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Brad Carlson, an entomology student and butterfly expert, leads the group down the Pioneers Park Nature Center trails with a net in one hand and an empty insect jar in the other.

A group of eight, including three young children, follow behind, looking through tall grass and thistles. 

"Cabbage white; no, two cabbage whites," Carlson says, pointing at a pair of small butterflies emerging from behind a tall milkweed plant, their round white wings fluttering in the slight wind.

Behind him, a young girl stands on her toes to see them over the grass as Andrea Faas, the Nature Center coordinator, jots down Carlson's count on a clipboard.

And the process repeats itself for the duration of the group's two-hour hike, the 15th-annual butterfly count held by the Nature Center on Saturday. 

Two groups, about eight people each, hiked the trails at Pioneers Park and the Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center in Denton, counting and identifying butterflies.

Faas said the data collected will be compiled and submitted to the North American Butterfly Association, a butterfly conservation group that tracks butterfly biodiversity.

Faas said Lincoln's butterfly count faced a drop during the drought in 2012. While monarch butterflies populations in Nebraska haven't yet rebounded, gardeners should expect to see higher numbers of Pink Lady butterflies, as their populations have grown.

"We saw a bunch last week, and we're seeing tons of them now since they migrated in," Faas said.

The point of the butterfly count is not just to track butterfly biodiversity alone, but also for volunteers to learn about the insects that flutter in their yards. Having attended each count since their inception in Lincoln, Creighton University biology professor Ted Burk returned to the Nature Center on Saturday to give an hourlong crash course on butterfly species and their defining characteristics.

"It's fun, it's a great way to learn about nature and you don't have to know a lot about that to participate," Faas said. "It's fun to learn from someone like (Burk), especially from someone from the public who does know a lot about biodiversity. And it's a lot easier to focus on butterflies."

The butterfly count also acts as a way for families and friends to spend time together outside in a guided, educational environment. Leo Boman walked the trails in Pioneers Park with his 2-year-old daughter Norah sitting in a child carrier strapped around his back.

"It's a good time to get out after the Fourth of July," Boman said. "We thought it'd be an interesting thing to do with Little Norah. She enjoys seeing little critters and animals when we go out."

Toward the beginning of their hike, Boman's daughter pointed excitedly at a small group of orange butterflies flying out of the grass.

"Three orange sulfurs," Carlson said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7214 or eclopton@journalstar.com.

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City desk intern

2019 city desk intern at the Journal Star

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