At Greenview Nature Area, it could be a Peck’s skipper, one of more than fifty-two butterfly and skipper species found here. Judy Lobato, one of the coauthors of The Butterflies of Our Local Park: Greenview Nature Area (2005-2021), says Greenview has the largest population of Peck’s skippers in Washtenaw County. 

The 100-page booklet is not a comprehensive field guide. It contains local history, color photos, and descriptions of the butterflies and skippers that inhabit two meadows, a pond, a woods, and a community garden in the forty-four acres directly south of Pioneer Woods. (Skippers, a cousin of butterflies and moths, are fuzzy and thicker-bodied like a moth, yet fly during the day like a butterfly.)

Although all three authors are retired from U-M, none studied butterflies professionally: John Swales ran the English Language Institute, Marcy Breslow worked at the Institute of Social Research, and Lobato was a med tech at U-M Hospital.

Swales, known in local birding circles and one of the coauthors of The Birds of Washtenaw County, Michigan, came upon butterfly watching as a way to rid himself of midsummer blahs. During June and July, migrants have passed through Ann Arbor, nesters are tending to their soon-to-be young, and fall migration has yet to begin. “It gets pretty dull,” he says matter-of-factly. 

Marcy Breslow (left) and Judy Lobato have a playful competition to try to be the first to ID each butterfly or skipper—and find more than John Swales. | Photo by Mark Bialek

So in the “middle-Aughts,” as he puts it, Swales began keeping a tally of every butterfly as well as the number of individuals of every species he spied during his weekly visits to Greenview. He’s been sharing this information almost every year since with the Friends of Greenview, the nonprofit that maintains and improves the area, which is owned by the Ann Arbor Public Schools.

The most abundant butterflies at Greenview are the same ones most of us see in our gardens: cabbage whites and clouded sulfurs, a lemony yellow butterfly. The most unusual? “The American Snout,” Lobato says without pausing. She and Swales found it August 7, 2004. Native to states from California east to South Carolina at about that longitude, its beak-like mouthpart is surprisingly long, even for a butterfly.

 If you head over to Greenview, beware the misconception that all butterflies can be seen only when you look up at the sky and are large like monarchs, the orange-and-black fliers that migrate 2,000 miles to Mexico every autumn. Otherwise, you’ll miss most of the species in the booklet, Breslow and Lobato point out. You have to look at the ground and watch for movement, says Breslow. Lobato adds that the best place to find butterflies and skippers is in the meadow, where ample sunshine makes flowers bloom to provide the nectar butterflies crave.

Swales takes the same route every week to count butterflies and skippers. Arriving by AAATA bus, he uses a walker these days to venture about a half mile through mostly flat, mowed meadow. “I can’t go over hill and dale as I used to,” he says. Breslow and Lobato take a slightly longer route, and all three often wind up at a spot with three tree-trunk seats, good for viewing the ten-acre meadow and a rest. Their routes are included in the booklet.

Breslow and Lobato have an ongoing but playful competition to try to be the first to ID each butterfly or skipper—and find more than Swales. “He’s indomitable,” says Lobato, who’s been walking with Swales most weeks from May to September “for years.” She wears blue-jean overalls tucked into black socks to keep out ticks and a baseball cap, with binoculars around her neck.

“He’s indefatigable,” complains Breslow, smiling. “When I think, ‘Oh, let’s go home,’ he says, ‘You want to check over here?’”

Breslow notes that she’s been fooled by falling yellow leaves, thinking they’re butterflies. “And those light tan things will drive you nuts!” she says, peering through binoculars at a yet-to-be-identified skipper, hovering behind several mountain mints. 

 “If anything moves, you feel a big stir of excitement,” adds Lobato. 

Swales laments that like him, many butterfliers have white hair and are retired. The authors hope the booklet will kickstart younger people, especially students, to go out on their own, in a class or an informal group, to track other local fauna and flora in Ann Arbor parks and preserved green spaces. 

The booklet—which won’t fit in your back pocket, Lobato notes, “unless you have a big pocket”—is available at local bookstores and