Archives

YOU MAY NOT HAVE TO LEAVE YOUR YARD TO SEE SPRING MIGRANTS

      I suspect that most folks that enjoy birding would like to make the trek to Texas’ High Island to witness the spring songbird migration.  If you catch conditions just right, in a single day, you can get up close and personal to 30 species of warblers and literally scores of vireos tanagers and other birds.  While this small island is the one of the very best places to see spring migrations, if you have the right habitat, you can see a kaleidoscope of songbirds from March into May pass through your own yard.

       As migratory songbirds move northward, they make a number of stops before they reach their breeding grounds.  These bits of critical habitat are referred to as stopover areas.  Songbirds rest and refuel at these locations.  Backyards offering the birds the proper food, water, and cover can serve as stopover sites.

       The vast majority of migratory songbirds rarely visit feeders stocked with seeds and suet.  However, can you attract them if you offer them the foods that will help fuel their spring migration flights.  By far, the most important foods eaten by spring migrants are insects.  However, the bulk of the insects consumed by the birds are the larvae of moths and butterflies (commonly referred to as caterpillars).

       Most of these caterpillars feed on tree leaves.  Therefore, if one or more of the trees that serve as hosts for moths and butterflies is growing in your yard, the better are your chances of attracting spring migrants.

       When it comes to hosting moths and butterflies not all trees are created equal.  The worst trees are introduced ornamentals.  Some of these trees do not host any moths and butterflies.  Studies have shown ornamentals produce 35 times less caterpillar biomass than native trees.

       Here is a short list of some of the native trees that host the most species of moths and butterflies.  The numbers of species of moths and butterflies that each tree hosts are found in parentheses.  This list was developed by Dr. Doug Tallamy. 

       In Georgia, oaks (557) serve as host plants for more butterflies and moths than any other group of trees.  Other important hosts to lepidopterans are cherries (456), willows (455), birches (411), poplars (367) crabapples (308), maples (297), alders (255), hickories (235), elms (215), pines (201), hawthorns (168), beeches (127), dogwoods (118), and sweetgum (35).

       Should you find that none of these trees are in your yard, if you want to have your yard serve as a spring songbird stopover site, consider planting one or more trees found on this list.  The small investment in time and labor this requires will pay huge dividends for decades to come.

       If you already have one or more of the caterpillar producers growing in your yard, from now into May, periodically scan the tree foliage for migrants.  How long the migrants stay is largely dependent on the amount of food they find.  If your trees don’t harbor many caterpillars, migrants might stay and feed for only a day.  Conversely, if caterpillars are abundant, migrants may linger for three or more days before moving on.

       If you are lucky, one morning you may walk outside and see your trees alive with a dozen or more warblers gleaning insects for your trees’ foliage.  While you might see far more species at High Island, the fact that you spotted these birds in your yard will make the experience extra special.

       

A GREAT TIME TO LOOK FOR THE WHITE-HEADED PROMINENT

   March is not a great month for butterfly enthusiasts.  At this time of the year the seasons transition from winter to spring.  As such, temperatures remain are cool and nectar is often hard to come by.  This translates into few butterflies flitting across our backyards.  However, there is any number of moths that can be seen this month.  One of these fascinating creatures is the white-headed prominent (Symmerista albafrons).

       During March this small (wingspan 1 19/64-1 47/64 inches) moth is commonly flying about backyards across the state.  This is especially true if its host plants (oaks) are growing nearby.

       Finding one is not difficult at all.  Instead of stumbling around in the dark looking for it, it will come to you.  Let me explain.  This moth is attracted to outside lights.  Therefore, it is most often seen perched on the side of a house beneath outside lights that are glowing in the dark.                                               If you spot one, the first thing you will notice is that its wings are folded over its back.  This will permit you to see a distinctive toothed, white spot running down the edge of its folded wings.  Since this month is extremely tame, it will allow you to view it from a close range.  In fact, it will often permit you to touch it.

       I find it amazing that the white-headed prominent can be seen on chilly spring evenings.  Recently, I found on perched below an outside garage light when the temperature was only 55˚F.  

       If you are a butterfly enthusiast, you should explore the world of moths.  The diversity of moths than can be seen in a backyard is astounding.  In fact, far more different species of moths inhabit your yard than butterflies.

       If you want to venture into the amazing world of moths, this evening before you sit down to watch your favorite television show, turn on the outside garage lights.  Then when your program pauses for a commercial, walk outside and see if your lights have attracted any moths.  If some moths have been drawn to the lights, don’t be surprised if one of them is a white-headed prominent.

LEOPARDS ROAM OUR BACKYARDS AT NIGHT

       Many members of our backyard wildlife community are rarely seen simply because they are creatures of the night. One such nocturnal animal is the giant leopard moth (Hypercompe scibonia).

       The giant leopard moth did not earn its name because it a ferocious hunter like the leopard that roams the wilds of Africa and Asia. It is called the leopard moth because its white wings are covered with leopard like spots that vary from black to blue.

       Male leopard moths are larger than females. The wingspan of the males measure some 3.6 inches, whereas the wingspan of females average about 2.25″

       If you decide to embark on an expedition into your backyard one night in search of the giant leopard moth, your quest would probably not be successful. It seems that the best way to find a giant leopard moth is to look for it hanging on the outside walls of your home beneath a security lights. It seems these large handsome insects are attracted to lights. However, if you find one or more leopard moths, they will probably be males. Females do not visit lights nearly as often as the males. Some people have reported finding upwards of dozen giant leopard moths near light. However, I have never found more than one at a time in my neck of the woods.

       If you begin checking your security lights for giant leopard moths, you will notice that many other moths are drawn in by the lights. This will give some appreciation of the amazing diversity of moths that inhabit your yard. In fact, it is safe to say; far more moths live in your backyard than butterflies.

GREEN CLOVERWORM MOTHS ARE FLYING NOW

        I would like to introduce you to the green cloverworm moth (Hypena scabra).  It is one of your backyard moth neighbors that you might encounter anytime throughout the year.  This is especially if you live in South Georgia.  In some portions of North Georgia, you might see this month only from March through November.  I live in Middle Georgia, and I have seen it in all seasons.

        This drab, triangular-shaped, long-snouted moth measures around an inch (25mm-35mm) in length.

        Although it can be seen during daylight hours, you are most apt to it fluttering about your porch light.  In fact, during the winter it is sometimes the moth commonly seen around outside lights.

        The green cloverworm moth uses a variety of host plants including, strawberry, ragweed, and false indigo along with trees such as elm, hackberry, poplar, willow, and birch.

THE GRANCY GRAYBEARD DESERVES A PLACE IN YOUR YARD

 

The Grancy Graybeard, also known as the fringe tree, grandfather graybeard, snow flower tree, old man’s beard and a number of other colorful names is a perfect addition to both large and small yards across the state.

The grancy graybeard is one of the last flowering trees to bloom each spring in the Peach State.  For the past couple of weeks, my wife and I have been enjoying both the tree’s strikingly beautiful blossoms and aroma produced by a myriad of flowers.

This small native tree grows only ten to thirty feet tall.  I personally have never seen one more than fifteen feet tall.

       Before the tree’s oblong leaves appear, a riot of snow-white flowers erupt on its bare branches.  This startlingly beautiful floral show is created by literally thousands of slender flowers (up to an inch long and 1/16th of an inch wide).  Oddly, the male flowers are larger than the female blooms.

       If that isn’t enough to catch your attention, the delicate, sweet, clean perfume given off by these flowers will.  When in full bloom, the delicate sweet scent of the blossoms will waft many yards away from the tree.

       These unique blooms attract nectar feeders such as small beetles, bees and others.

       Later in the year female trees, bear a crop of blackish-blue fruit that are gobbled up by mockingbirds, cardinals, blue jays and other wildlife.

       In addition, this demure tree is a host plant for both rustic and laurel sphinx moths.

       This tree requires little, if any care.  Although it does best in moist, rich soils, once established it will grow in dry areas too.  The tree’s ability to live in both partial shade and full sun is another plus.

       With that in mind, I hope you will consider adding it to your landscape.  This tree is definitely a keeper.

 

 

      

TINY BEAUTY—THE AILANTHUS WEBWORM MOTH

ailanthus-webworm-moth-detailed-pattern

Ailanthus Webworm moth (Atteva aurea)

One of the prettiest insects that can currently be seen in your garden is an extremely small moth named the ailanthus webworm moth (Atteva aurea).

This mite is less than a half inch long and has a wingspan of roughly an inch. However, what it lacks in size, it more than makes up in beauty. This slender orange moth is distinctively marked with four bands. Each band is comprised of tiny irregular black-bordered, light-yellow squares.

Since this day-flying moth produces several generations (flights) a year, you are likely to see it visiting your flowers from spring through fall. I spot them in autumn more than at any other time of the year. Currently, I am most often find this little jewel feeding on goldenrod.

Although this moth is native to South Florida, it has expanded its range throughout most of the United States. This range expansion was brought about by the introduction of the tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima). This import from china has been widely planted in both urban and suburban areas across the country. Sadly, this import has proven to be highly invasive. As a result, it has become naturalized in Georgia and elsewhere.

It seems that the ailanthus webworm moth’s main host plant is the paradisetree (Simarouba glauca). However, as it turns out, ailanthus webworm moths adopted the tree of heaven as host plant. This allowed the tiny moth to follow the tree of heaven across America.

 

QUESTION: How can I capture a moth or butterfly in my home without injuring it?

Answer: Most of us have found a butterfly and moth in our homes. When this occurs, we are faced with the problem of trying to catch and release the insect without harming it.

Over the years I have tried a number of techniques. However, in far too many cases I ended up accidentally injuring or killing the animal I was trying to save. After much trial and error I have found two devices that consistently work the best for me.

Small, inexpensive butterfly nets can often be found in the toy department of our favorite store. Using such a net, you don’t have to risk injuring yourself or the insect even if it lands on the ceiling or high on a wall.

If the insect perches on a wall within arm’s reach, it can be caught in a clear glass. Simply approach the insect very slowly and place the open end of the glass over it. Then slightly raise the rim of the glass and gently slip a thick piece of paper under the rim. When the paper touches the legs of the insect it will usually take flight. When this happens continue sliding the paper all the way under the glass. Once you have captured the moth or butterfly, hold onto the glass with one hand and the paper with the other as you carry it outside for release.

 

capturing-moths-butterflies-in-the-house-house-8-april-2012

HUMMINGBIRDS GIVE WAY TO CAROLINA SPHINX MOTHS AT DUSK

CAROLINA PHINX

                CAROLINA PHINX  

For the past few weeks, my wife and I have enjoyed watching the aerial show put on by aerial visitors to our four o’clocks.

       During the late afternoon ruby-throated hummingbirds descend on our large bed of four o’clocks.  These hungry birds dart up to pink and yellow four o’clock blossoms, hover, and poke their long bills and tongues deep within the bugle-shaped flowers and dine on the sugar-rich liquid.  No other bird is capable of the aerial dexterity needed to dine, in such a manner, on the nectar offered by four o’clocks.  As much as we would like this show to continue on, it always proves to be too short.  Just before dark the hummingbird forays abruptly end.

       We have learned that, if we get up from our seats and go inside after the last hummingbird has departed, we miss the opportunity to watch another accomplished aviator display its aerial prowess.  This performer is the Carolina sphinx moth.  Its feeding flights extend well after dark descends on our backyard.

       It is easy to understand why this super-sized moth is often mistaken for a hummingbird.  It seems to be larger, than a rubythroat, and feeds in much the same manner as a rubythroat. However, when you closely examine it, you will see that it has  thick antennae,  a long, extremely thin proboscis instead of a bill, lacks feathers and has six legs instead of two.

       While the Carolina is one of several sphinx moths that visit flowers in our backyards at night, in my neck of the woods, it is by far the most common.

       This impressive moth displays six rows of large yellow spots running down an abdomen that seems as thick as your finger. Its wings are gray and decorated with black markings.

       Since this nectar-feeder is flying at dusk and beyond it is difficult to see any details.  However, since these moths are quite tame, they can be easily approached and photographed using a camera equipped with a flash.  All you have to do to either wait until a Carolina sphinx, begins feeding close by or slowly walked toward one.  As you walk, hold a small flashlight in one hand and your camera in the other.  The flashlight’s beam will help you determine when the moth is in front of your camera lens.  Once the moth is just where you want it,  snap a picture.  With a little luck, you will snap an image that will allow you to study the intricate beauty of this nighttime flyer.

       My family has been enjoying watching Carolina sphinx moths for years.  During this time, we have learned that, out of all of the flowers available to them in our yard, they only feed on four o’clocks.

       If you have a patch of four o’clocks blooming in your yard, go out tonight and see if the Carolina sphinx moths are on patrol.  If they are, I assure you they will give a dazzling performance.

 

      

      

SNOWBERRY CLEARWING MOTHS ARE OFTEN MISTAKEN FOR HUMMINGBIRDS

SNOWBERRY CLEARWING FEEDING AT LANTANTA BLOOMS

SNOWBERRY CLEARWING FEEDING AT LANTANTA BLOOMS

The snowberry clearwing moth has an identify problem. This should come as no surprise since this small (1 1/2-2-inch) moth  doesn’t act like most moths. It prefers to fly about our yards visiting the flowers in our gardens when most moths are resting awaiting the arrival of night.  The fact that it darts from flower much like a much larger ruby-throated hummingbird, only adds to the confusion.

       However, upon closer examination you will see that, unlike a hummingbird, it has two thick, black antennae protruding from its head.  Also, this critter doesn’t have a bill like a hummingbird. Instead it has a long, very thin proboscis that it uses to extract nectar from flowers. 

       It is called a clearwing due to the fact that patches of its wings are devoid of any scales.  Please note that the lantana blooms can been seen through the right wing of the clearwing depicted here.

       The snowberry clearwing is different than other clearwings because it has a cream-colored thorax and a yellow band running around its abdomen. 

       If you watch a snowberry clearwing for a few minutes, you will see that, like a chimney swift, it never stops flying as it feeds.

       The snowberry clearwing has two broods per year and can be seen flying about our yards from spring through summer.

       This moth is named the snowberry clearwing because one of its main host plants in snowberry.  The snowberry clearwing will, however, also use dogbane and honeysuckle as caterpillar hosts.