1. I can’t identify many butterflies. Can I still do the surveys? Yes—you will need to learn to identify the common butterflies around you, but nothing says you can’t start before you know them all. How else will you learn?
It helps to get a list of the local butterflies. The butterflies and moths of North America has some checklist information—you can find all of the butterflies known for your county from that site. A good field guide, like the Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America helps. And, you can photograph or net the butterflies to identify them—just be sure to exclude the time you use to identify the butterflies from the total time (stop you stopwatch).
2. Where should I do the surveys? Anywhere. You will find more butterflies in natural areas than in urban areas, but the information is just as valuable for the urban areas.
3. How often should I survey? It is recommended that surveys be conducted at least every couple of weeks throughout the season, but more is better. Species composition and numbers will change throughout the season. In general, you should survey the same location throughout the season to get some kind of baseline. You may be able to visit certain natural areas only once in a season—it can still be beneficial to do a Pollard transect for that one visit, but usually I go for a qualitative survey for those, meaning I only look to see what is there and especially what species I haven’t seen elsewhere.
4. How long should a survey last? My recommendation is whatever you are comfortable with. I would stay between 20 minutes and one and a half hours for mine.
5. What do I do with the information? I keep mine on a spreadsheet. It is really easy to convert the data to charts and graphs. More sophisticated analyses are possible, but I like to keep it as simple as possible.
This graph shows the total number of butterfly observations, taken over a number of years, for a particular route. Note that the units are in observations per hour.
6. What can the information be used for? As long as the information is carefully collected and documented, the list is fairly long. You can show how the species composition changes throughout the season, how the total numbers change, number and composition comparisons between different habits, differences between different years, and on and on.
My last bit of advice would be to keep accurate records and documentation but keep it fun. The more you enjoy it the more you will do it. The more surveys you take the more accurate the data will become.