"I was born with an interest in butterflies,” explains Sue Anderson as she leads a group hiking along a trail in Metolius Preserve. “I've just loved them ever since I was knee high to a grasshopper. I love butterflies.”
For several years, Anderson has shared that love by leading family-friendly butterfly hikes such as this one for Deschutes Land Trust, a conservation organization that preserves places such as this. For a good while longer, some 21 years, Anderson has been leading annual butterfly counts both here and in the Ochocos.
On Saturday, my family and I joined Anderson as she led the butterfly hike in Metolius Preserve — 1,240 acres of fir and ponderosa forests peppered by flowery meadowsnurtured by Lake Creek, whose waters flow through three miles of the preserve on an eastward journey from Suttle Lake to the Metolius River.
It was in those meadows, Anderson promised, that we'd find the butterflies.
However, before we could hoof it to any meadows, we'd first have to make it out of the parking area at South Fork Kiosk, which was proving a challenge.
Anderson had thoughtfully filled her car with butterfly nets, donated to the cause of catch-and-release butterfly observation by the shop Play Outdoors. Normally, she uses only binoculars, but opts for nets when the butterflies stubbornly refuse to alight upon a leaf or flower.
Let's just say that while they were being stalked by kids from age 5½ up to about 12, the local butterflies spent a lot of time in the air.
In fact, there wasn't a whole lot the slower moving adults — who ranged up to 84 in age — needed to do. The nine kids present were perfectly capable of chasing down the fluttering insects despite their seemingly random flight paths, and the adults were perfectly incapable of corralling the children or getting them to pause in their constant pursuit.
Every time the group inched closer to the trailhead of Becky Johnson Nature Trail, one kid or another would come running excitedly from the adjacent meadow shouting, “I got one!” At one point, someone joked about grabbing chairs and skipping the walk, letting the kids bring the butterflies to us.
Anderson would then gently remove the insect from the net, holding it by its closed wings, which she explained doesn't harm them — contrary to my dubious education. She'd then identify it as a Zerene Fritillary, a Western Sulphur or Wood Nymph and let it go.
In a few cases, she would take a butterfly and place it on a kid's nose, where it'd perch a while.
There are more than 150 types of butterflies in Central Oregon, Anderson says, and they start emerging as early as March. Butterfly season has already peaked, but don't let that deter you: Deschutes Land Trust will offer another of these popular hikes Aug. 6. Visit www.deschuteslandtrust .org to learn more about these and other guided hikes, star parties and more.
Eventually, our group did make it down the trail and through the woods to various meadows — a casual walk led by Anderson and her husband, Jim Anderson, the most charming octogenarian naturalist you're likely to find roaming the woods. At one point, Jim was seen kneeling on the ground, face pressed close to the dirt, urging the kids to find him an ant to drop in one of the many ant lion sand traps dotting an old forest road.
Along the way, Sue kept the group moving, kindly and patiently indulging kids' requests for her to identify the butterflies in their nets. Ever the forest teacher, Sue knows a teachable moment when she sees one.
“Remember what we call those?” she asks.
A silent pause while the kid thinks.
“There! Great! It's a sulphur.”
I like to get out in the outdoors, for the most part, to get away from people. I presume many approach their recreation similarly. Sure, we'll nod or say “How's it goin'?” when we pass on trails, but the last thing I normally seek to do is bond with strangers in nature.
That perspective shifted a bit on this hike, attributable to the like-minded purpose of our outing, the easy camaraderie and the shared focus of our being there — not to mention the beauty of Metolius Preserve. I was even a bit sad when we reached our last meadow and Sue said it was time to turn around and head back; the three-hour tour was drawing to a close.
However, there was still one more butterfly to be found. Near the parking lot, a boy named Trapper finally netted a Tiger Swallowtail for the group to see. Jim shouted encouragement as he scampered up the trail: “Good going, Trapper! Be very careful, and don't hurt it.”
A moment later, as his wife approached the group, Jim called out to her with as much enthusiasm as one of the kids, “Look at this, Sue!”
Photos by David Jasper / The Bulletin
Katherine Ross, 8, of Bend, hosts a Western Sulphur butterfly on her nose in the Metolius Preserve on Saturday. Guide Sue Anderson, who leads butterfly hikes around Central Oregon, placed butterflies on participants' noses after identifying them.
David Jasper / The Bulletin
Sue Anderson discusses butterflieswhile leading a hike in the Metolius Preserve. In addition to guiding tours for the Deschutes Land Trust, Anderson also leads local butterfly counts.
Below, butterfly hike participants prowl a meadow in the Metolius Preserve, catching insects for identification.
Jim Anderson, who'd been photographing a butterfly, crawls for safety as a gaggle of children chasing said butterfly approaches.
Sue Anderson discusses butterflies while leading a butterfly hike in Metolius Preserve.
Participants move through a Metolius Preserve meadow during Saturday's butterfly hike.