Moths

As regular readers will know, I have a broad range in wildlife interests and can get interested in just about anything, provided that there is a ‘laymans’ guide for identifying the object of my attention. Moths have always interested me and, in a past life, I and several other ne’er do wells could be found out at all hours on fine nights luring the little beggars to a mercury vapour light. In North America I had to wait until David Beadle and the excellently named Seabrooke Leckie (I think she might read this blog so if THAT baby gets called Seabrooke, well…) produced a truly fine tome in the form of the Peterson ‘Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America’.

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Although it came out last year, and I bought one immediately, I’ve rather sat on my hands re identifying the moths in my photos, such as they are. I’ve only taken a casual interest, snapping the odd outside light visitor or interesting ones I’ve found during a day’s birding, odeing etc. I think I will delve a bit deeper now but the days of sitting by a light of a summer evening are perhaps gone, much as large quantities of my blood would be – such is the appetite of the local Mosquitoes for a fine English vintage!

Mothing is a great little interest, one that you can devote as little or as much time as you want to and I recommend it to everyone with an interest in wildlife. I’m likely to remain just north of casual, I’ll photograph what I see and let them go alive as I feel no need to fill trays with dead moths any more than I’d like to grow hair on the palms of my hands! So below are images of varying quality. They are all identified except the last one, I’m still working on that even though it looks like it would be an easy one. If you place your cursor over the image the name will come up. I don’t know whether tablets work the same way, if not, hard luck – buy the book.

Lesser Maple Spanworm Pearly Wood-nymph Maple Looper Moth Eastern Panthea Signate Quaker (2) Clover Looper Gypsy Moth Large Maple Spanworm Pale Beauty (2) Chocolate Prominent 3 Bicoloured Woodgrain Yellow-fringed Dolichomia Pink-barred Pseudeustrotia Common Angle Lesser Maple Spanworm_edited-1 Curved-toothed Geometer Signate Quaker Blackberry Looper False Crocus Geometer Dotted Grey Gypsy Moth 2 Single-dotted Wave Maple Looper Moth_edited-1 Unmarked Dagger Fingered Dagger Lappet Moth Double-lined Prominent False Hemlock Looper 2 Hummingbird Clearwing Pink-shaded Fern Moth 2 Arched Hooktip 2 Wavy-lined Fan-foot Stormy Arches Sweetfern Geometer 2 Red-headed Inchworm White-dotted Prominent Fragile White Carpet Alien Probole Eastern Tent Caterpillar Moth Pistachio Emerald Sober Renia Large Lace Border Hummingbird Clearwing 2 Baltimore Snout Two-lined Hooktip blindsphynxblog Arched Hooktip Virginian Tiger Moth Sigmoid Prominent

I’m happy to have a go at identifying any images of moths (from here) that readers want to send me. If you send me a dead specimen then please don’t be offended if I send you the contents of the cat tray by return. Below is the mystery moth, I got a response from the Facebook Moths and Butterfly group – it is a White Underwing.

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Top Dog

Sunday my friend Graham was visiting from the UK and so we went on a quest for gold or at least golden wings. Many years ago a Golden-winged Warbler turned up the UK, making the National news and putting the Maidstone in Kent firmly in all Twitchers’ itineraries. I saw it, I was fairly lucky in that I happened to look in the right back yard at the right time. Graham dipped it, he looked in back yards a plenty but it was not to be and so a long anticipated lifer was enough for him to eschew the other outing option – the flies and perhaps a Ruffed Grouse at Tremblant, for a trip down Montee Biggar.

An early start was required and I picked Graham up at his downtown hotel at 04.30. What a dire place downtown Montreal is to drive around. Road works everywhere with notices designed to tell locals what they already know. To add insult to injury, the Garmin clueless we had bought to replace the Magellan neurotic insisted on telling me that bing-bong “you have arrived” to which I replied, “but I’m in the Ville-Marie tunnel you idiot”. After two more exits and entries I branched out, ignoring the Dalek like instruction to take the ramp yet again and found my way to the Delta Hotel on University on my own.

We reached Montee Biggar as it started to warm up and bird activity became more noticeable. We were in the process of working a small mob of Black-capped Chickadees (find the chickadees and you find the warblers)  when I noticed a Grey Fox sat watching us about 100m away. We took a few steps forward and it sat, so we took some more, halving the distance between us. It was a life canid for Graham and my best views ever, snaps of this beautiful animal below.

After the fox had slunk off into the vegetation, taking a Grey Catbird fan club with it, we got back to the task in hand and tracked down a male Golden-winged Warbler. It fed low down with a Chestnut-sided Warbler and to a back-drop of noisy Eastern Towhees, laying the twenty year old ghost to rest for Graham.

Next we tried for Grasshopper Sparrow but none have been found this year as far as we know. Pity because the site now has a lovely and informative board talking about the sparrows and the local management for them. I’d have been happier to see a few sticks shoved into the field pre-arrival so that the sparrows could use them as perches and the birders could see the sparrows or am I just complicating the issue? Sparrow-less but having enjoyed many Eastern Bluebirds we set off for the Gowan Road to look for Ruffed Grouse. None showed but a pair of Scarlet Tanagers did, the male chasing the female around the canopy, I wonder why so frisky this late in the season, second try?

After a refuel it was off to Dundee and the Great Egret Trail. The flies there were as bad as I have ever seen them and the several Willow Flycatchers were frankly rubbish at eating them, they just sat there and called. One posed nicely until the adjacent vegetation decided to launch a claim for fame as the shutter clicked, I silently cursed it to suffer from mildew and had to photo shop the results using the bill of a similar species, I think I just about got away with it! We fled the fly-fest, pausing only to admire a couple of Sandhill Cranes in the field opposite the car park and headed north.

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Our final destination was St-Timothee Marsh. St-Timothee was warm and pleasant and we had good views of Virginia Rail, Marsh Wren and, best of all, four Least Bitterns. I still think the place in dire need of habitat management though and I would advise birders to learn to walk on 5m stilts in order to be able to see 50% of the reserve!

We rounded the day off with a quick look for Caspian Terns but the water was high at their regular Mellocheville roosting rocks and the time for Grahams train from Vaudreuil approached. It was a good day with 81 species seen. I was very pleased that the Golden-winged Warbler had actually showed what with it being July and all. For me the best sighting of the day was virtually the first – the Grey Fox, a top dog.

Incidentally, the Canadian Listers’ Corner report for 2013 is out and available as a pdf at http://www.neilyworld.com/neilyworld/listerscorner/listers-corner.htm

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That listing thing

I’ve not had much to post recently, having spent five days nursing a trapped nerve in my back. I have many things in my backlog (so to speak) that I needed to catch up on. Four years of odonata sightings to put on complicated reporting forms for each trip out; data from my QC breeding bird survey square to finally put on yet more forms and still c10,000 entries to put into eBird, so how would I spend my enforced down, as in not out in the field, time? I would sort out my life list!

I’ve done this several times before, swimming with the splits and hiding from the lumps. For those who have no idea what I am talking about. A split is when a species that has a large range and that has sub-species in that range that show proof of speciation get their own badge so to speak.  Lumping is when a species formerly considered good, get their ‘own gang’ privileges withdrawn and then the non-species sometimes face extinction because they are too common to worry about when the odd, isolated population is being built on. You may guess from this that I am more inclined to think that a species is good if it looks and sounds different or if it is geographically isolated from its congeners and that I also don’t worry if sometimes a few date their close relatives. I could rant on about self-serving avian biologists stringing out publishing ‘known’ species splits to keep themselves in jobs but what is the point. In my (amateur) view we have 20,000+ bird species and not the c10,000 science tells us we currently have but won’t have in 50 years’ time unless we change our thinking.

A few years ago the good folks at the International Ornithologists’ Union (formerly the International Ornithological Committee) decided to try to standardise bird names (in English at least) and offered an Excel download of the birds of the World. I went for it and spent hours wading through notebooks and sorting out what I’d seen and where. I carefully followed every update (usually two per year) although each time it happened it was necessary to delve into the split/lump source to find out exactly what had become what. Then I started using eBird who follow a different set of English names and don’t follow the same taxonomy, Audubon we have a problem!

I have a number of other eBird ‘problems’ but I know that they are working on it constantly and will, eventually resolve all of their issues but, until they do, then sorting out your IOC versus eBird list can be time consuming. ebird taxonomy doesn’t follow the IOC splits or lumps and it doesn’t give any track-changes on names that have changed. It would be so useful if you could have eBird pro so to speak that would give extra information on each bird instead of the adjudicator having to email you saying that the species you entered in Ecuador is now considered to be something entirely different – quite humorous really when the original identifier of the bird was the guide we had in Ecuador and, you guessed it, is now the Ecuador eBird adjudicator!

To do the sort, I went for an alphabetic eBird vs. IOC list. I downloaded my life list from eBird, copy-pasted my life list from the IOC spreadsheet, sorted and then went back and forth on anomalies using Google to furnish me with the relevant split-lump info. I could then flag the species that I have yet to enter into eBird and label the pending splits. Now I’m good until the next IOC update comes out or eBird alters their species names without introducing a track-changes option. I could just adopt the eBird list as my life list from the point when all my records are entered but then I’d miss valid splits because the eBird taxonomy does not keep pace with the real World. Roll on the universal adoption of the Phylogenetic Species Concept (PSC), then we would be moving on.

For my next project I plan to add all sub-species to my list and add range details in anticipation of PSC becoming mainstream, although my task would be made easier if I could actually download an existing Excel file of said World list but it does not seem to exist. For those interested in the IOC list and to get the Excel file, follow the link http://www.worldbirdnames.org/

Back to the birds and I did visit the pits yesterday with Richard Yank, one of Quebec birding’s ‘golden generation’ along with Bannon, Macintosh & Barnhurst et al. We were odeing, see http://quebecodes.wordpress.com for the write up, but it was quite good bird-wise too. The first Purple Finch for the site this year, an American Bittern out in the open and some shorebirds, both yellowlegs, Least Sand and a couple of Solitary Sands were good to see. Water levels are dropping again and some mud is appearing and so I expect to have a good autumn shorebird passage, Willet anyone?

Below a Least Sandpiper from yesterday.

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Sticky

With a humidex rating in the high thirties it is hot and sticky here, from early in the day until well after dusk. The upturn in temperatures is welcome and dragonflies appear to be clawing back their flight periods although the early fliers are done for another year. Some local birds have managed to raise broods, mostly the feeder emptying grackles but birds nevertheless. I’ve only managed a couple of sorties this past week, the screen-porch we are building has been time-consuming and has now run over into another weekend but we are nearly there.

After posting last time that I was slow getting back into the local birding groove, I felt motivated to get out around St-Lazare sand pits more thoroughly. I did and was rewarded with a patch tick – an Eastern Towhee in an area that I’d previously thought would be my best bet to attract one. I’ve not seen or heard it since but it might be a sign that the tide of southern Quebec specialities such as towhee and Field Sparrow are continuing to move north. My extended walk also confirmed that at least one Field Sparrow was still singing.

A sure sign that we have turned the corner and are heading towards winter was the presence of a returning Greater Yellowlegs in summer plumage – a very smart bird and looking just like one I found at Spurn in the UK many years ago but that is another story. I only had the small camera with me and the light was still rough at the time but you get the idea. I also located another colony of Bank Swallows and they seem to be in an area that will not get excavated anytime soon. Another week and good feeding and there should be a few more flying with luck.

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After the towhee success and with the sun actually starting to poke through, I headed towards the seasonal pond at the west end of the site. My main intention for going that way was to search for dragonflies, a couple of species in particular. The results of the odeing can be seen at http://quebecodes.wordpresss.com The visit also allowed me to check out the Indigo Bunting numbers and to see whether any Chestnut-sided Warblers had a territory. I found perhaps four singing male Indigo Buntings and a pair of Chestnut-sided Warblers in a spot where I’d had them before.

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If we can wrap up our screen-porch project this weekend as expected then I’ll be out a bit more next week, I can feel a Baie Brazeau tip coming on.

Finally I dug out a few more Panama shots. A few odes (unidentified as yet), a butterfly that joined us for breakfast and a few iffy shots of birds.

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Below are shots of a Great Kiskadee and a Boat-billed Flycatcher. I always get a blind spot with the latter species whenever we are in the tropics and tend to dismiss all bit and yellow flycatchers as kiskadees at just a glance.

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Below are odd shots of Dusky-faced Tanager, Crested Bobwhite (the arty version), Ruddy-breasted Seedeater, the mystery butterfly and a Brown-throated Parakeet.

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Too Busy

Since getting back from Panama on 20-June it has been slow to get into back into the groove. Unhelpful weather and the construction of a screened porch have kept me busy and largely out of the field. This time last year I was immersed in odonata and butterflies but this year is seems to be a very stilted season so far. I did get to the pits once recently and had an hour looking for odes (one) and dodging two marauding Doberman Pinchers that “won’t hurt you” according to their owners. “I won’t beat them senseless with my tripod then” is my standard reply but, I have to be honest, I make few new friends with that approach.

Somehow I managed to part company with my little microphone for my iPod. It was not in my bag when we got to Panama and has not yet reappeared and so a new one is in the post. While browsing Amazon.ca for the microphone  I came across another neat little piece of kit, a super-powerful torch that even the most obdurate Mexican customs luggage pilferer couldn’t confiscate for being a ‘potential weapon’. It’s called the Streamlight ProTac 1L, it is around three inches long and is just the thing to hold easily while using bins for looks at that calling owl, Whip-poor-will or Potoo. It is significantly brighter than our big Mag-light with a reasonable battery life.

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The lack of a microphone meant that I had to rely on the built in iPod one that tends to be quite general in what it picks up. I also found the voice memo app supplied with the iPod to be frustrating and mine had to be killed (turned off completely and not running in the background, tech geek thing!) otherwise it would just pause recording and then not resume when employed on the next mystery singer. Of the recordings that I did manage, from those at El Valle I plucked a further three trip species from the background melange, all  expected species and all that I might have picked up in the field had we spent more than just one full day in the ‘jungle’, it takes time to retune ears.

To find a solution to my recoding dilemma I trawled the iTunes store and found a better recoding app by Imesart (Audio Memo 3.1.6). The app produces editable tracks that you can clip to remove your own commentary such as (“in secondary growth 300m along the Las Minas trail”. Annotating recordings with the time and place to back up the apps own time-stamp is a habitat I’m trying to develop.

Below another view of the iPod with microphone and a view of the Audio Memo screen, each files is date-time stamped and you can edit and re-title.

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Locally (if the whole of Quebec can be thought of as local) there has not been much happening bird-wise. We seem to have more Clay-coloured Sparrows than usual but rarities have been zero really. In a week or so the shorebirds should start to appear again, dribs and drabs until the end of July. I’m still missing a few of the commoner species for my year list and I have to make a dawn effort to go and look for Sedge Wren and Grasshopper Sparrow this week and the screened porch needs finishing. Perhaps the weather will settle more too and those breeders that have suffered from the cold and wet spring and early summer will get the chance of a second stab at it, hope so.

Below a Spotted Sandpiper, there seem to be a couple of young dotted around St-Lazare sand pits, amazing considering the pressures they face there.

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