Volunteers compile butterfly count at Wildlife Refuge


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Barbara Peterson, coordinator of the Butterfly Biodiversity Survey, and a group of volunteers prepare to begin a butterfly count at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Courtesy of Emily Delanzo

Florida is blessed to have more than 180 species of butterflies to enjoy year-round. Florida also is fortunate to have a number of volunteers to help compile data for tracking butterflies.

At 9 a.m. Saturday, April 6, nine volunteers — a majority of them seniors — and staff met at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (MINWR) Visitors Center. Following a presentation on butterflies, the teams — each with at least one experienced butterfly identifier — dispersed to their designated areas to record butterflies seen.

The mood was congenial; volunteers and staff were friendly and eager to share information and experiences. The regrowth of vegetation in areas hurt by past hurricanes was encouraging.

Barbara Peterson, a butterfly survey coordinator, supervises the Butterfly Biodiversity Survey (commonly referred to as counting butterflies) at MINWR. The counting takes place on the first Saturday of each month and involves collection of data for the Florida Butterfly Monitoring Network Project (FBMN) of the University of Florida.

More than 100 surveys have been completed to date.

“The butterfly survey is an opportunity to contribute to scientific data base as to what butterflies are here,” Peterson said. “We see unusual butterflies intermittently,” Emily Delanzo, a ranger and volunteer coordinator, said,  “Volunteers are critical to the well-being and tracking of data.”

One of the regular volunteers is Bill Nunn, a Brevard County retired police officer who has been helping since 2002 and has clocked more than 8,000 hours at the Refuge.

“I’m just out here finding enjoyment and therapy,” he said. “I just enjoy getting out with the camera.”

After the death of his wife and his mother, who followed shortly after his wife, Nunn found solace in nature and in the satisfaction of volunteering.

“I bought a camera and have been chasing birds and subsequently butterflies ever since,” Nunn said. “I have a lot of fun.”

Delanzo said the volunteers are critical to the success of the goals of the Refuge, which is to protect and conserve wildlife in it’s natural habitat.

“We need motivated volunteer groups, who are passionate, well trained (training provided) and independent,” Delanzo said. “Without volunteers, we would be in sore shape and our programs would be lacking.”

Those interested in counting butterflies, or in any of the many different programs and opportunities to volunteer at NIMWR, can obtain information at fws.gov/refuge/Merritt_Island/ or by calling 321-861-5601.