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
The previous evening's mothing activities had kept me up late, and so I did not rise until after the sun had risen. I wolfed down a hearty breakfast, consisting of a vegetarian omelette on toast along with a strong mug of coffee, all made with my one-burner stove. Feeling recharged, I grabbed my camera and headed out into the rock barrens.
If there is one native Ontario animal that I would identify as my favourite species, I think it would have to be the Eastern Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus). Pit vipers fascinate me, and Ontario's only venomous snake holds a special place in my heart. Despite seeing over 100 massasaugas over the years, each subsequent one brings a smile to my face. The massasaugas at this particular location have taught me a great deal over the years.
I only found one on this morning's walk. It was in a location where I had found a female massasauga with young, several Augusts ago, and perhaps this was even the same snake. My photos are not the best since the last thing I wanted to do was harass this individual or cause it to change its behaviour, just to take a "better" photo. I will not lie, a decade ago I probably would have acted differently. I suppose as I have gotten older, maybe I have gained a tidbit or two of wisdom. Besides, I prefer photos of massasaugas in their nature habitat compared to a fake looking, posed photograph.
Late May through June is an optimal time of year to find large numbers of reptiles in this part of Ontario. This mid-June day was hottest than normal, but I still was able to discover several other reptiles during my excursion.
This gravid Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) had a stump for a tail as a result of an old injury. Skinks are able to drop their tails when faced with a threat; the idea is that the still-wriggling tail will hold greater interest for the predator, allowing the lizard to scamper away to safety.
Northern Ringneck Snakes (Diadophis punctatus edwardsii) are my most frequently encountered species of snake at this location, just edging out Massasaugas. I found several individuals by carefully looking under stones and other debris lying flat over the bedrock.
This young Eastern Milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum traingulum) was found in the same manner as the Ringneck Snakes. In these photos, you can see that the eyes are cloudy. This means that the snake will be undergoing ecdysis, or the shedding of its skin, in a few days time. Often, snakes found under cover objects show cloudy eyes like this. My theory is that this provides them with security - they are vulnerable at this time, with reduced vision - but these cover objects also provide increased humidity levels, allowing the snakes to shed their skin with greater ease.
A short while later, I inadvertently flushed a large sparrow from underneath a juniper shrub. I recognized the bird as a female Eastern Towhee. It did not take much searching to discover her nest, which was filled with several chicks. After a quick photo I retreated, in hopes that I did not disturb them too much.
I left the area by 10:30 or so. I still had a long drive ahead of me to reach my next destination, several hours to the north. The drive to Timiskaming District was relatively uneventful and I made a few birding stops along the way. The New Liskeard lagoons produced a surprising diversity of ducks, along with some vocalizing Soras. I filled up on gas in town and then drove northwest, heading towards the Hilda Lake burn where I planned to spend the night.
My reasoning for visiting this area was three-fold. First, I had a chance at finding some "good" birds for the district which had been reported up here - Vesper Sparrow in particular. Second, it was well off the beaten path, which is my kind of place. There was an extremely low chance that I would run into any other people up here. And third, I figured that I could find a nice, open area with a variety of nearby habitats to set up my moth sheet, and hopefully attract a variety of moth species.
Nightfall takes a while to commence at this latitude and time of year. As dusk fell, a singing Vesper Sparrow and hoards of Hermit Thrushes and White-throated Sparrows filled the air with sound. Speaking of hoards, the mosquitoes were quite ferocious, but my bug jacket kept them mostly at bay. It was only my wrists, hands and forehead next to my headlamp strap that were not spared. Oh, and my legs whenever I bent down, allowing the little bastards to bite through my jeans.
Since this was my very first June spent mothing in Ontario, I was blown away by the number of sphinx moths throughout the evening. The southern reaches of the boreal forest can have high numbers and diversity, and this night gave me an idea of how crazy it can be! I counted well over thirty individual sphinx moths during the night, of seven different species. Azalea Sphinx (Darapsa choerilus), of which two are pictured above, was a new one for me. Their colours seem so strange for a sphinx moth.
The rarest sphinx moth of the night was this beauty: my first ever Wild Cherry Sphinx (Sphinx drupiferarum). As their name implies the hostplants include cherry (Prunus sp.), as well as apple (Malus sp.), lilac (Syringa vulgaris) and hackberry (Celtis occidentalis). At this latitude, the species presumably feeds on Pin Cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) or Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana).
Of course, the rather drab and ubiquitous Northern Pine Sphinx (Lapara bombycoides) was the most common sphinx of the night. This was not a great surprise, given all of the tamarack and pine found throughout the area.
Giant silkworm moths were also well-represented, with four species and eight individuals. My highlight of the night were two Columbia Silkmoths (Hyalophora columbia). This species is absent from southern Ontario and far northern Ontario - most records seem to be from the southern Boreal forest. It is generally uncommon to rare, but can be locally common in some areas at the right time of year. Columbia Silkmoth caterpillars feed mainly on tamarack (Larix laricina), a frequent species within the area where I had set up my sheet.
The most common giant silkworm moth species of the evening was, as expected, the Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia). This is a widespread species that is not picky when it comes to its foodplants.
Rounding out the giant silkworm moths, one each of Luna Moth (Actias luna) and Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus) were tallied. It was sometimes hard to find and photograph the smaller moths on the sheet due to all of the pandemonium caused by the sphinx moths and giant silkworm moths!
The big moths all vied for my attention. This was no surprise, given that I had never experienced such diversity of sphinx moths and giant silkworm moths before. However, I tried to find and photograph as many of the smaller moths as possible as well. Given the relatively limitied moth sampling that has occurred in this part of Ontario, it was no surprise that I found a few rare, or at least, relatively unknown species.
At the time, I recognized the above moth as a type of dagger (Acronicta sp.) but it was one that I had never laid eyes on before. Once I had returned home, I was able to identify it as the Quadrate Dagger (Acronicta quadrata), a species found mostly in the southern part of the boreal forest. Few photos of this species are available (mine was the first adult posted on bugguide.net), and I cannot find out too much information about life history. One source mentions that cherries (Prunus sp.) seem to be the predominate foodplants for this species.
The other rarity of the evening was this relatively drab species, a type of crambid moth called Udea inquinatalis. It is a poorly known and rarely recorded moth found in the boreal zone of Europe/Asia and North America. It appears that birch (Betula sp.) is preferred a a foodplant.
I spotted this recently deceased Masked Shrew (Sorex cinereus) while walking between the moth sheet and my car, late at night. It was the first time that I had identified this species before. Masked Shrews are not particularly rare, but like most shrews, they are hard to find unless you set up pitfall traps.
I love the name of this next moth: the Dubious Tiger Moth (Spilosoma dubia). Like many moths featured in this post, it also feeds on cherries (Prunus sp.). Again, Pin Cherry or Choke Cherry are the most likely foodplants in this environment. To date, this is the only Dubious Tiger Moth that I have seen.
Ontario has fifteen species of Zale moths, given our current knowledge. This is one of the uncommon species, known as Green-dusted Zale (Zale aeruginosa). Oak (Quercus sp.), blueberry (Vaccinium sp.) and spruce (Picea sp.) are listed as foodplants. Unfortunately, this individual was rather worn!
The Shadowy Arches (Drasteria adumbrata) is another rarely reported species in Ontario. Again, this is likely a function of the relatively infrequent moth surveying that has been completed in this part of the province, and not a reflection of its true status.
The next few moths are relatively common or widespread species, but attractive in their own right.
I will finish this post with two more infrequently observed moths in Ontario. First, a Brown-bordered Geometer (Eumacaria madopata), followed by a Northern Pitch Twig Moth (Retinia albicapitana).
Unfortunately, my powerbank battery ran out around 1:00 AM, forcing me to call it early. The sheet was still rocking at that hour and I would have stayed out for another few hours. Oh well, next time...