Bioblitz 2017 Moth Article by Margaret Carney

Margaret Carney participated in the Dahl Forest HHLT Bioblitz this past June 24/25thth as an expert on moths.  She has submitted this informative and entertaining write up for your enjoyment.

The Great Outdoors                                                             

By Margaret Carney

The rain held off until we finished opening the traps in the early morning, thank goodness.  And though the temperature had dipped to 10 degrees Celsius overnight, enough moths were out flying that we ended up with more than 200 species for the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust bioblitz last weekend.  Naturalists from across southern Ontario came together to collect data on all biological components of the 500 acre Dahl forest, owned by the trust—birds, mammals, plants, fungi, herps, fish and insects.

I was on the moth team, which got to feed mosquitoes at dusk and dawn—and all hours in between.  Tallying moth species is a strictly catch and release activity, with the more spectacular ones kept for an extra hour or two to be photographed and admired.

Top of the list was the rare and dramatic pawpaw sphinx, a stunning large, dark, triangular moth peppered with white and grey.  Pawpaw, a tree native to Carolinian forests, doesn’t normally grow in cottage country, but sweet fern, another host plant of the species, does.

Silver-spotted ghost moth was another crowd pleaser, even larger, with a few white marks on its bronzy-and-grey-banded wings.  The larvae feed on the roots of alders alongside streams, in this case the swift-flowing Burnt River.

Putnam’s looper was smaller, but the vivid white spots and dashes on its rich rust-and-orange scaled wings made for a very handsome, very interesting moth, which lays its eggs on sedges in damp woodlands.

I enjoyed the whole process of setting out cords, lights and sheets in the sweet-smelling pine forest.  Dragonflies were on patrol in every clearing, as well as down along the river, a side benefit of being out there, since I love dragonflies.

Red-eyed vireos, scarlet tanagers and a good variety of warblers sang throughout the day, and on toward evening, veeries and white-throated sparrows joined in.  Just around dusk a barred owl called, and encouragement from a deep-voiced birder brought in two of these big owls, which fussed and hooted on and off for half an hour at having their peace invaded.

As darkness settled, more and more moths started fluttering about, drawn to each other by pheromones, and to the lights we’d put out.  But on beyond them, in the deep dark woods, fireflies glowed as brightly as a million stars overhead.  Being there was the perfect way to start celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday, and the thousands of years our indigenous peoples took care of this beautiful, bountiful land before European settlers arrived.

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