Section: Tucson Region
Tucson Area Butterfly Haven
By Anne Minard
Photos by Benjie Sanders
Jim Brock, author of a local field guide to
butterflies, misses the orange specimen just above his net on
Mount Lemmon. Mount Lemmon is a great spot to see a rainbow of
butterflies, especially since the winter rains.
For years, Hank Brodkin was
all about birds.
He and his wife, Priscilla, made around 30 trips a year - to
northern South America, China, New Guinea and Kenya - just to see
new avian species.
A lovely specimen of red spotted purple pauses
on the Arizona Trail near Mount Lemmon.
"Of course out of the corner of our collective eyes we became aware
of hundreds of beautiful butterflies, but we had no idea what
species we were seeing and were too engrossed in birding to pay that
much attention," he says.
These days, it's butterflies that make their collective spirit soar.
"Sometimes on our trips, he won't even look at a bird," said Jim
Brock, a butterflying pal of the couple. Brock says the Brodkins are
part of a growing trend - butterfly watching has attracted thousands
of devotees over the past decade or so, many of them converts from
the bird-watching world.
Butterfly enthusiast Jim
Brock holds a pipevine swallowtail on Mount Lemmon.
Brock recommends that butterfly seekers visit canyons that hold
water, such as Molino Canyon and Madera Canyon.
"It's just a recent transition," he says. "There wasn't even a
market for butterfly watching when I quit my job."
That was in 1989, when Brock says he was just an "average Joe"
working at a warehouse on the University of Arizona campus. But he
wasn't just any average Joe. He and his friends had grown up running
around their neighborhood with nets to snare bugs and butterflies.
Except for a few teenage years when he had an image to protect,
Brock never put his down.
When he did quit his job, he did it on a wing and a prayer - but it
wasn't long before his passion caught up with him.
Local bird-tour companies began inviting him to lead side trips for
people who wanted to watch butterflies. He eventually started
leading butterfly walks at the Tucson Botanical Gardens. He's
conducted scientific surveys to document butterfly diversity in
Brazil, Mexico and the Coronado National Memorial, south of Sierra
Vista on the Mexican border.
A Texas crescent lingers
along the Arizona Trail near the Molino Basin area. Molino Canyon is
on the way up to Mount Lemmon.
In 2003, Brock co-authored a field guide called "Butterflies of
North America," part of the Kenn Kaufman series. His latest book,
"Field Guide to Caterpillars" which he co-authored with Thomas Allen
and Jeffrey Glassberg, is due in stores later this month.
Brock says Tucson has been a prime spot to keep his curiosity aloft.
"Within about a two-hour drive from Tucson, 200 to 250 species have
been recorded," he says. "That's about a third of the entire U.S.
total of butterflies."
He said that's a function of a mild climate and two rainy seasons
that favor a diverse community of plants - which butterfly
caterpillars need. Brock keeps a list of butterfly species that have
visited his Tucson yard - more than 80 in a little more than eight
years. At their Carr Canyon home in the Huachucas, the Brodkins have
a tally of 101.
"That's phenomenal," Brock says. "In a place like Seattle, you're
lucky to have a yard list of 10 in 20 years."
The best thing to do to see butterflies is to head out to a canyon
with water in it - like Molino Canyon on the way up Mt. Lemmon, or
Madera Canyon east of Green Valley. Close-focusing binoculars,
slightly different from the longer-range birding binoculars, are
available at most sporting goods stores and can range in price from
about $90 to $1,000, depending on the power and other features.
Brock says even armchair adventurers can enjoy butterflying -
sitting quietly allows a person to watch, for example, a female
butterfly fluttering in a focused search for the specific plant on
which to lay her eggs.
"Sometimes you can see just as many butterflies sitting in a lounge
chair," he says.
Heck - if you want, you can stay home, and bring the butterflies to
you. Another of Brock's books, "Desert Butterfly Gardening," is
available for a few dollars in the gift shop of the Tucson Botanical
Gardens or through the Arizona Native Plant Society in Tucson. It
teaches readers how to plant yards that will attract a rainbow of