15-21 August 2005
Installment #282---Visitor #

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Join us for another
Winter Hummingbird Expedition to Costa Rica
in November/December 2005 or February 2006

Our hummingbird banding demonstrations for
2005 are now complete.
(Click on the logo at left for details about booking
"Hummingbird Mornings" presentations for your own facility in 2006 or beyond)


As described last week, our August bird banding demonstrations in Kentucky, Virginia, and Maryland were punctuated by perspiration precipitating from every pore. Thus, we weren't surprised this week to still be sweating as we finished our 2005 slate of "Hummingbird Mornings" closer to home in Mecklenburg County NC. According to the Dog Star (Sirius), summer "dog days" were actually over on 11 August, but that didn't stop heat AND humidity in the 90s from soaking our Operation RubyThroat T-shirt during our most recent presentations. And although things weren't much cooler back at Hilton Pond Center, just like last week there still was plenty of hot-weather nature activity to observe and photograph. As a result, we'd like to present another "Dog Days Kinnikinnick" to illustrate the diversity. We know the term "kinnikinnick" from undergrad days at Newberry College, where we occasionally contributed to the student arts magazine--called the "Kinnikinnick" after an old Native American word meaning "mixture." That was an appropriate name for a journal containing everything from short stories to poems to drawings, but our kinnikinnick for this week is the following assortment of photos taken as we walked around Hilton Pond.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

We actually didn't get very far before our first photographic subject presented itself--actually, THEMselves--on the sliding entry door to our office. Through the pane we could see two large, black insects clinging to the glass and, in a sense, to each other. Because of their bright orange heads, jet black wings, and blue-black bodies, we recognized the creatures as Cisseps fulvicollis or Yellow-collared Scape Moths--so-called because the first section of their large, feathery antennae is a joint called a "scape." In late summer we frequently find these diurnal moths nectaring on various asters and Goldenrod flowers (left), but never had we seen a pair copulating. We first photographed them from inside the Center's old farmhouse so we could see their ventral side (top photo), after which we carefully slid open the door and went outside for a dorsal view (below).

Like most of their night-flying relatives, scape moths fold their wings back when at rest, with forewings completely covering the hindwings. In the photo just above, the moth on the right appears lighter in color, but this was merely an artifact of ambient lighting; except for their heads and "collars," both moths were completely black. To be honest, we found it impossible to tell which insect was male and which was female, although the broader, more receptive antennae of the uppermost moth may indicate male-ness. Had they been separate, we might have used a hand lens to see the male's blunt abdomen and "clasper"--a secondary sexual structure that creates a tight bond with the female and assures sperm transmission. The clasper on this particular male obviously worked quite well because he never separated from his mate during the half hour or so we spent making photographs--and for at least three hours following. Eventually, when we weren't watching, the moths uncoupled and flew in different directions; we suspect the female was off to oviposit on some species of lichen, grass, or sedge--the preferred food of her soon-to-hatch caterpillars.

Not far from the office door where we found the scape moths we took a moment to admire a huge stand of Trumpet Creeper that nurtures scores of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds each summer. This patch, which began from a single wind-blown seed back in the early 1980s, has gotten progressively larger over the past two decades and now covers about 2,000 square feet. Most of the semi-woody Trumpet Creeper vines are more or less horizontal--they grow about six feet tall before falling over--but some now ascend vertically on various trees in their midst. The photo above isn't particularly unusual, except when we mention that it had to be made with a 500mm telephoto lens because the tubular orange blossoms were in the top of a Black Walnut tree about 30 feet off the ground. Some homeowners don't like Trumpet Creeper, Campsis radicans, because it tends to ramble across lawns, so we encourage folks to plant it at the base of a mature tree and sit back to watch their hummers feed at second-story heights or higher. After all, Trumpet Creeper IS a "hummingbird magnet," and the one flower guaranteed to bring in ruby-throats from late May through early September all across the species' North American breeding range.

As we walked further into the woods near Hilton Pond itself, we noticed something yellowish flying erratically across the trail about 20 yards ahead, apparently a small butterfly. By the time we would have caught up to it, the organism had moved ahead another ten yards, so we spent the next several minutes waiting for it to stop flying. Finally, it lit on a cluster of dead needles on an Eastern Red Cedar--at just about our head height and in a very shady spot. We held aloft our Canon 20D with macro lens and, shooting blind, set it to autofocus while holding it as close as we dared to the butterfly. After making several exposures we lowered the camera, at which point the butterfly flitted away. We knew from its behavior, size, and general appearance that it must be one of the Skippers--a butterfly family (Hesperiidae) whose species we have considerable difficulty identifying in the field. Fortunately, when we re-played our images in the camera, one of them was sharp enough to let us call our little butterfly a male Zabulon Skipper, Poanes zabulon, a common species found across most of the eastern and central U.S. Since our checklist of local butterflies is rather sparse, we had hoped this would be a new species for Hilton Pond Center, but we have seen it before on the property--particularly on a Pickerelweed leaf a few years back (above right).

On the way back to the office, we stopped at the east bank of Hilton Pond to check a patch of Swamp Milkweed that--like our original Trumpet Creeper plant--appeared from nowhere a few years back. The milkweed, growing right on the pond edge, must have found a habitat to its liking, for each summer the number and size of the plants increases. Last year they stood at about 48", and now they're a foot taller. We're really grateful for these native plants that "volunteer" at the Center, mostly because we don't have to plant or take care of them. We enjoy the color and shape of the Swamp Milkweed's interesting blossom (above), and like that it's almost guaranteed to attract several kinds of insects we can study and photograph.

The Swamp Milkweed patch is about 50 yards directly outside our office, so we see it nearly every time we look out the window. For several weeks we'd been observing visits by large butterflies, and with binoculars we even could tell bees and wasps and other pollinators also were drinking the plant's nectar. When we walked up and examined the milkweed more closely, we found probing the blossoms both the yellow and the black forms of female Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, Papilio glaucus. There was also a male. Sexes can be differentiated in this species because in males trailing edges of the hindwing are all black, while females have metallic blue spots on the rear margin's upper surface.

As we photographed these big butterflies, an orange and black Monarch also landed on a Swamp Milkweed blossom, of particular interest because we get very few Monarchs at Hilton Pond Center AND because this milkweed species isn't usually thought of as one on which Monarchs typically lay eggs. Nonetheless, after finishing with the swallowtails we immediately put down our camera and began to examine the Swamp Milkweed for signs of Monarch larvae. We looked long and hard at stems and upper leaf surfaces with no success, so we dropped to one knee and concentrated on the undersides of leaves instead. Sure enough, with sunlight above the leaf, we could see several tiny caterpillar silhouettes--our first positive evidence in 24 years that Hilton Pond Center has a breeding population of Monarch butterflies!

This discovery was cause for great jubilation, since we've long supported Monarch Watch and even wing-tagged dozens of migrating adult Monarchs several autumns ago in North Carolina. However, the half-inch caterpillar we found at Hilton Pond Center didn't resemble the three-inch bright black and white and yellow stage people usually associate with Monarchs, Danaus plexippus; instead it was tiny third instar that looked greenish with narrow black bands. It did have those familiar antennae-like black structures at both ends, and finally--under magnification (above)--the caterpillar's true pattern came through; with our macro lens we could see its distinctive tricolor banding was there after all.

As minute as this Monarch "cat" is now, it still has two more instar stages to molt through. Since there's plenty of time before first frost, if our new-found caterpillar avoids birds, wasps, and other predators, it should grow into the fourth then fifth instar (below), form a chrysalis, and a couple of weeks later expupate as an adult. Then it will flap its colorful orange and black wings southward toward those famous wintering grounds in the mountains of Mexico--although we've heard at least a few Monarchs from the Carolinas Coast may go to Florida or Cuba instead. (There's even evidence some Monarchs may overwinter on the Gulf Coast, possibly because of the introduction of evergreen, perennial Scarlet Milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, from South America.) In any event, the Monarch isn't able to survive Carolina Piedmont winters as a chrysalis and is bound to migrate to some warmer, more tropical place.

So that's our Hilton Pond bag for this week: Copulating scape moths on a patio door, a couple of butterfly species, mile-high Trumpet Creeper, and our first-ever Monarch caterpillars. Hot weather or not, that's quite a mix, or--as they might say at Newberry College--a very nice "Dog Days Kinnikinnick."

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

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Be sure to scroll down for an account of all birds banded or recaptured during the week, plus other nature notes of interest.

"This Week at Hilton Pond" is written & photographed
by Bill Hilton Jr., executive director of
Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History.

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Please report your
sightings of
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds


15-21 August 2005

Ruby-throated Hummingbird--17
Northern Cardinal--4
House Finch--1

* = New species for 2005

3 species
22 individuals

45 species
997 individuals

(since 28 June 1982)
124 species
46,304 individuals

(with original banding date, sex, and current age)
Northern Cardinal (1)
05/06/00--after 6th year female
11/21/02--after 3rd year male

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

This Week at Hilton Pond
is part of the

--Our 17 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds tied last week for the most in a seven-day period this year. By week's end we had banded 88 RTHUs at Hilton Pond Center in 2005, putting us at 95% of our 22-year average through 21 Aug. (These numbers show an on-going increase in our local population; e.g., we ended last week at 89% of where we "should have been" by 14 Aug.)

--The lone House Finch captured this week was a juvenile whose left eye was inflamed by infectious conjunctivitis (above)--the third of 13 fledglings so affected since 29 July. Conjunctivitis is a highly contagious ailment of HOFI populations. In severe cases the disease can kill birds, but we've re-trapped some previously affected individuals that showed no sign of disease. Conjunctivitis may be worsened by tube-style seed feeders that birds rub against as they insert their heads into feeding ports, so cleaning your feeders on a weekly basis may help keep the disease from spreading.


On 20 Aug 2005--following our fifth annual "Hummingbird Morning" banding demonstrations in McDowell Nature Preserve near Charlotte NC--we held a "mini-reunion" at Hilton Pond Center for several Carolinians who joined us on our Costa Rica hummingbird excursions last December. On hand were (photo above, kneeling l-r) Lisa Schuermann and Suzanne Parsons Beckman; (standing l-r) trip leader Bill Hilton Jr., Betsy Russell, Amy Mullenhoff, and Susan Hilton.

Due to the great success of last year's two expeditions, we're offering two new Costa Rica trips this winter to study and band Ruby-throated Hummingbirds on their wintering grounds. And PLEASE don't think a field trip to Costa Rica is something you'd never be able to do. The excursions are amazingly inexpensive and not strenuous. Plus, they allow ANYONE from age 21 to senior citizen to help discover something new about winter behavior of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that spend half the year at feeders in YOUR North American backyard. We'll also have time to observe and photograph lots of Coast Rican plants and animals, including the Plain-capped Starthroat (above left). All the Hilton Pond mini-reunion participants pictured above guarantee you'll learn a lot and have great fun in sunny Costa Rica this winter--a time when it's likely to be wet and cold and yucky across much of North America!

If you're interesting in joining a memorable tropical hummingbird trip on 26 Nov-3 Dec 2005 or 11-18 February 2006, please see Hummingbird Expeditions to Costa Rica and register today. Spaces are limited and filling fast, so you'll want to get your registration in as soon as possible.

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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka The Piedmont Naturalist, it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this Web site--including articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this Web site, contact the Webmaster.

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