Friday, May 31, 2013

It's a bird, it's a bee..... nope, it's a Hummingbird Moth

This Common Clearwing moth, also known as a Hummingbird Moth, was photographed gathering nectar from flowers at Stony Brook WLS in Norfolk, MA. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
Covered in sunscreen, fully hydrated and with hat and sunglasses on, I ventured out for a short while this afternoon to do a little birding south of Boston in the towns of Easton and Norfolk Massachusetts. This afternoon I definitely felt very far away from those frozen days in January and February when I was piling on layers of fleece and wool and trudging through snow and ice, chasing after wintering sea ducks and mixed flocks of kinglets and chickadees.

While I didn't add any species to my year list I did see a number of unexpected things along the way, including the moth in the photo above. This fascinating insect, often called a Hummingbird Moth for the superficial resemblance it bears to hummingbirds, is actually more accurately known as the Common Clearwing.  I came across this one at Stoney Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Norfolk, as it was gathering nectar from flowers beside a shady path. They are definitely one of the most unusual visitors to show up in gardens and forests in New England in the summer. If you would like to learn more about them you can check out this Mass Audubon webpage.This site from the US Forest Service also offers details on the life history of these moths and tips on how to identify them.

At Old Pond in Easton I spotted a Baltimore Oriole and two high-flying Red-tailed Hawks taking advantage of the thermals way up among the clouds, as well as two Yellow Warblers and a Chimney Swift. I was only there a short while it was a beautiful place to stop and check for wildlife.I spent more time at Stony Brook WLS where I moved slowly in the afternoon humidity, taking care not to get dehydrated as I hunted for wading birds at the edges of the wetlands. While I was there I saw two female Wood Ducks, a number of Great Blue Heron and many of the other usual birds I would expect to see there this time of year. The moths, butterflies and dragonflies defintiely stole the show today though, with several very colorful dragonflies flying maddeningly just beyond the range of my camera. I did manage to get a shot of an Eastern Pond Hawk dragonfly taking a rest on the stem of a plant. These bright green insects are fierce predators, catching and eating other bugs, including butterflies.

An Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly at rest. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.

If you've never spent any time looking closely at dragonflies or damselflies I highly recommend it. They display an impressive range of coloration and behaviors and are an important link in the food chain both as predators and prey, so the next time your out hiking or birding or just enjoying nature take a minute to look at the moths, butterflies and dragonflies around you - I bet you'll be glad you did.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.

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