08 July 2018
Although a birder first, foremost and always, there is not a single aspect of the natural world that fails to capture my interest. I have different levels of proficiency (or in some cases a decided lack thereof) of various taxa.
One of the most colourful additions to the summer landscape, especially when the birds are preoccupied with raising young, is a wide range of butterfly species. In addition there are some interesting diurnal moths and I have even been dabbling in nocturnal moths under the expert tutelage of my good friend, Ross Dickson. If you have ever felt you had sinister tendencies of incipient masochism, sitting out in the dark watching moths crawling over a lighted sheet, in a mind-boggling range of diversity, colour, shape and form, will cause them to be front and centre! And that doesn't even take into account the lack of sleep.
In any event, it occurred to me a while ago that many people I see with a butterfly net have not the slightest idea how to use it properly. They charge around like Don Quixote tilting at some illusory windmill, smacking the ground, flattening the grass, uttering the unseemly curses of a drunken sailor, and coming up empty-handed - or should that be empty-netted?
With this in mind I thought it would be a good idea to have a proper training session so that budding lepidopterists would learn how to wield a net correctly, sweep with grace and efficiency to capture their quarry, extract it from the net swiftly and cleanly in a collecting vial, take whatever photographs they need, and release the papillon unharmed.
Owen Lucas, of the rare Charitable Research Reserve, as fine a net professional as one could wish to find, agreed to come and conduct a tutorial.
People gathered round with great interest.
Like a magician on a stage, Owen was in short order explaining technique.
It did not take everyone long to get the idea and we set off on a walk to capture some butterflies. New skills were on display, strategies were developed, and stealth became a new art; but I must say, with a certain level of vicarious pride, that Miriam was the undisputed champion. Hers was a performance worthy of a prima ballerina in the Bolshoi Ballet. In total we captured about fourteen species, much to everyone's delight.
As a bonus for the eager adventurers we introduced them to the wonderful world of caterpillars. A couple of people had already raised Monarchs indoors so there was the added excitement of seeing the varied forms and colours of the larvae of other species.
Here is the colourful child of a Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes).
And how grand is the caterpillar of a White-marked Tussock Moth (Orgyia leucostigma)?
Jeff Grant, a local teenager from St. Agatha is keenly interested in butterflies and moths and has been raising Cecropia Moths (Hyalophora cecropia) by placing their eggs on appropriate host plants and protecting them by means of a mesh sleeve. Jeff kindly opened up one of the sleeves to show everyone the grandeur of a Cecropia caterpillar - and even provided a little discourse on the life cycle of this stunning moth.
The caterpillar of an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucous), in a late instar with its false eye spots is perhaps one of the most appealing of all, and we were lucky to see one such example along with a little brother (perhaps second instar) on the same leaf.
We were not quite as happy to find many Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar) caterpillars. This species is truly destructive in our eastern hardwood forests and is an invasive species in any event.
Some had already cocooned.
The weather was quite beautiful, a perfect day in fact for what we wanted to do. And just in case I had withdrawal pangs from not dealing with birds, Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) displayed their aerial superiority as they hawked for insects and a male Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) perched on a nest box where his mate is incubating four eggs. Perhaps he even delivered a juicy caterpillar for lunch.