Friday, 19 June 2020

Promethea Moth love

As some of you know I have some lights up around my house for moths. This year, since I’m home all the time I’ve done more than usual and I’m also hoping to try rearing some caterpillars. The other day that I had a female Cecropia Moth and I kept her over night to see if she’d lay some eggs – she did and I’m patiently waiting for them to hatch.

Right now we’re in peak season for a lot of the big showy Giant Silkworm Moths and I had a female of another species, Promethea Moth show up at my light on Monday night:
Promethea Moth female (slightly bigger than a Monarch for size comparison)
So I captured her and put her in a paper bag overnight hoping for some eggs. She didn’t, so I gave her another night and still none, so I assumed she must not have mated yet. In most of the Giant Silk Moths, the females “call” by releasing pheromones to attract the males, which have an incredible ability to detect these pheromones from large distances (up to a kilometre!). In Promethea, the females call in a very specific time period between about four and six in the afternoon. So, the next day, I put her in a cardboard box with a screen lid. I checked on her several times but no males came. Yesterday, I did the same and was checking regularly…nothing. Then about 5:20 pm when I went outside there was a swarm of 5 or 6 males trying to get into the box! I lifted the lid and a male quickly flew in. Almost instantly she must have stopped calling because the other males dispersed very quickly.
Male Promethea Moth
Pair mating
After about 3.5 hours they uncoupled and the female laid a few eggs in the box. I let the male go and put her in a paper bag (easier to collect the eggs) and she laid some more eggs (total of about 34) by 10:30 pm when I let her go outside.
Promethea eggs
So, I’ve got some more eggs now that I’m hoping will hatch in a week or two! If you're curious about raising some yourself, I found this website which has some good info and photos: https://www.prairiehaven.com/?page_id=9857

Thursday, 4 June 2020

Deluxe moth trap design

There's been a huge growth in interest in moths in Ontario over the last several years...the new Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America (by Ontario's David Beadle and Seabrooke Leckie!!) is certainly a huge factor in that. But there are lots of other important factors, too: there's excellent photo recognition now on iNaturalist (where a lot of Ontario moth-ers are reporting their sightings), the Toronto Entomologists' Association has their moth atlas (and associated Moth's of Ontario iNaturalist project) and of course there are excellent online resources for ID, in the form of Moth Photographers Group and Bug Guide.

You can just leave a light on outside your house or go one step further and buy a specialized bulb and/or set up a white sheet. Or you can build a trap. There are many designs out there and they all are basically a big container with a light source over a funnel. The most effective live trap I have seen is the one that Mary Gartshore and Peter Carson use. I'm not sure if they came up with the design or not (might have come from Mike King and/or David Beadle), but they shared the details with me so I could make my own...and I'm going to share that with you here.

The whole trap costs about $50-100 depending on how/where you get your supplies. Plus you'll need cords and a bulb.

Materials:
~18 gallon "Muck Bucket" - this is the base for the trap. They're sold mostly at hardware and feed stores. I got mine at a local agriculture supply store for about $25. Grainger Canada has them righ tnow for $18 online here.
18 gallon muck bucket
12 inch funnel. These are surprisingly hard to find. Phone around to brew your own beer or make your own wine stores. I ended up getting them at a wine store for about $10. These funnels are perfect because they're designed to sit over the mouth of a large bucket, so they have a small lip around the top edge.
12 inch funnel
Plexiglass. This is for the fins. You'll need two pieces that are about 11 x 11 inches each. I used 1/8 inch thick but 1/4 inch is recommended. I actually snapped my first piece accidentally...so the extra width will give you more strength especially as you weaken it with cutting. You can buy sheets at hardware stores and online on Amazon but you might be able to go to a local hardware store and ask if they have any scrap pieces big enough for you - that would be much cheaper (maybe even free).

Glass bowl. This is the rain cover and is optional if you don't plan on leaving your trap out in the rain ever, but I'd recommend it. Mary and Peter use a Pyrex #322 1 quart mixing bowl. I found something similar on Amazon for $5.

Light socket/cord. You can get this at any hardware store for a few bucks. The best is if you can find one with the cord/attachments coming off the side or off the bottom not perfectly in the centre because ideally you'll have it sitting flush along the bottom. I couldn't get in to a hardware store at the time so ordered this one from Amazon for $12. You can get the same thing off Amazon for much cheaper if you are going to order a few at a time. I was able to make this one work pretty well by unscrewing the plastic cover at the very bottom of the socket, giving a bit of flex to the cord right at the base. It wasn't perfect, but good enough.

Corrugated plastic: this is for the "lid" of the trap. The easiest thing is to find an old election sign but if you can't find one you can order them online from lots of places or you can check your local hardware and craft stores. You'll need a piece that's about 2 x 2 feet. (If you're local I have some extra sheets I could give you)
sheet of corrugated plastic
Margarine container and screen. This is for the drain and again could be omitted but is a good idea to include. I used some scrap window screen I had on hand (again, if you're local I can give you some).

Tools:
Sharpie
Exacto-knife
Glue gun
Something for cutting plexi-glass. I used a dremel tool with a plastic cutting wheel, but you could use any number of other tools. Theoretically you could use an exacto knife but I think you'd end up  A band saw would probably be the easiest.

Assembly:
1. Cut your corrugated plastic for the lid. Basically, trace the top of the muck bucket and then add ~10 cm around it and cut that circle. Then you'll want to line up the handles and cut slits for them. Finally, trace the top of your funnel on the centre of the sheet. Then follow that line about 1 cm inside to create a slightly smaller circle (the exact width should be close the width of the lip on your funnel). All of this can be cut with a sharp exacto knife. You may have to do some small adjustments to make sure the funnel fits properly. Once you're finished, the lid should look something like this:

The "lid" - sheet of corrugated plastic cut to size/shape
2. Cut the narrow part off your funnel. I used my dremel tool for this but an exacto knife would work too. You want to cut it so you leave an opening about two inches across.Mine is two inches exactly and that's big enough to catch the biggest moths we have in Ontario - I caught Cecropia, Luna and several sphinxes in the first couple nights.
Funnel with narrow neck cut off
3. Next you will make your drain. Take your margarine container and cut most of the bottom out of it. Next, cut a circle of screen to cover the bottom of the container and use the glue gun to attach it. Then, cut a hole in the centre of the bottom of the muck bucket and glue your margarine container (face down) over this hole. This should be centred properly so any water that drips down your funnel will fall onto the screen and drain down. By having the screen portion elevated you'll prevent moisture from coming back up.
Margarine container with bottom cut out

drain cover installed

Another look at the drain. There's a hole right through

4. Now it's time for the fins. Peter was good enough to provide me with his pattern on one inch grid paper:
Designs for the fins. This is one inch grid paper
It fit my funnel pretty closely, but I did have to adjust the sides a bit so it would fit fairly snugly. I also had to widen the notches in the top to fit my glass bowl (mine was slightly wider than the one they use). As I mentioned previously, I used a dremel tool to cut the pattern and then used a sanding attachment on the tool to make some fine adjustments. Especially the narrow part at the bottom (where the light socket goes) you want to be quite exact to match the width as close to perfectly as possible.
The fins are cut and sitting together in the funnel
5. Now your fins are cut, fit them together and make sure the fit snuggly in the funnel. You might have to do some back-and-forth here with sanding and fitting until they fit nicely. It's also important to check that the bowl fits on the top now (in the recessed spot created by the notches). You also need to do the same for your light socket to make sure it will fit snuggly in place. Once you're happy with how it all fits, you can glue it with the glue gun, using a bead along each line the two sheets touch.

6. Once the glue is cooled, fit your light socket in place and glue it again with copious amounts. You can then assemble everything and it should look something like this:

Close-up of the light socket glued in place

The finished product.
7. Before you run it, don't forget to fill it with egg cartons so the moths have somewhere they can hide and feel safe once they're stuck inside. Don't block the drain.
The trap all set with egg cartons
In the morning you should have a trap full of moths to look at :)

Bulb: you can use any bulb you like. Mercury Vapor bulbs (like the one pictured above) are the favourite of most moth-ers, but are getting harder and harder to find. If you've got a good lead on a place to find them, please let me know! I've got a few left from an eBay order last year.

Once last tip: if you've got a dusk til dawn outdoor timer that's a handy way to save on energy.

Again, I'd like to thanks Peter Carson and Mary Gartshore for the design of this trap - without their help I'd still be using a much less effective trap.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Ontario birder's guide to radar

There seems to be more and more interest in checking out bird migration live on weather radar maps. So I thought I'd put together a short post to compile some resources.

Seeing birds on radar is not at all new, but there are lots of great websites now for viewing live radar images (or radar loops). I'd recommend everyone who is interested in birds and radar check out eBird's primer.

The short explanation is that radar shoots out a signal, and what you see on radar maps is the reflection. It's mainly used by most people to view precipitation, but when migration is heavy, birds show up too. Here's a recent image from 1 May 2019 from the (US) National Weather Service website (my favourite site for viewing radar images for the entire US):

The above image is an instructive one - precipitation is showing up as blocky, irregular shapes, with very high reflectivity readings (yellows and some reds), and migrating birds are showing up virtually throughout the eastern US. Birds show up as donuts around the radar stations. This is because the radar is "shot" out at an angle, and most birds are all roughly the same height, so very close to the station no birds are getting "hit" (birds are higher), but further out, as the beam gets higher, birds are encountered. Eventually, as one travels farther away, the beam is too high and no longer reflects on any birds.

Here's a marked up version:

Here's a closer view of the Cleveland radar station, back from March 2014. This one comes from Weather Underground, another popular website for bird-radar enthusiasts. Note that I combined several images into a looping GIF to show the station before sunset, and then watching the birds appear in the sky:

The above image shows another characteristic of birds; the reflection increases, but doesn't appear to move. Watch the area above Detroit and you'll see a band of rain moving west to east. The birds just kind of fill the sky (some concentrations along the lake shore).

All of these images shows the reflectivity (higher reflection = brighter image = more birds), but at some weather outlets (including Weather Underground) you can also switch to view velocity, so you can see the direction and speed the birds are moving.

Now you might be wondering why I have only mentioned American radar products so far. The answer is that Canadian stations don't show bird migration very well. If you go to the Environment Canada Ontario Weather Radar page there's almost never any bird-like signals showing up, even when the American sites show heavy migration - what gives? I asked some Environment Canada staff and they told me that they do more processing of the data to eliminate weak signals (e.g. birds), and the Canadian Radar stations operate slightly different. Both give a better image if you really want to use the Radar for its intended purpose, but are bad news for birders.

the good news is that Weather Underground uses mostly unprocessed Radar data on their website, so, if for instance you want to watch for bird migration around Toronto, you can go to their website and select the King City station. If I were a betting man, I'd be betting the next two nights should show some pretty intense migration :)

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

How our past experiences influence our assumptions (geese)

I grew up in southwestern Ontario and not surprisingly, that biased my view on birds and their movements and populations in the province. I don't think there is a better example of this than my view of goose migration.

For most of my life, I thought seeing several hundred or even a thousand Canada Geese was a good flock. And sure enough, scrutiny of any "good-sized" flock (read: a few hundred) in my neck of the woods has a pretty good shot at turning up "something good", usually Cackling or Snow Geese or maybe if you're really lucky a Greater White-fronted or Ross's.
Big or small flock? Depends on where you're from! Spot the Cacklers?
My eyes were opened when I started hanging around this girl, Erica and her family's farm southeast of Ottawa. Turns out what I thought was a lot of geese was pretty sad. Not a day goes by in far southeastern Ontario during migration season when you can't easily find tens of thousands of geese in the air or in the farm fields.

My view of Ontario goose migration, like so many other southern Ontario-centric birders, was extremely flawed. Southeastern Ontario is on a huge goose flyway along the Atlantic coast. In recent years, as the Greater Snow Goose migration has increased in southeastern Ontario, awareness of this seems to be increasing, but still most Ontario birders really don't appreciate how different goose migration is in the southeast.
Greater Snow Geese near Cornwall
This really revealed itself to me while on the OBRC and the committee was discussing a record of Barnacle Geese outside of Ottawa. In short, I am of the belief that Barnacle Goose occurs as a natural vagrant in this part of the province but some people, largely because of their southwestern Ontario view of goose migration, disagree. So, I decided to compile some information...that spiraled a bit out of control and before I knew it I had a decent article for Ontario Birds.

Anyways, this is all to say that I am happy with an article I recently wrote for Ontario Birds. Here are a couple of figures to get you thinking:
Canada Geese banded in Greenland and recovered or re-sighted in Canada and the United States. Prepared using data obtained from the Canadian Wildlife Service Bird Banding Office.
You might notice a similarity with this:
Barnacle Goose reports in eBird for northeast US and Canada.
If you're an OFO member check out the article in the December issue of Ontario Birds. If you're not...why not? (email me and I can send a pdf)

Looking forward to hearing your feedback on this one!

Friday, 30 June 2017

How to Batch Upload iNaturalist Observations to a particular Project

How to Batch Upload iNaturalist Observations to a particular Project – in this case, the Canada 150 – Canada Day Biodiversity Challenge. Prepared by Colin D. Jones.

Step #1 – go to the relevant project page, in this case
and click on “Add from your observations”

This will search for and show any observations that meet the project’s criteria – see graphic below.
Step #2 – click on “Batch edit”



Step #3 – click on “Select All”



This will select all of the observations (see check in box to the left of each observation).
Step #4 – click on “Add to project”



This will bring up a window of all of the projects that you have joined.
Step #5 – click on “Add” next to the relevant project – in this case “Canada 150 – Canada Day Biodiversity Challenge”



That’s it – you’re done. All of these observation will now be added to the project.
If additional observations are added to iNaturalist later, the same process can be used to batch upload another set.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

What to do with all of your non-bird sightings?

eBird has become the go-to source for bird information after what was at first slow buy-in from the birding community. There are a few hold-outs still in Ontario but it's a great example of how powerful a community can be when they are organized...virtually every question about bird distribution and abundance patterns is now best answered using eBird data.

But if you're like me, you occasionally look at things that don't have feathers and beaks. Seems like a shame to just let all of that great data go to waste. Over the years I have tried a number of other citizen science portals to report butterflies, moths, invasive species, reptiles and amphibians, bumblebees and more but I usually just got frustrated that the systems weren't as good as eBird and that I really didn't want to use ten different apps/programs.

I'm happy to say that I think I have settled on a universal program for all of my non-bird sightings - iNaturalst - and I hope you'll join me in adding your observations too. After all, these programs are more fun and provide better data as more people join in.

Since I bet most of you haven't used iNaturalist but are familiar with eBird I'll outline some of the differences and similarities between the two programs. eBird by far offers many superior features that are geared towards birders and will certainly continue to be the platform of choice for other birders and myself.

Checklist or record based? A really important thing to know going in to iNaturalist is that it is focused on individual records, not site checklists like eBird. The argument is that birders are really unique (perhaps along with "honorary birds" butterflies and dragonflies) in that they think about things in a site list kind of way, whereas most other naturalist think about things one record at a time. This works pretty well for iNaturalist but means it is very tedious if you want to enter a list of every species you observed at a site.
http://inaturalist.ca/observations/6005358
Photos are key. In iNaturalist, photos are strongly encouraged for all records. That's not to say you have to have a photo, but it is strongly encouraged and your record won't be eligible for "research grade" without one. The plus side to this is that if you submit all of your photos to iNaturalist you are backing them up and iNaturalist will then let you search by species or locations, so it is actually a great photo organizer tool (same with eBird). Another difference from eBird is that you can set which type of copyright you want attached to each photo you upload.

All species. iNaturalist takes records of ALL species. Yes, that means fungi, plants, birds, insects, etc....so far in Ontario there are reports of about 4700 species.

Don't have to know what you saw! iNaturalist lets you identify a record to any level. So, if you know it is an insect but no idea what kind, you can just report it as an insect. Someone will likely come along and suggest a higher identification for you.

Simple app. The app for iNaturalist is really simple to use, since you are submitting one record at a time you just take a photo and iNaturalist grabs the location and date/time...then all you have to do is enter your identification.

Uncertainty distance. This is a feature I always have wished for in eBird; in iNaturalist, each record has a location but also the uncertainty distance.

Location obscuring. You can manually obscure a location for a record to a 27 km area, or you can even set it as private; both of these options keep the detailed location of the record on file but other people will either see an obscured location or just the province, unless you give them permission by adding it to their project. All records of rare species are automatically obscured.
For rare species like this, the sighting is somewhere in this rectangle. The dot is the randomized coordinates displayed.

Keeps all of your lists. Just like eBird, iNaturalist keeps lists for you - but unlike eBird these include all species and you can add to a list even if you don't have a record.

Community Review. This is a big difference from eBird and both a strength and weakness of iNaturalist. Review can be done by any iNaturalist user - just chime in and agree or offer an alternative ID of a record.

Places. In iNaturalist, places are defined with polygons - like eBird for Countries, States/Provinces, Counties, and IBAs. But in iNaturalist, anyone can create a place and define its boundaries. This is really handy because it lets you automatically collect all records that fall within that place.

Projects. This is a feature that eBird doesn't have (or need?) - it allows anyone to create a project which is basically a data aggregation tool. For example, you can have a bioblitz project to automatically collect records within a date/location or you can have a "standard" project like the NHIC's Rare Species of Ontario which collects records of provincially rare species (join it!).

Unlimited data fields. The bare minimum in iNaturalist is very simple, just date, location, and species but anyone can create a new data field and anyone else can add a value for it to an observation. Think things like insect life stage, breeding bird evidence, etc. It's very flexible if you want to track something in particular.

iNaturalist is by no means a perfect platform, but I think it is much better than any other system that takes records of all taxonomic groups out there. With the use of Projects, all of those other citizen science projects can grab your observations and add them to their databases. And, like eBird, it will only get better as more people use it.

By contributing your records to iNaturalist you're turning your observations into digital specimens making them available to inform our knowledge and contribute to conservation.

So please join the growing number of Ontario naturalists submitting to iNaturalist...let's make Ontario the powerhouse it is with eBird!

As always, I'm happy to help people if you have questions about getting started.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Yard birding magic

It's been a long winter here in Peterborough...we got a taste of spring at the end of February, but since then it has been back to winter. And winter wasn't too exciting for birds since there was no real finch movement of any sort and feeder activity in general has been very poor. The one glimmer of excitement has been a nice Great Gray Owl irruption, but anyways, the point is, birding has been slow.

Things have started changing in the past week and birding around my yard has been full of surprises. For me, yard birding is one of the best ways to enjoy birding since it results in being very aware of even small changes. Plus, it gives you an excuse to get excited for birds that might be common just a few kilometres away!

My excellent week of yard birding began last Wednesday (March 15) when I looked out my kitchen window and noticed this sitting on one of my feeder poles:
Hermit Thrush
I can only assume this is a bird that over-wintered nearby, rather than an extremely early migrant. After all, it was an excellent year for berry-eating birds here in Peterborough.

The next piece of excitement was REALLY exciting. We were minding our business on Saturday (March 18) when my neighbour knocked on the door to tell me she had seen a large owl. I quickly put on pants and boots, grabbed my camera, and ran down the road to see....
Great Gray Owl!
After my excitement wore off a little bit, I slowly backed up until I was standing on my yard and could still see the owl, thereby adding it to my yard list!

Sunday on the yard brought some more excitement with a flock of Bohemian Waxwings descending (finally!) on our crab apple tree. They feasted all afternoon, interspersing some sips of water from nearby puddles. They were a very photogenic bunch:






That brings us to today (March 20)...what surprises were in store? First steps outside and I was greeted by a singing Winter Wren, then Erica texted me mid-afternoon to say there was a Barred Owl in our wetland. As soon as I got home, I went to check and sure enough there it was:

That Barred Owl was extra neat because it was in the same spot one was a couple of months ago, and it eventually flew to virtually the same spot the Great Gray was just a couple days earlier! I went out at dusk to see if any owls were out and about and while I didn't see/hear any, I was greeted by a displaying American Woodcock; more yard birding magic!

All in all, it just goes to show that sometimes you don't have to travel too far to find some great birds.