Review of Mariposa Road: The First Butterfly Big Year

Over the last couple years my appreciation for butterflies has grown greatly. Often when birds are uncooperative I’ve had excellent luck being distracted by the casual floating and fluttering of these other great migrating, winged animals. Thus, when I heard about Mariposa Road: The First Butterfly Big Year I was highly interested.

If you are unfamiliar with a “big year”, the whole concept simply involves trying to find as many species as possible in a predetermined geographic location (big or small) for a solid calendar year. There have been countless birders who’ve undertaken this task but Robert Michael Pyle is the first (at least officially documented) to take on a big year for butterflies.

In Mariposa Road, Pyle takes us on a fascinating journey across the United States, the majority of the time in his high-mileage Honda, “Powdermilk”. The level of detail Pyle recounts is astonishing and at times a bit too much: information on eateries, political pandering, etc. At over 500 pages the read became a bit tiring.

However, the journey to places near and far from Pyle’s home base in Washington are fun to learn about. Many of these locations are obscure, the perfect place for discovery and exploration (and finding butterflies).

Pyle’s expertise into other fields of the natural world provides relief from “butterfly overload”. He provides natural history information as well as observations of other living organisms, especially when striking out on a butterfly find.

My favorite part of the whole book is easily the chapter where Pyle visits my hometown, Rockford, Illinois. I was surprised and delighted to read that Pyle visited fellow naturalist, Don Miller who is educational director of Severson Dells Nature Center, a place I’ve hiked and birded often. Together they visited several places in northern Illinois.

Overall, Mariposa Road is a good read, although could have been quiet a bit shorter and poignant. But as James Fisher said in Wild America: “It invariably takes longer to ‘write up’ an incident than to experience it.” And here we are dealing with a whole year of experiences.

Pyle included a wonderful appendix of “Statistics and Species Tally” which includes all his expenses, miles travelled (broken down by mode of transportation) and how much money he raised for Xerces Society: ~$46,000. And he also tells us how many species he found in his big year but you’ll have to read the book to find out!

Disclaimer: The above book was given to us by the publisher for free to review.

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