June 15 - Balsam Lake, City of Kawartha Lakes
June 16 - Innisfil area, Simcoe County
June 17 - Bala area, Muskoka District
June 18 - From Bala to Elk Lake, Timiskaming District
June 19 - Elk Lake to Fraserdale
June 20 - Boreal Butterflies and Woodpeckers of Fraserdale
June 21 - Smooth Rock Falls to Hearst Birding, Matachewan Mothing
June 22 - Matachewan to Hilliardton Marsh
June 23 - Purplish Coppers in Parry Sound District
I set up my moth light and sheet at an observation platform overlooking one of the wetland cells at Hilliardton Marsh. Since this was my first year of regular mothing excursions, a lot of what I was attempting was trial and error. This evening I did not find very much at all, despite the warm temperatures and calm conditions. Perhaps the area was just too open, and maybe my moth light only pulls in species from a small radius. Moths found in the forests and scrubby areas surrounding the wetlands likely would not venture out into the open marsh.
That being said, tens of thousands of insects visited the sheet, but over 99% of them were recently hatched leafhopper nymphs from the genus Macrosteles. It was quite the spectacle!
Many other aquatic insects made appearances as well, including an impressive American Giant Water Bug (Lethocerus americanus).
The second most numerous insect (after the leafhopper nymphs) were the mosquitoes. My bug jacket was essential, yet I was getting hammered around my wrists, neck, forehead, and anywhere else where they could reach my skin through the mesh. Mothing in northern Ontario in June is not for the faint of heart.
The moth diversity was quite low but there were a few species of interest, as there always is. This Bedstraw Hawkmoth (Hyles gallii) is, to date, still the only individual I have seen in Ontario.
Perhaps of greater interest was my very first ghost moth - a Silver-spotted Ghost Moth (Sthenopis argenteomaculatus). This genus exhibits a unique reproductive cycle. Larvae bore into the roots of various plants (in the case of S. argenteomaculatus, it prefers alders, willows, and birches), and take two years to complete their life cycle, though adults are short-lived.
The birding was quite fruitful; not unexpected, considering that I was surrounded by productive marshland during the peak of the breeding season. I tallied all of the expected marsh birds including American Bittern, Virginia Rail, Sora, Pied-billed Grebe, Common Yellowthroat and Swamp Sparrow. Two distant Marsh Wrens rattled away throughout the evening, a rare species in Timiskaming District.
Below are a few more photos of insects that were attracted to the moth sheet.
I called it a night shortly after midnight. The mosquitoes were starting to get to me, and the mothing was a bit slow. Sleep came quickly after another busy day.
Up to this point in the trip I had not experienced any issues at all, though that streak would end on the morning of June 23. I awoke to a dead car battery. It was 100% my fault, as I had left an interior dashboard light on through the night. Luckily, I was located close to civilization and a short five-minute walk down the road brought me into range of a cell tower. I was able to call in a tow truck from nearby New Liskeard, to sort me out and give me a boost. While I waited, I birded along the road as well as the edge of the marsh. Finally, by 11 AM my car was up and running, and I hit the road.
The cool, overcast morning brought heavy rain showers closer to noon, but I cruised around anyways, hoping to come across new birds for my Timiskaming List. The rain did not help matters and the only addition was Great Crested Flycatcher, right at the northern extent of the species' range. I later added House Sparrow in New Liskeard, a species that is surprisingly tricky in the district.
My motivation had begun to wane and so I drove south along Highway 11. Perhaps I would spend the night somewhere around North Bay, but I had not really made up my mind. As I approached North Bay I received a message from a good friend of mine, Daniel Riley, who was completing some work surveys in Parry Sound District. Dan had happened upon a small population of a type of butterfly called Purplish Copper near the town of Britt. The Purplish Copper is a bit of an enigma in Ontario. It is presumably more widespread than what is currently understood, but populations seem ephemeral and only a few sites are known at any given time. This spurred me on and I decided to try for the coppers that evening. I passed North Bay and pressed onwards.
My poor luck from the morning turned and a glorious band of clear skies broke through the rain as I pulled into Britt. I had arrived with about an hour of daylight remaining and I was worried that the overcast and rainy conditions would persist, effectively removing any chance of finding butterflies. I met Dan and it did not take long before the Purplish Coppers appeared. We discovered quite a few of them!
We noted males and females, including some mating individuals. The habitat was unremarkably - a weedy ditch - but it was located quite close to some extensive wetland habitat interspersed with rock barrens.
In this next photo you can see why the species is called Purplish Copper. When the light hits the upperside of the male's forewing just so, it produces a "purplish" sheen.
The Purplish Copper is mainly a species of western North America. It used to be more widespread in Ontario, but nowadays it is an extremely elusive beast with most recent records from Thunder Bay and Rainy River Districts, as well as Manitoulin Island. As I mentioned earlier, populations seem to pop up and then disappear for no apparent reason.
The caterpillars of this species feed mainly on smartweed (Polygonum) and dock (Rubex), common plants of wet prairies, ditches, and marshes. Lots of apparently suitable habitat exists along the shoreline of Georgian Bay and I would surmise that Purplish Coppers are much more widespread than currently known. However, there are not that many people seeking out this species, it generally does not move around a lot, it sticks close to its food-plants, and it only flies for a short period of time each year. In Ontario there are two broods each summer.
It was nice to hang out with Dan for a bit in the evening as it was my first social interaction in quite some time! I spent the night in Britt and planned to drive home in the morning.
As dawn broke the skies were gray and the wind was strong, with rain in the forecast. I really had lucked out the previous evening with the short window of sun since there would be no hope in finding Purplish Coppers in these unsavory conditions! I drove around some side-roads near Parry Sound to do some car-birding, but there was virtually nothing singing in the weather conditions. Finally, around noon, I hit the road and motored down the highway back to Cambridge.
My trip had come to an end, but what a trip it was. It just further reinforced how much I enjoy exploring in central and northern Ontario. I can't wait to head back up to many of these areas again sometime in the future - there are so many more moths to find!