Butterfly Watching in Vermont
July 29, 2023
Butterflies are a big part of Terri Armata’s world.
The Bennington resident, who moved to Vermont in the 1970s, has always loved exploring the outdoors. Two decades ago—somewhat on a whim—she volunteered for the Vermont Butterfly Atlas project to help document the status of butterflies in the state. Even though she knew little about butterflies, the now-retired hospital worker was eager to learn something new.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this might be fun,'” she says. “And it turns out it was. It (still) is.”
Today, Armata, who retired six years ago, is one of Vermont’s most dedicated butterfly watchers. Vermont is home to 110 to 120 butterfly species, and Armata has spotted about 100 species—including the Cloudless Sulphur and Northern Oak Hairstreak.
-Terri Armata heads out to go butterfly watching at Merck Forest in June.
The Vermont Butterfly Atlas Project
It’s also been a big year for Vermont butterflies. In May, biologist Bryan Pfeiffer found the bog elfin—a rare brown butterfly—in a remote area of the state. The discovery, which took Pfeiffer 21 years to find, was covered in the Boston Globe, Vermont Public and other media outlets.
A couple of months earlier, the second Vermont Butterfly Atlas project was launched by the Vermont Center for Ecostudies in Norwich.
Butterflies were essentially a mystery in Vermont before hundreds of volunteer community scientists—including Armata—helped complete the first Vermont Butterfly Atlas between 2002 and 2007. Twenty years later, the second, five-year atlas project will help detect changes in butterfly populations and provide essential information for environmental management and policy.
If you’re interested in participating in the Vermont Butterfly Atlas project or want to start butterfly-watching, summer is the time to start. A field guide or website—Armata recommends the Massachusetts Butterfly Club—can help you identify any butterflies you see.
“Starting walking and see what’s out there. Go to grassy places, town parks, dirt roads,” Armata says. “If you see something, get a good look at it, and try to get a picture of it if you can. That’s part of the fun.”
Where to Find Butterflies in Vermont
-The Formal Garden at Hildene in Manchester / courtesy photo
Hildene: The Lincoln Family Home
In Manchester, Hildene is the former summer home of Robert Todd Lincoln—son of Abraham Lincoln—and his wife, Mary Harlan Lincoln. The property is a pollinator and songbird sanctuary, meaning bees, butterflies and birds (and many other species) are a priority in Hildene’s landscape management decisions.
The gardens at Hildene are an ideal place to see butterflies. Try the Butterfly Garden and Cutting Garden behind the Welcome Center. Also, the native perennial pollinator garden near the under-construction Lincoln Hall and the Formal Garden behind the Lincoln home are good bets. All guests can enjoy Hildene’s gardens after they have paid admission to the Welcome Center. Hildene also hosts nature walks, including butterfly walks, that are open to the public. (1005 Hildene Road, Manchester; hildene.org)
Roads in the Green Mountain National Forest
Dirt roads are an excellent place to see butterflies. If you need help determining where to go, try any U.S. Forest Service roads from Stratton to Granville. The Green Mountain National Forest encompasses more than 400,000 acres in southwestern and central Vermont, forming Vermont’s largest contiguous public land area. Read more about suggested U.S. Forest Service roads to explore on HappyVermont.com.
Merck Forest and Farmland Center
Merck Forest, open daily to the public for free, includes 35 miles of trails. The day I interviewed Armata, we met at Merck Forest before she ventured onto the trails to search for butterflies.
On Sept. 3, 2023, Merck Forest will host a Monarch Monitoring event, where participants will explore some of the habitats and hangouts of Monarchs. You can also try catching and tagging monarch butterflies, and search for and observe other pollinators at work. (3270 Vermont Route 315, Rupert; merckforest.org)
Other places for Vermont Butterfly Watching
Try the Green Mountain Audubon Center (the Peeper Pond Trail loop) or outdoors at the Birds of Vermont Museum in Huntington. State parks, town parks and natural areas, like Lake St. Catherine State Park in Poultney and Arms Forest in Burlington are good options for butterfly watching.
Happy Vermont podcast
Host Erica Houskeeper met with Armata at Merck Forest in Rupert to talk about good places to find butterflies, her passion for butterfly watching, and Vermont’s second Butterfly Atlas survey.