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Archive for the ‘Butterflies’ Category

Sunday morning, April 23, was one of the luckiest of the trip.  We started right outside Canopy Tower on Semaphore Hill Road.  Our guide, Domi, soon heard a bird on everyone’s target list – a Pheasant Cuckoo.  They are very secretive birds and difficult to find when they are not calling.  But, the bird was off the road and back in the forest.  Domi and the two other birders scrambled up the hill on the side of the road and through the thick vegetation to find the bird.  Diane and I hesitated.  I didn’t know if I could make it up the hill without help and certainly they were just going to push the bird deeper into the forest anyway.  Well, they came back smiling and excited; they had had wonderful looks at the bird.  And, then, instead of saying we made a bad choice, too bad, they all encouraged Diane and me to go see the bird.  So, Domi helped us up the little hill and we scrambled into the jungle.  Amazingly, the cuckoo was in the same place the others had seen it.  There are no words to describe how thrilled I was to see this bird and to even get a photo.

Pheasant Cuckoo

Pheasant Cuckoo

The day continued to be charmed.  That afternoon we had great looks at another skulky bird, a gorgeous Rosy Thrush-Tanager.  Domi led us off the trail and under the tree where the bird was perched.  We saw little pieces of the bird as we moved one way and then another to peer through thick branches.  I must have taken 200 photos and luckily the one below shows most of the beautiful bird.

Rosy Thrush-Tanager

Rosy Thrush-Tanager

There were seven of us that afternoon, but the larger group didn’t stop this beautiful Golden-collared Manakin from sitting in the open for over five minutes right in front of us, unusually bold behavior for this species.  While we got incredible close looks at the manakin, we were not privileged to see a courtship display, one of the most amazing sights in the avian world.  This very interesting article from Audubon, Do a Little Dance, Make a Little Love: Golden-collared Manakins Get Their Groove On to Woo the Ladies includes a short video of the courtship display.  The picky females judge the performances of the males and mate with the one that they perceive to be the most attractive and the best dancer.

A Golden-collared Manakin looks at us with more curiosity than fear

A Golden-collared Manakin looks at us with more curiosity than fear

Another fun experience that afternoon was watching a pair of Yellow-throated Toucans right above our heads.  That’s a tree frog that it is chowing down for lunch – yum!

Yellow-throated Toucan

Yellow-throated Toucan

April 24 was our last full day at Canopy Tower.  Our group had missed White-throated Crake on our first trip to the Ammo Dump Ponds, so Domi took us there again early in the morning before we went to Pipeline Road.  Crakes are in the rail family and most are very shy birds.  But, this time we were successful and got good looks at several birds.

White-throated Crake

White-throated Crake

A potoo was the highlight of Pipeline Road again, but on this section of the road it was a Common Potoo.  An adult potoo with a baby had been reported at this location for several days, but we were the first to see the baby without one of its parents.  This young one will still be fed by mom or dad for a while longer, though.  The bright pink gape (inside of the mouth) functions as a highly visible guide to show the parents where to deposit food.

A Common Potoo on its first day without a parent.

A Common Potoo on its first day without a parent.

We also saw this beautiful snake, a South American Forest Racer.  It moved fast, so I was happy to get any photo at all.

South American Forest Racer on Pipeline Road

South American Forest Racer on Pipeline Road

Panama has fabulous butterflies, but I didn’t have enough time and attention to focus on both butterflies and birds in the same trip as much as I would have liked.  I tried to sneak in a photo of a butterfly when I could, though.  I especially liked this Many-banded Daggerwing that we found on Pipeline Road.

Many-banded Daggerwing

Many-banded Daggerwing

That afternoon, it was back to Gamboa, where one of my favorites was this Gray-headed Tanager.  This photo is unique as it’s the first time that I ever used my camera before my binoculars.  I usually look first and then shoot.  But, I was trying to photograph something else when I heard “Gray-headed Tanager” behind me, so I just turned around with my camera still poised and clicked.  I was lucky; although he was close, he did not stay long and I would have missed the photo if I had indulged in a binocular look first.

Gray-headed Tanager

Gray-headed Tanager

We were soon back at the Tower, happy with all of the wonderful birds we had seen in the last five days, but also sad that our birding trips there were done.  We had a little time on our own before our departure the next morning.  Sometimes I used my free time to check out the moths that had come in to the lights the night before.  Here is just one of the beauties I saw there, tentatively identified as Synchlora gerularia.

Moth at Canopy Tower tentatively identified as Synchlora gerularia.

Moth at Canopy Tower tentatively identified as Synchlora gerularia.

In between birding trips, I also tried to get photos of the several species of hummingbirds that can be seen at the Tower.  White-necked Jacobins were common; here is a female below.

Female White-necked Jacobin

Female White-necked Jacobin

Blue-chested Hummingbirds were also plentiful at Canopy Tower.

Blue-chested Hummingbird

Blue-chested Hummingbird

And, then, all too quickly as usual, it was time to spend one more morning on the observation deck and say goodbye to Canopy Tower.  But, our Panama adventure was only half over.  We were going to Canopy Lodge next.

Diane and me in front of Canopy Tower

Diane and me in front of Canopy Tower

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News flash – I just saw my 600th ABA bird! Please pardon this interruption to my series of Alaska posts, but this is just too exciting to not share now. Birders, feel free to skip ahead while I attempt to explain to my non-birding friends just what an “ABA bird” is. ABA is the American Birding Association, a wonderful organization that serves birders with publications aimed at improving birding skills, promotion of conservation, summer camps for teens, and lots of other fun and important birding stuff. It is also the official keeper of LISTS. Avid birders love lists and ABA members can report theirs for comparison to other birders. The “ABA area” is basically all of North America north of Mexico. So, a birder’s ABA list is the list of all the birds that he or she has observed in the ABA area.

Green Heron - The ABA

Green Heron – The ABA “Bird of the Year” for 2015

Back in the 1960s, it was quite an accomplishment to join the “600 Club.” But, the Internet, email, listservs, eBird, Facebook, and cell phones have totally changed birding from a few decades ago. Now, news of a rare bird travels fast and within hours dozens of birders may see a rarity. This rapid communication has enabled many to see 700 species in the ABA area and some have even observed over 800 ABA birds, but that achievement requires a lot of time, money, energy, and ambition. To put these numbers in perspective, there are only 671 regularly occurring birds in North America and many of those are found only in small numbers in particular locations. Another 308 species are rare and many of those have been observed in North America only a few times.

Whooping Cranes. Photo: International Crane Foundation.

Whooping Cranes. Photo: International Crane Foundation.

I was getting close to 600 ABA birds when I left for Alaska in June. I needed 42 more and there were 42 birds on last year’s trip list that I had not seen. I had a chance! But, birds change from year to year and I got only 40 ABA birds in Alaska. I needed two more birds. And, then I learned that the non-migratory Whooping Cranes that I had seen in Florida last year were now countable. I needed only one more bird! Of course, I was excited about the possibilities, but this wasn’t going to be easy. I would figure out a plan for #600 later.

On August 11, I left for Gainesville, Florida, for a family visit. I planned to just drive down, visit family, and drive back home. I didn’t even take my scope or hiking shoes. Since I got back from Alaska a few weeks earlier, I had not paid much attention to what was happening outside my home county. But, after I got to Florida, I discovered that Smooth-billed Anis were being reported at Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge every day. There was mention of a nest, so I expected the birds to continue to be there for a while. I had seen Anis in Ecuador, but not in the ABA area. This could be my #600! I altered my plans so that I could drive to South Florida and see the Anis after visiting with my family.

Smooth-billed Ani

Smooth-billed Ani

I didn’t know if a scope was required or not, but I wanted to be sure that I’d have the best views possible. Fortunately, Angel & Mariel Abreu of Nature Is Awesome Birding & Wildlife Tours were available for the day. They would also try to help me get Black-whiskered Vireo for #601 and we could spend the remainder of the day looking for South Florida specialty butterflies.

On August 16, we arrived at Loxahatchee at 9:00 AM and found two Smooth-billed Anis right away. They could not have been more cooperative and we had fun watching the birds preen and fly around a little, but never out of sight. We could see detail in every feather with the scope and we got good photos.

Mariel and I celebrating my 600th ABA bird

Mariel and I celebrating my 600th ABA bird

We also saw the first two of six new butterflies for me that day, Phaon Crescent and Ruddy Daggerwing.

Ruddy Daggerwing

Ruddy Daggerwing

Phaon Crescent

Phaon Crescent

Finally, we tore ourselves away from the Anis and drove down to Key Largo to look for the Black-whiskered Vireos that Angel and Mariel had scouted the previous day. They both saw three birds after just a few minutes, but it took over two hours for me to get a satisfying look. Angel and Mariel never once complained while we stood there in the August heat. Finally, I got a good enough look at one of the birds and we moved on to look for more butterflies.

Florida Purplewing

Florida Purplewing

We went to an area of the Key Largo Hammocks State Botanical Site that requires a backcountry pass, which the Abreus had obtained the previous day when scouting for the vireo. We saw a few birds and a Florida Purplewing, a rare butterfly that is officially listed as a “Species of Special Concern” due to its declining population and disappearance from most of its historic range. I’m sure that the beautiful Purplewing was the highlight of the day for Angel and Mariel.

Florida Purplewing

Florida Purplewing

Our last stop was at a pine rockland preservation in Homestead. At first glance, it looked like any other Florida pine forest with saw palmetto understory. But, as soon as we stepped off the path and carefully walked through the rocks, I could see how different this was. Pine rockland exists only in southern Florida and parts of the Bahamas. It is typically a savanna-like forest on limestone outcroppings with a canopy of Florida Slash Pine and a diverse understory of shrubs and herbaceous plants. Pine rocklands are home to a significant number of rare plants and animals found in no other habitat, including several Federally Endangered plants. Its delicate beauty becomes apparent once you really look at the life it hosts. Sadly, pine rockland is an endangered ecosystem with only a few fragments remaining in South Florida and some of those are slated for development.

Baracoa Skipper

Baracoa Skipper

Ceranus Blue

Ceranus Blue

Butterflies we found there were Baracoa Skipper and Ceranus Blue.

Curve-lined Cydosia Moth

Our last sighting of the day, just before dark at that same location, was the Curve-lined Cydosia Moth in the photo to the left, which is found from southern Florida south to Argentina. This beautiful moth is not very common and it was new to all of us.

I could not have asked for a more cooperative or interesting bird for ABA #600.  Thanks to Angel and Mariel for another fun day. As always, I left South Florida looking forward to returning again soon.

My next post will be another on Alaska.  Follow along with me on more birding adventures.

Angel Mariel and me

Angel, Mariel, and me

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In July I made a quick trip to Florida to see my step-daughters in Gainesville with the usual stops at Savannah NWR and Harris Neck NWR.  I enjoyed seeing dragonflies, bugs, toads, and wildflowers in addition to birds and butterflies.  I especially liked the beautiful Gulf Fritillaries.

Gulf Fritillary at Harris Neck NWR

Gulf Fritillary at Harris Neck NWR

In Gainesville, the animal highlight was Debbie’s new horse, Charlie, who is just as sweet as she said.

Liz watches Casey and Debbie take Charlie for a walk

Liz watches Casey and Debbie take Charlie for a walk

After a few days with the girls and their families, it was time to head back home.  At Savannah NWR, I was able to snap a shot of this Purple Gallinule as it was running away from me.  This is one of the birds that I remember from the early 1980’s in South Florida and it’s still one of my favorites.

Purple Gallinule at Savannah NWR

Purple Gallinule at Savannah NWR

Back home, it was time to leave the deck light on at night again.  I was quickly rewarded with The Hebrew (moth).  I love the simple, elegant black and white pattern.

The Hebrew

The Hebrew

A week later, I saw my first Monarch of the year – in my own yard.  I don’t have milkweed as a host plant (too much shade), so I felt bad that I didn’t have a place for her to lay eggs.  I don’t have many flowers for nectaring either, so I was surprised and very happy to see this butterfly, especially during a year in which they have been rather scarce.

Monarch (female) on Summersweet, Clethra alnifolia

Monarch (female) on Summersweet, Clethra alnifolia

All things lepidoptera heated up in August.  I photographed this Common Buckeye (which really is common) in a friend’s yard.

Common Buckeye in the Schepker/Schneider yard

Common Buckeye in the Schepker/Schneider yard

My favorite photo of the summer is probably this Little Glassywing.  Gene tries to get me to photograph skippers from the side to get all the field marks, but I love the face shots.

Little Glassywing

Little Glassywing

August 15 was a very exciting day for moths.  First, I discovered this gorgeous Imperial Moth outside my front door.  You can see how big he was – almost as “tall” as a brick and he appeared to be in perfect condition.

Imperial Moth (male)

Imperial Moth (male)

Later that same day, my friend Cynthia called to say that she was watching a Luna in the weeds at one of our local birding spots.  Of course, I ran right over to get my “lifer” Luna Moth.  He was missing an entire hindwing, but he was still beautiful to me.

Luna Moth

Luna Moth

The next day, August 16, I participated in the Iredell County NABA count in Statesville, NC, led by Gene Schepker.  We were at Allison Woods when Gene spotted a Harvester.  Before anyone else could see the butterfly, a truck came driving up the gravel road.  Gene’s immediate response was, “I’m going to stop those guys.”  I have no idea what Gene said, but the truck stopped and three men got out, two of them in National Guard uniforms.  In the meantime, the rest of us had lost track of the butterfly.  One of the men pointed to a branch on a nearby tree and there it was!  They patiently waited 10-15 minutes while we admired and photographed the butterfly.

Harvester at Allison Woods

Harvester at Allison Woods

The Harvester flew to the road and began puddling.  Gene explained that he was collecting nutrients to include with his sperm in a special package (a spermatophore) that he would deliver to the female when they mated.  The nutrients in this special “gift” enable the female to produce and lay eggs.  Gene also shared the fascinating fact that Harvesters are America’s only carnivorous butterfly (in the caterpillar stage).  The only food source for Harvester caterpillars is wooly aphids.  Thus, they grow quickly and have only four instar stages instead of the typical five stages for most butterflies.  The men from the truck listened attentively as did the rest of us.  This was more education that one usually gets on a butterfly count and it added to the fun of the day.

Harvester

Harvester

Later in August, Gene joined Cynthia and me to look for butterflies at the little wetland where Cynthia had found the Luna Moth.  Gene found Least Skippers, a new species for me, in grasses by the water’s edge.  They were tiny and liked to hide, so I didn’t get a very good look at them.  The next day I went back to try for a photograph, but I couldn’t even find the skippers.  Fortunately for me, Cynthia stopped to help when she drove by and saw me.  She found the skippers and I was able to get this photo, one of the most challenging of the summer.

Least Skipper

Least Skipper

Summer isn’t officially over yet and neither is moth or butterfly season, but it’s fall migration, so birds have priority now.  In addition to watching birds near home, a trip to India is coming up soon and a trip to Alaska is in the works for summer 2015.

More of my moth photos can be seen on Flickr in the Moths of Forsyth County, NC album.  My butterfly photos are in the Butterflies album.

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Birding slows down during summer and I always hope to use that time to catch up with chores around the house.  It never works out that way, though.  Last summer I had major surgery and got hooked on moths during my recovery.  This summer I continued watching moths, but, amazingly, I was able to keep it from becoming a full-blown obsession.  My interest in butterflies picked up, however, so between birds, butterflies, and moths, I still managed to neglect my house and chores.

Rosy Maple Moth, Dryocampa rubicunda, a favorite from this summer.

Rosy Maple Moth, Dryocampa rubicunda, a favorite from this summer.

Getting an earlier start with moths this year meant that I saw a lot of species that I missed last year when I started in August.  I’ve been fascinated with green moths ever since I found a list of them on BugGuide.  In May I saw a nice one, this Green Leuconycta.  If you click on a photo in any of my posts, it will display the full-size image in a new tab or window.

Green Leuconycta Moth, Leuconycta diphteroides

Green Leuconycta Moth, Leuconycta diphteroides

Butterflies started getting my attention when my friend Lois and I surveyed Bethania’s Black Walnut Bottoms for the official NABA (North American Butterfly Association) count on May 31.  My favorite from that day was this gorgeous gravid female Southern Broken-Dash butterfly.

Southern Broken-Dash (female)

Southern Broken-Dash (female)

Moths started getting really interesting in June.  Below is a male Tulip-tree Silkmoth, another of my favorites from this summer.

Tulip-tree Silkmoth, Callosamia angulifera

Tulip-tree Silkmoth, Callosamia angulifera

This Catalpa Sphinx may have to have been seen to be appreciated.  It was huge with a wingspan of nearly four inches.  He sure got my attention when he came zooming in to the deck light while I was standing there.

Catalpa Sphinx Moth, Ceratomia catalpae

Catalpa Sphinx Moth, Ceratomia catalpae

I saw my first Great Leopard Moth on my kitchen window in 2010.  I wasn’t even “moth-ing” then, but it caught my attention as something special.  I was thrilled to see one again this summer.  It was absolutely gorgeous.

 

Great Leopard Moth, Hypercompe scribonia

Great Leopard Moth, Hypercompe scribonia

Moths in the genus Catocala are sometimes referred to as “underwing moths” or just “underwings.”  The name Catacala is of Greek origin and roughly translates as “beautiful hindwings.”  These moths have dull cryptic forewings for camouflage during the day.  When disturbed, they flash their brightly colored underwings which may resemble eyes and act as a defense.  Many moths in this group have common names with a female or marriage theme, so we have The Darling, The Girlfriend, The Bride, The Newlywed, The Widow, and others with similar names.  I saw the underwings of only one Catocala this summer, the simply-named Ultronia Underwing.

Ultronia Underwing, Catocala ultronia

Ultronia Underwing, Catocala ultronia

I also found a few moths during bird or butterfly outings.  Peter Keller went to Pilot Mountain on the evening of June 15 with hopes of capturing and attaching a geolocator to the last Wood Thrush for the Audubon project and I tagged along.  Unfortunately, the attempt was unsuccessful.  While waiting alone in the woods while the others went to take down the mist nets as darkness fell, I attracted this little moth with only the light from my flashlight.

Blepharomastix ranalis

Blepharomastix ranalis

A week later, I was back at Pilot Mountain, this time with Gene Schepker on a butterfly walk.  The surprise for the day was this lovely little Rare Spring Moth.

Rare Spring Moth, Heliomata infulata

Rare Spring Moth, Heliomata infulata

And here’s a butterfly that we found on that Pilot Mountain butterfly walk, a Hoary Edge (skipper).

Hoary Edge

Hoary Edge

I photographed this Sachem (another skipper) on the last day of June and inadvertently caught it with its proboscis all neatly rolled up, which I found fascinating.  But, you already know that it doesn’t take much to entertain me.

Sachem

Sachem

So, that’s a very brief summary of my moth and butterfly adventures through June.  Even after severe culling, I couldn’t limit the photos enough for only one post.  Stay tuned for part 2 of The Summer of the Lepidoptera.

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