Category Archives: Moths

New Dragonfly & New Moth at Tillman Road

A last-minute change of plans took us back to our old stamping ground in Western New York State at the weekend, so I grabbed a couple of hours to re-visit the Tillman Road Wildlife Management Area, at Clarence.  The WMA is described by the NYS DEC as “a wet lowland with an emergent marsh, open water, grassy fields, a deciduous swamp and hardwood forest.”

A male Carolina Saddlebags dragonfly
A male Carolina Saddlebags dragonfly

Tillman’s greatest appeal to me, over the last 12-or-so years that I have been a regular visitor, is that one never knows quite what will be found on any visit and ‘drawing a blank’ is rare.

Carolina Saddlebags, rear view to show wing detail
Carolina Saddlebags, rear view to show wing detail

This time, I turned up two new insect species I had never before  seen or photographed:  a male Carolina Saddlebags dragonfly  (Tramea Carolina), and what – to the best of my very limited ability with moths – I believe to be a White Spring moth (Lomographa vestaliata).  The latter sat motionless on a leaf, to the extent that I wrongly presumed that it would be some sort of ‘bird dropping moth’ but the former was on high-speed patrol along the margin of a pond and settled only briefly, each time, before doing another lap of its territory.

I believe this to be a White Spring moth
I believe this to be a White Spring moth

I’ve been very careful in identifying the dragonfly because it is very similar, in both appearance and range, to the Red Saddlebags (T. onusta) but I’m fairly confident I’ve got it right… However, as is always the case on my blogs, if anyone recognizes that I’ve made a mistake please do add a    comment below to put me right, and I will correct any error.

The various species of ‘saddlebags’ dragonflies get their name from the dark patches on the inner section of their wings, and when seen – usually in silhouette – from below, this creates an outline that looks like what the name says.

A Red Admiral butterfly, laying an egg
A Red Admiral butterfly, laying an egg

Up where we were, close to Lake Ontario, the Carolina is fairly close to the northern limit of its range, which is over the border in southern Ontario province. Even in this part of New York State, it is further north than its usual breeding range.

Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia)
Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia)

 

My other insect of the day was a rather worn-looking Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atlanta) which – to my surprise – was laying eggs in low, rough vegetation where I could see no trace of any of the future caterpillars’ necessary food plants.  Does a first-brood adult lay eggs randomly around an area in the hope that at least some of their offspring will find suitable food after the plants all grow?  Or was this one operating by smell (chemical sensing) and by that means actually knew the right places to leave eggs?

Tree Swallow
Tree Swallow

As for the other photographs, well I’m always a sucker for violets and I’m not going to walk past a ‘posing’ Tree Swallow, either!

Honey Bees, Bumblebees and Wannabees!

[Another visit to the NYSDEC preserve at the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center at the end of April proved to be an excellent opportunity for watching pollinating insects at work.

The male catkins on a stately old willow tree at Five Rivers
The male catkins on a stately old willow tree at Five Rivers

All of this needs to be considered in light of the fact that there are now major threats facing the survival of bees, worldwide, and heaven help mankind if bees are decimated to the point that crop pollination is badly affected.

How much more pollen can this Honey Bee carry?
How much more pollen can this Honey Bee carry?

 

From what I saw, there were apparently two species of bumble bee and one species of honey bee present at the various blossoming willow trees on the Five Rivers’ Beaver Tree Trail but it turns out that individual bumble bee species are very difficult to identify from one another.     I learned this after buying an excellent book some months ago, under the title of Bumble Bees of North America (Princeton University Press).  In the book, it describes the need to study leg joints and other tiny parts of the anatomy, but as I have enough to do in terms of photographing wildlife and I’m also extremely disinclined to kill something I’ve just enjoyed photographing, merely so I could study its leg joints, this is not something I would do.

The colouration on the thorax of this Bumble Bee was a much darker yellow than it was on what I believe to be the 'other' species present
The colouration on the thorax of this Bumble Bee was a much darker yellow than it was on what I believe to be the ‘other’ species present

Having said that, I did take the liberty of sending a couple of my photographs via Twitter to the Xerces Society,  (@xerces_society) an organisation that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat, to see if they could help me with identification.  Note that the name is not spelled ‘Xerxes’ and they have nothing to do with 300 Spartan warriors!  The Xerces people kindly referred me to a group called Bumble Bee Watch (@BumbleBeeWatch) and I’m hoping they might be able to help enlighten me.

And here, a lighter-coloured individual

Apart from the bees that were present there were also a few Snowberry Clearwing Hawk Moths (Hemaris diffinis).  As their name shows, these rather dramatic and perfectly harmless insects have clear, see-through wings,  not the coloured wings that we normally expect of moths.  The reason is that their body colouration has been designed by evolution to mimic bumble bees! This gives these otherwise defenceless moths a degree of protection from predators that might otherwise eat them.

On previous visits to Five Rivers – and, indeed, on the same Beaver Tree Trail – I have previously photographed a very close cousin of the remarkable Snowberry Clearwing, the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) and for both of these species the final surprise for anyone watching them is that they feed by hovering above their chosen flowers, while feeding on the nectar through a very long proboscis.  Think of it as like drinking through the equivalent of a ten-foot drinking straw!

A Snowberry Clearwing Hawk Moth (its wings are blurred because they are beating so quickly)
A Snowberry Clearwing Hawk Moth (its wings are blurred because they are beating so quickly as it hovers)

Anyway, this day’s Snowberry Clearwings were a new species for me, but they weren’t the only one.  In among the bees and the clearwing moths were also a few bombylid flies.  According to my books, they looked most like the species known as Black-tailed Bee Flies (Bombylius major)  but as I didn’t actually see any black tails in among them I must assume that they might have been a different but closely related species.  They, too, usually hover over flowers while feeding although that’s not the case in the photograph below.  However, the larvae of the many species of bee fly either prey upon or parasitise the larvae of other insects, including bees.

Either a Black-tailed Bee Flies (Bombylius major) or a closely related species
Either a Black-tailed Bee Flies (Bombylius major) or a closely related species

Also feeding from the male catkins on the wonderful but very elderly willow tree that had triggered this insect feeding frenzy were Mourning Cloak and various white butterflies.

All in all, I spent well over an hour under that willow tree, frankly delighted by the amazing display of its flowers and by the wealth of insect life it had attracted.  The air, quite literally, was abuzz with their sounds and as the pesky mosquitos have not yet appeared for the summer, it was uninterrupted enjoyment.

Want to see a wonderful wildlife spectacle in spring?  Go and stand under a mature, flowering willow tree!  There’s probably one not too far from you, particularly on the edge of water courses or other wetlands.

[LINKS here to other topics photographed on the same walk / same day, namely Birds, and Amphibians.]

Eddie

Vosburgh Swamp (NY DEC) 25 April 2015

Vosburgh Swamp is a Wildlife Management Area administered by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation [NY DEC] and the entrance is literally within stone-throwing distance of the right/west bank of the River Hudson, just north of Athens, NY.

The NY DEC sign at the entrance to Vosburgh Swamp
The NY DEC sign at the entrance to Vosburgh Swamp

I first found out about Vosburgh from the 1981 book, ‘Where to Find Birds in New York State’, by Susan Roney Drennan and published by the Syracuse University Press.  The book had been in print for over 20 years when I bought a copy at exactly half of its then-$25 cover charge, but despite it being ‘long in the tooth’ I got a great bargain!

In the book, the location is referred to as Vosburgh’s Marsh and was described back then as being “entirely on private land” and that “there [was] really no public access to the area.” Clearly, the change of ownership since that time is just one more thing for which we should thank the NY DEC. (See my recent post about Five Rivers, for example.)

EWr-T3i-150425-001_TreeBud_(600px)©2015_Eddie-Wren_All-Rights-Reserved

It also states that the marsh/swamp “is an especially good place to bird in spring, when one can see and hear Great Blue, Green and Black-crowned Night Herons, Least and American Bitterns, a large variety of duck species, several rail species, Marsh Wrens, and marsh-breeding sparrow species.”

Perhaps surprisingly, virtually none of the bird species listed above were evident but I would certainly anticipate seeing and photographing at least some of them within the next few weeks.

Palm Warbler
Palm Warbler

One migrant that was very visible during my latest visit, though, was the Palm Warbler, always an enjoyable bird to watch as it returns north each year.

This was my first visit back to the swamp since all of the ice and snow melted in March and early April, and now, of course, spring is starting to show itself, especially in the form of tree buds.

Rue Anemone
Rue Anemone

A few Rue Anemones were in flower, some with their green leaves still unfurling despite the flowers being wide open.  A good clue to their identity is the three-lobed tip of each leaf.

During the walk, I saw my first Spring Azure butterfly of the year (but not close enough or static enough to get a shot of).  I did, however, manage to get a shot of a tiny, fast-flying micro moth that was considerate enough to pause for just a few seconds, within range of my lens.

A micro moth
A micro moth

As much for fun and a challenge as for the potential images, I also enjoy photographing the insects that Americans call water striders and the British call pond skaters. The ones I found at Vosburgh were members of the Gerris genus (of which there are about 20 species in North America).  The one in question had what appeared to be an olive- or green-coloured thorax but beyond that fact I have no idea of its precise identification. (Anyone who can put me right, please submit a comment, and the same request applies to the above photo of the micro moth, too.)

A Gerris sp. 'Water Strider' with a few, tiny dark grey Springtails nearby
A Gerris sp. ‘Water Strider’ with a few, tiny dark grey Springtails nearby

Water striders, being insects, have three pairs of legs although from a distance it looks like just two pairs.  The front pair are kept tucked up, beside the head, almost praying mantis like, and as this pose suggests they are used to grab and hold the smaller insects that form the striders’ prey. The middle pair of legs are used to ‘row’ the strider along and the hind pair are used to steer.  The speed at which they can catapult themselves forwards and change direction has to be seen to be believed.

A 'Water Strider' (USA) or Pond Skater (UK) of the Gerris genus
A ‘Water Strider’ (USA) or Pond Skater (UK) of the Gerris genus rubbing it’s 2nd and 3rd right legs together.  Was it cleaning them?  Or maybe it was performing some type of ‘stridulation’ to send a vibrating message across the surface of the water.  Does anyone know the answer?

Also present in some of my Water Strider photographs were what appeared to be dark grey springtails (Collembola sp.), which are hexapods, not insects.

Photographically-speaking, I am also getting more used to the Canon            equipment I’ve recently added to my armoury: A 7D Mk2 camera together with the newly redesigned 100mm-400mm zoom lens and a 180mm macro lens, all of which are performing brilliantly.

Tree Reflection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To end my afternoon at Vosburgh, I couldn’t resist a shot of a rather pleasing reflection of trees.

Eddie