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Butterfly Bio-Monitoring Walk

An enthusiastic group of volunteers gathered on July 11th 2005 around 6pm to share their knowledge and experiences, before setting out on a butterfly bio-monitoring walk together. Organized by the Friends of the Rouge Watershed and led by Jim Fairchild, a local nature expert, the event was both enjoyable and informative.

This was my first experience participating in such an event. I was excited at the possibility of seeing individual species I have never seen before.  My enthusiasm dwindled considerably when the site we were to visit was revealed, an abandoned field at the corner of Old Finch and Meadowvale Road. My hope of finding various butterfly species quickly transformed into the expectation of discovering only the most common species. This seemed logical, considering the site was adjacent to roads with heavy traffic; undoubtedly a seemingly unsuitable environment for sensitive species.
Our initial focus was butterflies, but soon this evolved into identifying any and all flora and fauna we discovered.  As we started on our search, my illusion that this field was devoid of life quickly disappeared. I became thoroughly surprised as to the number of species we encountered.  Our group found nine butterfly species - Painted Lady, European Skipper, Wood Nymph, Sulfur, Orange Sulfur, Cabbage, Mustard and Acadian Hairstreak. The highlight was not so much the sighting of an adult Monarch Butterfly (which in itself is remarkable enough) but the discovery of a Monarch Butterfly caterpillar grasping a milkweed plant. Up until that point, I had not seen a Monarch caterpillar in years. Other notable sightings were six bird species, including Cedar Waxwing and Eastern Kingbird; one amphibian species, the Leopard Frog (the field contained a small pond) and sixteen native and non-native plant species.     
Bearing in mind that we live in a society which values development, it is surprising that we have these wonderful little gems of nature nestled within our own urban communities. As this abandoned field demonstrates, nature is indeed resilient, and when given a little time and space, it will make the most of it.  At the same time though, our society’s relentless need of natural resources creates a real sense of urgency as less space becomes available for nature.

Clearly, we must make a conscientious effort to preserve any, and all, natural areas left within our landscape.  Even the smallest patches of nature are important in the overall picture. Collectively, these sites serve to give biodiversity much needed habitat and opportunities for species dispersal into other larger areas. As we have seen on our bio-monitoring walk, species of special concern such as, the monarch butterfly and the leopard frog continue to survive in an area surrounded by an urbanized landscape. Not only will the sites provide animal and plant species with much needed habitat, they will also provide a precious opportunity for the local citizens to become engaged with nature.  The best part, people do not need to travel far to experience it.

Eddie Colacchio,
Friends of the Rouge Watershed.