Course Information and FAQ:

Questions? Please contact registration coordinator Kayla Rankin at 937-365-1935 or email

Cancellation Policy. Sorry, there is no guarantee of refunds for cancellations that occur after one month in advance of the event unless we have a waiting list. Please try to find someone to fill your place.

A good Butterfly Field Guide and a close-focus binoculars are not required but will be pivotal in helping you get the most out of this upcoming butterfly course. For those participants looking for a first or secondary field resource, here are your leader John’s suggestions below. Guides to buying a close-focus pair of binoculars can be found on the internet.

  1. Butterflies of Indiana, A Field Guide, by Jeffrey E. Belth (327 pages).  This book has excellent plates arranged by color pattern, life history notes on each species, and bar graphs for many species indicating the abundance during the course of the year. It has limited plates that include larval instars or chrysalis images. Distribution maps, as you can imagine, are for Indiana and so are not as relevant to Ohioans. However, most of the species found in Ohio are found in Indiana, so the identification, larval, and host information is applicable here. There is a section dedicated to the host plants that support specific butterfly species. An interesting feature of this book is natural history-oriented section titled, Beyond the Basics. This field guide is one of John’s “go to” books.
  2. Butterflies of Ohio, Field Guide, by Jaret C Daniels (344 pages). This book has a single species on each page. This means that individual images are larger, but you need to flip from page to page to compare similar species. Like the Indiana field guide this book arranges the species by general color pattern. The typeset is larger so is easier to read for older eyes like mine. There are larval plates accompanying many species. This book includes abundance graphs similar to the previous guide alongside an Ohio distribution map. In addition, butterflies are generally categorized as resident, visitor, or stray as some indication of distribution. There is a list of larval host plants with each species described.
  3. Butterflies through Binoculars, The East, A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Eastern North America, by Jeffrey Glassberg (242 pages). This field guide has multiple plates on each page arranged in a combination of species group (ie swallowtails) and color. The plates are on the right page and a brief description and distribution map are on the facing page. The detailed information for each species is referenced in the description but found elsewhere in the book. The images of the butterflies have been produced to give an accurate size comparison to the other species on the same page. In the detailed description you will find host plants, abundance graphs like the two previous guides with multiple bars adjusted for latitude, since this guide covers such a broad range of latitudes. This guide does not have as much detail specific to Ohio or Indiana, but if you are going to be travelling and want to follow the butterflies as you go this might be a nice companion to have along.

What background do I need to enjoy this course? Anyone with an enthusiasm for the subject will enjoy this course. Learning butterfly identification is a rewarding skill to possess, increasing your enjoyment of the out-of-doors for the rest of your life. Where there are flowers, butterflies will be found whether urban, suburban, or rural, No environment is excluded. Complete novices and intermediate students are equally welcome to attend. We have an enthusiastic, patient, knowledgeable leader, so even experts will enjoy rubbing shoulders with John for the weekend.

Cell phone coverage and internet:  Please note that Adams County, Ohio is a rural region in the foothills of the Appalachians. Cell phone coverage is spotty and connectivity depends on your phone service company. However, Wi-Fi is available at the Ohio Star Retreat Center. You can pick up most cell phone providers on the area’s major state highways.

Comfort in the Out-of-Doors: We will be spending most of our time in the field, so please pack clothing that will allow you to be comfortable for a variety of weather conditions, and for hiking at night. The program will go on rain or shine. In southern Ohio, the low to mid-nineties are not uncommon daytime highs. If you work daily in an air-conditioned environment, you might be wise to prepare for the course by taking mid-day walks so you can begin adjusting to midsummer outdoor temperatures.

Physical Capacity: Because the course is focused on outdoor activities, participants should be able to hike 3-4 miles a day sustainably without injury or discomfort. That said, we will likely only be covering 2-3 miles a day. Off-trail hiking will be an occasional component of the course, but for the most part we will be following established trails. Trails may be narrow and uneven in nature at times. We will not be hiking so much as following the butterflies, therefore we will be moving at a relaxed pace.

Location. This course will be held in the prairies and along the roadsides of rural Adams County, Ohio, recognized as a “go to” destination for a wide range of butterflies. The weekend hub will be at the Ohio Star Retreat Center. Maximum attendance is 18 to 20 people.

Accommodations. The Ohio Star Retreat Center, created by John Howard and his wife Tina, will be our gathering space, main lodging, and meals. Ohio Star Lodge is modern and informal. It will be an unusually “intimate” group setting with, in most case, two persons per room.  The lodge offer four bathrooms. We will be operating in folk school fashion with participants engaged in light meal preparation and clean up.  We have found this setting engenders a close knit group, working together to help each other get the most out of the course. If you are not coming with a partner we will link you up with another registrant of the same gender. In the event that the retreat center fills  to capacity, which it often does, we overflow to fine lodges in West Union – a bit fancier but a ten minute drive away. Meals will be provided for all our participants at our gathering point, the Ohio Star Retreat Center. If we overflow the Ohio Star Retreat, we prioritize assigning couples to double or queen sized beds. Let us know if you prefer otherwise. Otherwise, participants will be assigned single beds.

What if I want a private room? Sorry, for this course we are not able to offer access to private rooms. 

Meals: All meals are provided from Friday breakfast through Saturday supper – six meals altogether. The Arc of Appalachia is well recognized for it’s fabulous meals that are often based on local produce and meats, much of it organic, and much of it produced on Mennonite farms. Meat is pasture-raised whenever available. All meals are provided with vegetarian, gluten-free and vegan options. If you have other food restrictions, please make a note on the registration form and we will let you know how well we can accommodate your needs. All lodges have kitchen facilities if you need to supplement the menu.

Optional Lodging Extension Saturday night. if you wish to leave Sunday morning instead of Saturday evening. you can stay an extra night and share breakfast with John on Sunday morning for an extra fee of $45 .Please make arrangements directly with him if you are interested. Contact Ohio Star Retreat Center at Ohio Star Retreat Center at 937-217-9248.

Optional Participation in Sunday’s Shawnee Butterfly Count. If you stay over on Saturday night, consider attending the the butterfly count on Sunday in the beautiful forests and open spaces of Shawnee State Park and Forest.See schedule for details. 

Flying in? Participants may fly into either Cincinnati or Columbus. The Cincinnati regional airport, in Northern, Kentucky, is 1 hour and 30 minutes from West Union. The Columbus airport is a 2 hour drive from West Union. Shuttles are not available so participants may need to rent a car. If you wish to car-share from your home or airport, please let us know and we will get you in contact with any other interested participants.

Additional Expenses: Registrants will supply their own transportation to the Ohio Star Retreat Center, and to other field trip locations in south central Ohio. Carpooling can usually be arranged with other participants for day trips, and such carpooling is often necessary since some of our locations have limited parking. We recommend you offer a modest gas cost contribution if you link up with another.

Emergency Messages: Emergency messages for course participants can be left at the main line of the Highlands Nature Sanctuary (937) 365-1935 during daytime hours, or you can call the Ohio Star Retreat Center at 937-217-9248.

Should I prepare for insects?  We experience very few to no mosquitoes and no black flies. You may encounter ticks in the open fields, and chiggers in tall grass if you choose to wander off trail (which is a good reason not to), and a few deer flies in low moist areas. If any of these challenges are new for you, let us know and we will do our best to orient you. No exposure to at least some insects in southern Ohio is not a realistic expectation for outdoor field work. During every field trip there will inevitably be a few ticks found crawling up some of our registrants’ legs. If you see them, they are not a problem. Just brush them off. It’s the ones you don’t see that might pose a problem. Since we DO have deer ticks in southern Ohio, please read below.

A Special Note on Ticks. We will be orienting everyone to ticks in order to minimize exposure to disease which can be carried to you by deer ticks, an exposure which is unlikely but possible. WE RECOMMEND CONSIDERING THE USE OF ROSE GERANIUM OIL ON YOUR LEGS AND PANTS which so far seems to be a good deterrent. We also recommend a good tick check at night before or after showering. If you have a partner, use him or her to do the ‘primate thing.” If you don’t, employ a mirror and don’t forget to check your hairline.

The key to addressing Lyme’s disease risk is to be aware of symptoms and  demanding proper diagnostic tests if you suspect the disease. You may know more than your doctor so being empowered is important. Lyme’s is treatable if detected early, but because deer ticks have not been in Ohio for very long, many doctors are slow to recognize the symptoms. Being informed and proactive provides you with the highest level of safety.  Here are some symptoms to remember, which tend to be flu-like:

  • Pain areas: in the joints or muscles
  • Whole body: fatigue, fever, or malaise
  • Joints: stiffness or swelling
  • Also common: appearance of large red blotches, sometimes with bulls-eye pattern,
  • Headache
  • Palsy

A Special Note on Chiggers. Chigger bites are very annoying if numerous, and are itchy but not dangerous. The best way to minimize or better yet, completely avoid, chigger exposure is to stay on the trail. Perhaps ironically, we have found that open-toed sandals attract less chiggers than socks and shoes. Chiggers love to bury into tight places between skin and clothing. Bare legs can also deter ticks because you can easily feel the more common dog tick crawling up your legs, as well as visually see them and easily send them on their way. We are not necessarily recommending shorts and sandals during the day, but if you enjoy wearing them, do so. You may fare better than your less scantily dressed colleagues.

Poison Ivy. We will not be going off-trail, so it is very unlikely you will be exposed to poison ivy. In any case, the leaders know the plant well and will help you avoid exposure. If you do touch the leaves, washing vigorously with soap within an hour avoids reactivity in most people.

What to bring to this course:

  • Close-focusing binoculars if possible
  • butterfly field guide of choice
  • Insect net – optional
  • Refillable water bottle
  • if you drink coffee and tea, we suggest bringing your own insulated cup
  • Comfortable shoes for hiking and outdoor wear
  • A small day pack for field trips
  • Rain gear – we will be in the field rain or shine
  • Consider ordering rose geranium oil or other protection as tick deterrent (see below)
  • A notebook or clipboard and pen
  • Personal care items; soap, shampoo, etc. (towels & linens are provided in the lodges)
  • Sunscreen if you use it (there are also environmental reasons not to- check it out)
  • A light-weight wide-brimmed hat for sun protection
  • Sunglasses if you are sensitive to bright sunlight.
  • Flashlight – it’s very dark out here at night!
  • Optional: Your own first aid kit appropriate to your needs.Pocket money for snacks and small purchases
Giant Swallowtail Larvae. Photo by Tom Croce.
Spicebush Swallowtail Chrysalis.
Painted Lady. Photo by John Howard.
Great Spangled Fritillary.
Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillars, Two Instars.
Eastern Tailed Blue. Photo By John Howard.
Little Sulphur.