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The Vinalhaven Sightings Report is organized and edited by Kirk Gentalen on behalf of Vinalhaven Land Trust and Maine Coast Heritage Trust. Out and about on Vinalhaven, MCHT steward Kirk Gentalen reports on what he and others have seen in their travels. Contributions of stories and photos are welcome, and can be sent to


Friday, August 1, 2014

snowberry clearwing

Welcome to the mini-series VSR – August 1st


Quick pond and patch action

This one is about insects, there will be another shortly, probably not til after the wedding, about birds and fungus. Trying to keep things “not too long”. Nice goal.
dragonfly nymph
VLT annual meeting - hey - don't forget to go to the VLT annual meeting at Skoog Park today at 4pm

“Pond watching” is a fun meditation consisting of watching a pond, fresh, salt, or sassy.

“Patch watching” is a fun meditation consisting of watching a patch, be it plant, fungal, or nicotine. 


slaty skimmer
Pond watching, or “Going Odonuts” –

 Janet Ghores sent in this report after visiting several ponds around the island

“I have a dragonfly/pond report. Slaty skimmers are dueling, mating, and dipping their tails in the water to lay eggs in all the ponds I visited.


male variable dancer
Spreadwings are mating and laying eggs at Long pond. Green darner also there.

The back of the boom quarry has a lot of variable dancers, (great name, the violet damselflies, , the female light brown) all paired up and laying eggs on the vegetation and floating
stuff at the edge…Chalk fronted corporals are around, too, and a red meadowhawk was at Macks pond”
female variable dancer

Wow- best Odonata report ever sent into the VSR. If you’re in or around a pond on island keep an out for dragons and damsels. Doesn’t take too long to see a lot of action, and that’s the way we like it! Thanks for the report Janet.

Love the unknown - A few notes on meadowhawks and dancers from Nikula and Sones.

a male red meadowhawk - possibly a White-faced

“the red meadowhawks of North America present an intractable field problem. Although some species are recognizable in the field, the identification of many, even in the hand, is difficult at best. The taxonomy of this complex is unclear, and the exact number of species uncertain”. Sounds dreamy


female red meadowhawk, possibly a white-faced
“The thirty species of dancers in North America present a difficult identification challenge

...Males can often be indentified in the field by a combination of size and color pattern. Most females (and some males), however, must frequently be identified simply as “dancer species”.” Birds are so easy in comparison.


spot-winged glider
The Spot-winged Glider (Pantala hymenaea) was seen along the driveway at the Lane’s Island Preserve. Here’s what Nikula and Somes say about this “cool” skimmer (Family Libellulidae).

 "Behavior: Flier. Spends long periods in gliding flight, interspersing short bursts of flapping, usually about 6-12 feet above ground. Often participates in feeding swarms. Perches by hanging vertically from vegetation, usually a few feet above the ground. Many individuals migrate north spring/early summer to breed; their offspring emerge and fly south in late summer or early fall.”

dogbane patch
Anyway – lots going on with this and other dragonfly species – so “go odonuts!” and check out some dragonflies at a pond or wetlands near you. Or even in the woods.

 Patchwork - Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and Spreading Dogbane (Apocynum andrsaemifolium)  are both members of the Dogbane Family – Apocynaceae. They both bleed “white” (“milky sap”) when torn, and both species can form big patches most likely made of plenty of clones and underground connections.

you an really see the smooth edge
of the "margin of clear area" on this one

Clearwing Moths, routinely called Hummingbird Moths are an example of a cool Lepidoptera (for all you Lepidoptonuts!). They come in two deliciously diurnal flavors –original, classic Hummingbird (Hermaris thysbe) and the new, crunchy Snowberry (Hemaris diffinis)!  And they love Milkweed and Dogbane (and other flowers).


The clearwings are considered “small sphinx moths” and belong to the family Sphingidae, Subfamily Macroglossinae. Differences in thorax color (Hummingbird thoraxes are brown, Snowberry are yellow) and margin of clear area of forewing (Hummingbird margins are bumpy, Snowberry margins are smooth) are reliable ways to tell the two species apart, as far as the great “Peterson’s Field Guide to Moths of Northeast North America” is concerned. (awesome book by the way– thanks Sandy!). I’d even call it an epic field guide.
curvy proboscis


Whatever. One day last week I saw three at the same time in a small section of a huge patch of dogbane. Leif helped me find one by my house as well.  4 is now a personal record for Clearwings in one day. People with personal flower patches probably see a lot more. Anyway….

frontal clearwing

this monarch was hassled by 3 Fritts
on Poor Farm Road

Also in the patches are the Butterflies – which as the milkweed and dogbane start to age (maybe one more rain should do it on the patches I have seen) the butterflies are starting to turn to the thistle patches for sustenance.


I am currently up to 4 monarchs sighted- which smashes last year’s total or 2, doublin’ it even! – and many other folks are mentioning seeing some, which is nice. Poor Farm Road and Burnt Island (North Haven) are where I have seen them recently…..(7/30) Make it 5 monarchs – first animal we saw on Isles o’ Shoals on Wednesday. Nice milkweed patch out there. It’s not Vinalhaven though.


Great Spangled Frittilaries
have a wide, creamy band on the
hindwing underside
Fritillaries – “puttin’ on the fritts” with many a Great Spangled and Atlantis Fritillary also patrolling patches the action has been very easy to observe. These “Fritts” mean business…..

...we try to emphasize to folks that what appears to be a delicate dance of butterflies, caught in a world of never-ending pheromones and sweet nectar scents, is often a merciless battle.

Lately, The Fritts have been awesome to watch lately as they seem to be agitated by anything that flies or sucks nectar.



Atlantis Frittilaries have a thinner cream band with
black dots along the band
The female monarch I watched at Poor Farm had only moments before it was chased from the Milkweed patch by three rather aggressive Great Spangled Fritillaries. One fritt must have followed her for 30 seconds, escorting her over 200 feet away from the patch! (And not in a straight path at all). The fritts have also been hassling the male Monarchs I have observed patrolling milkweed patches, but not as intense or for as long as the group of 3 followed the female.

this white admiral had no stripe
This got us (the royal “us”) wondering if it could have anything to do with pheromones she was releasing (let’s be honest, she could go to any flower for nectar (ahhh, that sweet nectar), the reason she is at the Milkweed patch is to mate – that’s really why we all go there – it’s not for the food (not that the food is bad or anything)). So maybe that’s why those Fritts were curious about (as well as agitated by) the female Monarch’s presence (we are all at the mercy of pheromones – species be damned!). A possible scenario I guess. Regardless, I felt uncomfortable with the whole thing.

1. an angry Atlantis Frittilary approaches a white admiral

Anyway, an Atlantis Frittilary took exception with a White Admiral sucking nectar at a dogbane flower and mobbed it “til the white admiral sings” as they say, which means til it bailed. Check out this photo series –and this is only a portion of the entire mobbing session – as the frit tapproaches the White admiral….

2, swinging underneath

…swings underneath...
... and appears to land on the Admiral (how disrespectful) showing us its upperwing pattern…..



3. landing on the admiral

4. looping back around
….the Fritt then flies a loop to gain some momentum and then comes in and nails (kicks) the white admiral with its super long middle pair of legs (where are the front legs? – whole ‘nuther story – but they don’t call their family  “brush-footed” for nuthin’). Looks like contact is made on the forrewing – this is what we are talking about. Butterflies kick ass and each other...

5. kicking the admiral

…but oh, they do more than that. Why do the Fritts want the place to themselves? It’s  partially the nectar (ahh, that sweet nectar) but also partially the action.

Great Spangled Frittilaries, the one on the right is

A single Great Spangled pair and a single Atlantis Fritillary pairs have been observed lately, ‘pairs with benefits” that is. Within each pair a lead butterfly flies direct (looking for a place to land) with a second butterfly following in crazy, hot pursuit (ahh, those sweet pheromones) with wings flapping and fluttering at a pace much more rapid than the lead one. To anthropomorphize, it looks as if the second butterfly is going “ga-ga” for the lead one and telling her to hurry up and find a place to land. Which makes us figure that the second is a male. Obviously and possibly, I don’t know.


a closer look
Both pairs observed found leaves that suited the lead butterfly on which both “partners” landed with the second Fritt continuing to flap incessantly even though flight was not required as they had landed on a leaf! At that point the lead Fritt’s lifted “her” abdomen at an angle and appeared to open the tip her abdomen (or maybe it was open the whole time). Anyway, the second frit seems to be in a daze (anthropomorphosizing), possibly in a cloud of mating pheromones released from the rear end of her abdomen (as humans, most of us do not release mating pheromones from the rear end of our abdomen). In neither case was “the sex act fully consummated”, maybe the guy lost interest (typical, but not so typical before the act is consummated) or maybe he couldn’t perform (typical, or so I hear) , or there was something wrong with her pheromones, or maybe whatever….
inside an Atlantis Frittilary

 …the thing that got me was that, for the first two times that I know of, I was looking into the reproductive section or organ, or equivalent of an organ (not sure what I mean here, but it’s important that I wrote that), of a butterfly.

 You see, when butterflies mate its butt to butt (and that's why they call them "butterflies"), and that’s always funny. With antennae leading the way and about a gagillion eyeballs popping out of their sockets the second butterfly looked to be checking out her (assumed) “goods”.

grey comma was an added bonus

For whatever reason, these pictures just feel a little “wrong” to me. Like getting a photo of that special moment before a cloacal kiss, when things (cloacals) are in full sight. It’s an anthropomorphic feeling, but I felt like I was invading a little. And not excited about it at all – let’s make that clear. Anyway, enjoy the inside view of these butterflies.
grey commas are "anglewings"
and can disappear when wings are closed


Deadly blossom - And even though it’s a different species of Milkweed, on Sunday I read about some insects getting their legs caught in Swamp Milkweed, being unable to escape the plant’s clutches, and dying in the blossom (deadly blossom). And as often happens, one day you read something cool and then the next day you know what to look for and you observe it. This Fritt and the Virginia Ctenuchid moth met their end in the milkweed. Patches can be tough. And no, I did help these lepids. It was time, not that I am to judge when it is time. But I could clearly see that since they were caught, that it was time. Heartless? Hardly.



this Virginia Ctenucid moth never  flew off
one less frit

Damn – and while we are on the insect topic – I was making some bridges on the Basin platform loop trail, cutting and splitting spruce. It took a few days (spread out over a week or so) to finish the job and on some interesting insects at the scene….
this horntail liked the new bridges so much
it decided to have its young grow up in them


…this is a horntail, and horntails (family Siricidae) are “in” the Hymenoptera, the order of Bees, Ants, Wasps, Sawflies, and Kin. They are considered “Kin” we would guess. Anyway, this is a White-horned Horntail (Urocerus albicornis) and according to the Audubon “Guide to North American Insects and Spiders” the Urocerus genus is known for the following


“Life cycle – Eggs are thrust into wood of dead trees or felled timber. Larvae tunnel into sap and heartwood, later prepare pupal chambers under bark and in crevices, where they overwinter. Adults emerge in late spring.

nice antennae on this borer

These horntails are prevalent where timber has been left on the ground after timber-cutting operations. They can be controlled by burning wastes and infected wood.”


So great, my new bridges are going to be the winter home for horntails? Even before they were finished. They weren’t the only ones….

borers galore

…there were plenty of this dude to go around – some kind of Boring Beetle (not ringo though!) freaks that kept showing up when I was putting on the finishing chainsaw touches. Brian Feezor had the same experience with these dudes way out Poole’s Hill way, which I guess should remind me to make bridging in the non-summer months. Live and learn people!


So much stuff it takes two to cover it all, all the yakkin’ that is. Next comes the mushroom and bird one. I swear…..   


Here’s a little leif art –
its a skull

and some lego sets he's been working on!  

putting the finishing touches on