Moth-hunting

Canoe Lake

!!!!! I prepared this last Friday (the 22nd), and thought I had posted it then. I just now noticed that WordPress didn’t publish it (or I forgot to hit the button?). Ordinarily I double-check to make sure it appears okay, too.

In the meantime, I’ve recently started a short-term job working as the bander-in-charge at Innis Point Bird Observatory – a post I also held last spring. I’m up at 3:45am (and getting earlier each week) so despite that I’m home by early afternoon I’m actually shorter on time. I’ll try to post regularly, as I can. Now, if only spring would hurry up and start happening instead of this dreary trickle we’ve been subjected to this year.

My image-editing program broke this week. If there’s one thing that inconveniences a photographer more than a broken camera, it’s broken editing software. I’m not quite sure what went wrong, but it required a full re-install, which meant digging out the installation files, uninstalling the previous copy, re-installing the program again, and then organizing all my internal settings again (I like my software to be just so). I’ve been putting it off because it’s a pain, but I finally got around to it this evening because I have some photos, taken today, that I’m looking forward to sharing.

I’ve been planning for a little while to make a trip back to the area where we used to live, near the lake house, to look for Infants, those early-spring day-flying moths. Although I could, in theory, find the species just about anywhere where the host species grows, they were just so abundant along the road near the lake house. But not only that; there was also that rare one that I found there, and I was keen to see if I could locate it again. I had intended to make a trip down last spring, but between one thing and another I never made it. I resolved I would definitely go this year.

Birches along Canoe Lake Road

And then this spring turned out to be cold. Cold and rainy, and slow, slow, slow in coming. We’re lagging about two weeks behind where we’ve been at this date the last couple of years. Our wildflowers are only just beginning to bloom. Insects have yet to emerge in any numbers. Migrant birds are running behind schedule. And we’ve only had a couple of those absolutely gorgeous days that one looks forward to at the start of spring. I’d been waiting to make my trip down to Frontenac, first for nature to get a move on, and then for a good day weather-wise to go. I was looking for something in the high teens Celcius (sixties Fahrenheit), sunny, and preferably not too windy. I waited… and waited, and waited.

Finally, today, I bit the bullet. It was a mild day, if not really warm, it was sunny, and the wind was light enough that in the shelter of the forest it wouldn’t be a problem. Given that on Sunday I’m beginning work running the bird banding (migration monitoring) program up in Ottawa, I was out of chances to get this trip in. So today it was.

Moth-hunter

Since I had a particular goal in mind I wanted to be prepared in case I should actually find my target species. I brought my camera, of course, but two lenses: the wide-angle for landscape shots and my macro for insects and flowers (I also had the telephoto, but after a bit of debate decided to leave it in the car). I brought my binoculars, for (hopefully) checking out any fluttery insects from a distance to decide if they needed to be snuck up upon. Also for looking at birds. I brought my bug net, just on the off chance that the moth wasn’t being cooperative and settling on the road for a photo; I could scoop it out of the air if it came down to it. I brought moth jars, and stuffed three of them in my back pocket to have close on hand. And I brought a cooler containing ice packs (which I left in the car), so that when I snagged the uncooperative moth and put it in a jar I could then put it in with the ice packs to cool down (hopefully) for a photo.

I walked about 5 km (3 mi) along the roads from where I parked my car, checking out the spots where the moths had been most frequently encountered a couple of springs ago. I saw quite a few other things, but lepidoptera were not in great abundance, and I didn’t find any of the moths at all. I’d gone with the expectation that I probably wouldn’t find the rare species, but I didn’t even see a single individual of the common one. Was I too late in the season? Was it too cool out? Too windy? Too much road traffic? (Being Good Friday, I had probably fifteen cars pass me in the two hours I was out there, which is pretty busy for that area, at least compared to what it was when we lived there.) Maybe it was simply that I jinxed myself by being over-prepared.

Round-lobed Hepatica

I was a little disappointed to not find any at all, but it was still a really nice outing. I spent two hours outdoors enjoying the sunshine and checking out flora and fauna. One of the first things I noticed was that the hepaticas were all out in full bloom. We don’t have hepatica up at our current house, but none of our other wildflowers are blooming yet, so this was a pretty nice surprise. Various shades of purples and pinks and whites, little patches of colour dotting the forest floor.

Coltsfoot

Also blooming was coltsfoot. Some patches of it can be quite large. It seems to like damp or poorly-drained areas (but not wet), and also favours disturbed habitats; I find it most often in the ditches along road edges where the ground gets a bit soggy. It’s an interesting plant in that the flowers come up before the leaves do.

Bloodroot

I saw two individual blooms of bloodroot. The landlord has some planted in our garden, right near the foundation of the house, and they’ve been up and blooming for about a week now, but I haven’t seen any yet growing wild in our woods. These are one of my favourite wildflowers, so I was pleased to discover a couple.

Male Wood Duck

As I was heading back to the car, having turned up nothing, I paused to listen to a funny bird call. I didn’t immediately place it, but it was easy to spot the caller, perched up in a tree: a Wood Duck! I can never quite get used to seeing a duck perched in a tree, despite knowing that Wood Ducks come by their name honestly. Both the male and female were perched there, though I didn’t immediately see the female and she wasn’t visible in the photo I took. Presumably they were scouting for a nest cavity. Wood Ducks will nest up to 2 km (1.2 mi) from water if cavities are hard to find; these guys weren’t nearly that far, only a few hundred meters.

Morrison's Sallow

While I was standing still, watching the ducks, I noticed (and was noticed by) a moth. It flew back and forth and up and down the section of road a few times, but when it came close to me it seemed to be attracted to something. I thought at first it was maybe the white bug net, or my white hat, or perhaps the orange vest. It landed on me a few times (once even on my sunglasses!) but when I went to peer at it, or even when I flipped the on switch of my camera, it took off again. It seemed disinclined to settle on the road for some reason, but I stayed patient with it, hoping it might put down somewhere. Well, it did – on my camera lens! It started dabbing with its proboscis, obviously picking up the salts from my palm (I wasn’t sweating, so there couldn’t have been much). I was able to coax it off the lens and onto my palm, where it started walking about and then up my arm. It finally stopped at the edge of my shirt (which was pushed up to my elbow; not the most convenient for photos, macro lens notwithstanding).

Check out the little hairs on its proboscis; I presume these are used to trap nectar when it’s drinking.

Morrison's Sallow

After taking a few shots, I touched it gently to try to get it to move back to another position, but instead it let go of my arm, folded its wings and dropped to the ground. This is a defense mechanism used by many species when disturbed: a fast and inconspicuous way to escape from a potential predator.

Once it was on the ground I could finally get a good look at it to identify it: it’s a Morrison’s Sallow, a relatively common species at this time of year. But since the Infants were a no-show, I’d take what I could get. :)

Pseudexentera sp. or related

This was the only other moth I found. There were a couple of these, and I haven’t bothered identifying it to species, as moths in this group can be tricky. However, it looks like a Pseudexentera sp., or something closely related. Little micromoths often encountered out during the day.

Spring Azure

I saw only two butterflies; one was what looked to be a Compton’s Tortoiseshell, fluttering in the tree canopy, and the other was this little guy, a species of blue. I always have to double-check my blues when I get home to be sure, but it turned out I correctly guessed on the ID of this one: a Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon), one of the first blues to be seen. Or, it could be the very closely related Lucia Azure (C. lucia), which the Kaufman butterfly guide notes, “The ‘spring azure’ in the northeast may actually be C. lucia“, though beyond this no notes are offered for specificity or overlap in range.

So all in all, a good outing, even without the Infants. Perhaps next year!

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7 responses to “Moth-hunting

  1. Love the closeup of the moth. Well Done. :)

  2. Incredible moth closeup! It’s interesting how your Coltsfoot is different than ours here in the Pacific Northwest. Same early flowers, same love of drainage ditches, but the flowers are white and quite a bit larger.

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  4. Lots of great observations — really like your new look — barbara

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  6. That head shot of the moth is GREAT!

  7. Hi, did You try to hunt moths at night?
    Few nights ago, i managed to catch 10 moths for only 15 minutes.
    Strong head lamp force then to start flying and then it is, more or less
    easy job. Keeping the bag upwards, all oft hem try to fly upward, so,
    there is no chance to escape. After that, they goes into plastic containers, back home for photographing, and release.

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