I am jealous of you. Because, assuming you're a young birder, it is quite likely that you will embark on some young birder camp or another (Chiricahua, Tejano, Colorado, or Lower Rio Grande Valley, pick one!) You'll go, see tons of birds, eat terrible hot dogs, and enjoy unparalled camaderie.
On any of these camps, there's sure to be at least a couple of them–strange, mutated young birders who spend as much, if not more, time chasing butterflies through meadows as birding. Most of the group may be fixated on a Red-naped Sapsucker while the mutants lie on their bellies photographing a group of sulphurs visiting a mud puddle. If their mere presence were not enough to offend all true young birders present, these false prophets somehow ensnare others in their perverted obsession. Few are immune. By the end of the camp, most of the group will have developed an interest in these exoskeletal charlatans.
What can be done to stop this?
Instead of waiting for a young birder camp to become obsessed with butterflies, start now!
Yes, unfortunately, that's me. Instead of focusing on that cheesy grin, notice the senile swallowtail adorning my wrist. This tattered pilgrim, whom I kept alive for several days with regular sugar water feedings, served as a spark for my interest in butterflies. His untimely death briefly saddened me, and in his honor I requested that my next birthday cake be decorated with a meadow scene–complete with butterflies.
Fortunately for you, it is easy to bypass this tragic introduction to the world of butterflies in favor of a more painless one. Simply navigate to www.amazon.com and shell out $13.57 for Kaufman and Brock's Butterflies of North America (and if you're stingy, you can get a used copy for $5.15!) This handy little book is comprehensive and easy to use.
Simply buying the book isn't enough–you must go outside (yes, a novel concept!) and wander around with your eyes open. Assuming that the conditions are right (sunny, warm, not snowy and frigid) you are sure to find at least a few species of butterflies wherever you are. My technique, when confronted with an unfamiliar butterfly, is to snap a few photos of it and then look it up in my field guide in the evening or in two weeks or whenever I finally get around to downloading my photos. The only caution with this approach is to not get too wrapped up in the details of a butterfly's "plumage." Squint to look for overall patterns, check out the wing shape, take note of flight style and foraging habits, and remember range and habitat cues. It's just like birding, except butterflies are less prone to vocalize than birds, making certain identifications tricky.
Oh, sure, there will be frustrating times. Most new addicts go through 2-10 year phase of hating life because of skippers. Duskywings–dull, plain, floppy, and all identical–have nearly brought me to tears multiple times.
Anyway, have fun at Camp ___________ (fill in the blank). Enjoy your lifers, but don't forget to look down!