100+ every 3 minutes which comes out to 2000 every hour!”

Chris Herz, Jean Gutsmuth, and Denise Bittle were butterflying in Warren Grove on Friday, then headed home (as reported by Chris):

Driving home along Rte. 70 (east to west) from Warren Grove and when we were stopped at each traffic light, Marlton to Cherry Hill we counted 6-12 red admirals flying above us at each traffic light stop! This was around 2:30 to 3 pm. Luckily they were above the traffic.

When at home I was counting 5-6 pm and counted 36 red admirals flying through our yard. A couple of American Ladies too.

Jennifer Hanson in Plainsboro (Middlesex Co) noted on New Jersey Birds:

I stepped outside for an hour to count butterflies… The results:

136 northbound butterflies, 20 southbound or undecided butterflies. I’ve been back inside for over an hour and a half since my impromptu
count and butterflies are still streaming past.

Of the northbound butterflies, 116 were unidentified, 14 were Red Admirals, one was an American Lady, one was a Question Mark/comma and 3 were not Red Admirals (i.e., probably either a lady or a punctuation mark sp.).

Observers north of NJ are also seeing the flights. Sue Gregoire of the Kestrel Haven Avian Migration Observatory in Burdett, NY reported on the New York
Birding list serve:

“NY State has been overrun with migrating Red Admiral butterflies going north. All over the state hundreds are passing members of the NYS butterfly listserv every hour. We’re all wondering how widespread this phenomenon is.”

Past big flights in southern NJ (most recently, July 2001 and June/July 2007) have lasted more than a week, so we might not yet have seen the largest daily flight.

So, keep watching, everyone! Thanks to all who have sent in reports. Keep ’em coming!


5/10/12 Update: Pat Sutton has passed along this note from Angi Walters, regarding the 5/4 flight:

“Sad to say, but I can report that there was a massive die-off of these wonderful migrants along the coast. A co-worker approached me yesterday to ask me about it, because she had been running along the beach in Brigantine and saw hundreds upon hundreds being washed in by the waves.”

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4 Responses to More Observations of May 4th Flight

  1. Jamie Cromartie says:

    Hundreds crossing parking lots at Stockton from SSW to NNE at 545 pm. Red admiral, with a few question marks. On Monday the 7th, I photographed one Vanessa cardui (painted lady) on the cranberry virburnum flowers in the Arts and Sciences building courtyard, along with a red admiral and an American lady. Pictures posted on the Facebook page, Stockton Biodiversity.

  2. Jamie Cromartie says:

    Oops. The hundreds were on May 4th, of course.

  3. Pingback: Red Admiral MEGA Migration, May 2012

  4. Pingback: Red Admiral Butterfly Explosion

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