Species Spotlight: Luna Moth


Sunday, July 21st, 2013

Species Spotlight: Luna Moth

Luna Moth

Luna Moth

If you’ve ever walked out your door in the morning and encountered a Luna Moth clinging to the underside of a light or on the screen door, you know what a delight it is to see these large, lime green moths. The Luna, known as the “moon moth,” is perhaps the most famous among giant silkworm moths. Its 4 ½-inch wingspan, together with the delicate wing coloration and the added grace of its tails, make it a striking creature to see. It ranges east of the Great Plains.


  • When the Luna hatches its first instar is 6 – 8 mm (.23inches) and grows to 65mm (2.5 inches) before pupating.
  • Luna Moths are only found in North America and is quite common throughout its range
  • Female Luna’s release a potent perfume by contracting muscles in the abdomen.  It is almost undetectable to humans, but the scent is detected by a male Luna up to a half a mile away.
  • Female Lunas prefer to deposit their fertilized eggs on hickory, birch, sweet gum or persimmon trees.
  • Luna’s deposit their eggs on trees where other species of moths have laid their eggs, making stiff competition for the caterpillars.

Giant silkworm moths are hard to spot because they prefer to fly high in the trees. The caterpillars are lime green with yellow bands, and red and silver tubercles (small, knob-like or rounded protuberances that sometimes bear a spine).

Luna Moth

Luna Moth

Celebrate Moth Week 201 by sharing your Moth sightings on NatureShare.

To find a Moth Week event near you visit Moth Week.

Summer Rain Brings Boletes!


Friday, September 7th, 2012

Summer Rains Bring Boletes! Guest Post by Noah Siegel 

After a dry July throughout much of the northeast, we have started to get some decent rain from summer thunderstorms. With this rain, mushrooms have started springing up in our forests.

One group in particular, the Boletes, are fruiting really well right now. This past weekend in Connecticut I saw 54 species of Boletes, which is about half of the known species from the state. This is an amazing show of diversity in one day.

Unlike the white button mushrooms or Portobello you buy in the store, which has gills on the underside of the cap, Boletes have a sponge-like layer of tightly packed tubes that have small round openings on the end called pores.

A lot of Boletes are distinctive and are easy to identify. Quite a few are edible, some are inedible; usually because they are bitter tasting, and a few are known to be poisonous.

King Bolete mushroom

King Bolete © Jaroslav Maly

Well known edible boletes include: Porcini, also known as the King Bolete, Boletus edulis; which is common in the fall in New England, the Birch Bolete or Common Scaber Stalk (Leccinum scabrum) and the Slippery Jacks (Suillus sp).

Most of the ones I found this past weekend, although large and plentiful, weren’t edible.  They were three similar looking Tylopilus species, all of which are bitter tasting.

The large and colorful Violet-gray Bolete, (Tylopilus plumbeoviolaceus) is out in force right now. It has a pretty violet cap and deep purple stalk when young, as it ages the stalk retains the purple color but the cap fades purplish-gray to gray-brown.

Red-brown Bolete mushrooms

Red-brown Bolete (Tylopilus rubrobrunneus) © Noah Siegel

The Red-brown Bolete (Tylopilus rubrobrunneus) has a deep purple-brown to red-brown cap when young, also fading gray-brown in age, pinkish pores and an off-white stalk that develops dingy olive stains, especially when handled. With caps up to 15 inches across, this is our largest bolete in the east.

Another beautiful bitter Tylopilus in the oak-beech woods is the Violet-tinted Bolete, (Tylopilus violatinctus), which has a pretty pinkish-violet cap when young but in age can be tough to tell apart from the two species mentioned above.

Unfortunately the bitter taste of these mushroom makes them inedible to most.  However I know a couple of people who lack the ability to taste bitterness, who eat and enjoy these large fleshy Tylopilus and have little competition collecting them for the table.

Frost's Bolete mushroom

Frost’s Bolete © Noah Siegel

One of the most striking boletes in the world, Frost’s Bolete, Boletus frostii made an appearance as well. The key features are it’s beautiful tacky candy-apple red cap, red pores and coarsely reticulated, almost shaggy red stalk. I have a hard time passing up a photo opportunity whenever I see this mushroom, even though I have photographed at least 20 different collections of it, I still stop to take another picture. It is edible but some people are put off by it’s sour, almost lemony taste. Care should also be taken when collecting this for the table because some of the red pored, blue staining boletes are poisonous.

The little Chestnut Bolete (Gyroporus castaneus) is having a very good year as well. With a finely velvety orange to orange-brown cap, white to creamy-yellow pores and an orange stalk that is brittle and hollow sets this apart from other little brown boletes. Chestnut Boletes are a great edible; they are sweet and crunchy when cooked and make a tasty little morsel.

Bluing Bolete mushroom

Bluing Bolete © Noah Siegel

Another neat Gyroporus I saw this past week was the Bluing Bolete, (G. cyanescens). With a white to straw colored cap, white to creamy pores and a whitish stalk this drab bolete doesn’t stand out. But when you touch or break it, all parts of it instantly stain a brilliant deep blue color. It also has a brittle and often hollow stalk; a unique feature that sets Gyroporus apart from other boletes.

The Two-colored Bolete (Boletus bicolor) is all over lawns and roadsides under oak trees right now in MA. It has a red suede cap, yellow pores that stain blue slowly and a red stalk. Although it is edible it has LOTS of look-alikes, some of which are poisonous. Because of this it’s not a recommended edible.

Browse NatureShare for some of these and other boletes.

boletes mushrooms

54 species of Boletes from a single day in CT © Noah Siegel

Identifying Raptors in Flight


Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Identifying Raptors in Flight

Peregrine Falcon

Adult Peregrine Falcon © Doug Wechsler/VIREO

Raptors and vultures in flight challenge birders to become proficient at identification from afar. Shape, flight style, and plumage characteristics are often evident enough to distinguish species, even at great distances, especially among the very large birds and the very small. The raptors intermediate in size between  the smallest and the largest, however,  require careful study. The six species described below can be confused with each other in various ways, even though they are not all closely related.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon

The Peregrine Falcon’s long, pointed wings often jut forward at the wrist, for a crossbow silhouette. Peregrine has a shorter tail than Mississippi Kite, and its fleet, fluid wing strokes are unlike the more delicate, buoyant actions of the kite.

Mississippi Kite

Mississippi Kite (Immature Female 1st Year) ©Brian K. Wheeler/VIREO

Mississippi Kite

The Mississippi Kite has long, pointed wings and a slender body. Despite its smaller size it can resemble a Peregrine Falcon when seen at a distance or in silhouette, but unlike falcons, kites twist and fan the long tail often when foraging.

Prairie Falcon

Adult Prairie Falcon © Greg Lasley

Prairie Falcon

The Prairie Falcon is regularly mistaken for Peregrine over the continent’s western interior. Prairie differs in its small size and its shape: it is more evenly slender of body and less pointed in the primary region (the outer portion of the wings).




Gyrfalcon, despite its larger size, is also sometimes taken for a Peregrine; it has much broader wings overall, and its wingtips often look barely pointed. With its very heavy body and broad tail it can resemble a soaring buteo.

Northern Goshawk

Juvenile Northern Goshawk © Richard Crossley/VIREO

Northern Goshawk

A soaring juvenile Northern Goshawk can be confused with an immature Red-shouldered Hawk: both have a long, broad, banded tail, rather long, full, tapered wings with a slight bulge in the secondaries, and streaky under parts.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Adult Red-Shouldered Hawk (Florida) © Brian K. Wheeler/VIREO

Red-shouldered Hawk

A Red-shouldered Hawk juvenile is distinguished by the pale crescents at the base of the primaries. Compared to Northern Goshawk, its wingtips are more square-cut and less tapered, its wings are fuller, and its tail is not as long.

For more tips on identifying Raptors check out a post by Josh Haas: “Hawk ID Part1: ID Techniques 101″

Remarkable Nature Places: The Birds of Bear River


Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Remarkable Nature Place: The Birds of Bear River, Utah

Bear River National Wildlife Refuge

By Laura and William Riley

from “Guide to the National Wildlife Refuges” by Laura and William Riley

Presented in partnership with National Wildlife Refuge Association, Protecting America’s Wildlife

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge © Mia McPherson

The explorer Captain Howard Stanbury said of Bear River in 1849, “I have seen large flocks of birds there before… but never did I behold anything like the immense numbers here congregated together…as far as the eye can see..”

In the mid-1980s this great sanctuary seemed all but lost, flooded out after five years of record snowmelt and runoff. But this was followed by five years of drought and receding waters, and while work remains to be done on water control and visitor facilities, Bear River Refuge is productive again. The 12-mile auto-tour route is open and plans are under way for refuge expansion and enhancement.

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge © Mia McPherson

Again almost unbelievable numbers of beautiful and interesting birds gather here so visibly that a visit to these ponds and salt marshes where the Bear River empties into the Great Salt Lake is a stunning treat for novice and seasoned naturalists alike.

Tundra Swan Birds

Tundra Swan, adult © Arthur Morris/VIREO

Sometimes in spring and fall migration millions of birds of all kinds may stop by, their low babbling “conversations” never halting, even at night. Some of the spectacles seen then can only be called amazing: thousands of golden-tufted eared grebes covering the Bear River, a half-million swallows like a tremendous windborne cloud, hundreds of marbled godwits and long-billed dowitchers. The largest concentrations of tundra swans anywhere- around 12,000 of these most graceful of snowy waterfowl-may come through in fall. There can be a half-million or more ducks, including northern shovelers, green-winged teal, and pintails plus canvasbacks, cinnamon teal, and others- all against a stunning backdrop of the blue Promotory Mountains on the west and snowy crests of the Wasatch Range on the east. Stay until dusk- local people claim “the West’s most gorgeous sunsets” and it’s hard to dispute.

In May hundreds of young bird families may be along the auto-tour route, in the water, on the edges of the dikes, or in the roadways-killdeer doing their “broken-wing” to distract attention from nests of babies, willets, coots, lovely pink-legged, black-necked stilts, and downy Canada goslings. Some of the gosling’s parents volunteer for extra duties so that diligent pairs sometimes are seen leading lines of 20 or more young, theirs and their neighbors’. Of the 222 species of birds identified as visiting Bear River at one time or another, at least 60 species have nested.

Western Grebe Birds

Western Grebe adult, nonbreeding © Greg Lasley/VIREO

Sometimes up to 5,000 breeding pairs of delicate, graceful avocets, their heads and necks russet with breeding color, are present on the dikes. Ruddy ducks bob their heads towards their mates in frantic excitement, showing off bright blue bills freshly colored for the occasion. Western grebes, called the “swan grebe” for their graceful curving white necks, perform remarkable courtship “water ballets”, later build floating nests and carry their young about on their backs, their offspring managing to hang on even when their parents dive for food. Huge rolling carp weighing 20 to 35 pounds are an impressive sight in May and June.

Long-billed Curlew Birds

Long-billed Curlew, adult © Glenn Bartley/VIREO

White pelicans with nine-foot wingspreads are here throughout the warmer months; so are long-billed curlews and sometimes thousands of Wilson’s phalaropes, spotted sandpipers, and Forster’s terns. Northern harriers are common all year. So are black-billed magpies and ravens. Bald and golden eagles abound in late fall, winter and early spring, sometimes a hundred or more.

Double-crested Cormorant Birds

Double-crested Cormorant adults, breeding © Joe Fuhrman/VIREO

Great blue and black-crowned night herons have had sizable nesting colonies in the past and it is hoped will again. So have white-faced ibises, snowy egrets, California and Franklin’s gulls, double-crested cormorants, Caspian terns, and many others.

The airboat was first developed here so refuge personnel could oversee over 100 square miles of shallow water and marsh. The staff are knowledgeable in suggesting how to best see everything, with excellent leaflets about the refuge and related nature subjects.

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge © Mia McPherson

How to get there: From Brigham City turn west on Forrest Street, which becomes Bird Refuge Road, go 15 miles to beginning of auto tour route. (New visitor center planned about two miles west of I-15.)

Open: Daylight hours. Office 8-4:30 weekdays.

Best times to visit: Mid-April through December (but all year interesting).

What to see: Wide spectrum of birds, especially water-oriented, many in great numbers.

What to do: 12-mile auto-tour route; photography-fine opportunities from car window but permits granted for temporary blinds.

Where to stay: Motels-in Brigham City. Campgrounds-Cache National Forest, three miles east of Brigham City, also KOA and private in Brigham City; Willard Bay State Park, just south of refuge; others.

Points of interest nearby: Golden Spike National Monument, 25 miles northwest; Cache and Wasatch National Forests, east and southeast; Mormon Tabernacle inSalt Lake City; interesting old buildings in Brigham City.

For more information: Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, 866 South Main Street, Brigham City, Utah 84302. Phone: (801) 723-5887.

Guide to the National Wildlife Refuges by Laura and William Riley is available from:

Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Did You Know? Nesters in Cavities – Birds


Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Did You Know? Nesters in Cavities – Birds

Wood Duck Birds

Wood Duck, adult female © Glenn Bartley/VIREO

When the wood ducklings of North America are ready to leave their tree trunk nest in late June or July, they look down to the ground perhaps twenty to thirty feet away. Not hesitating, they come out of the hole in a rush and fling their tiny bodies outward as though they already know how to fly. But they fall, bounce and in a moment are ready to follow their mother, voicing her concern from a nearby thicket.

The wood duck is one of a number of waterfowl to use a cavity to build its nest.

Cavity-seekers are spread through almost every other family of birds: flycatchers, owls, penguins, auks, hawks, sparrows, starlings, jackdaws, woodpeckers and many others. The search for the right cavity becomes a study in the art of survival.

There are rarely enough cavities. Those birds that do not find suitable cavities do not raise families.

The bluebird of North America, which has long accustomed itself to seeking low cavities in hollow trees so that it would not be in such fierce competition with all the woodpeckers, now must contest the ubiquitous starling.

Cactus Wren Birds

Cactus Wren, adult © Brian E. Small/VIREO

The cactus wren waits until a gila woodpecker has drilled a hole in a large organ-pipe cactus, then seeks to take over the cavity.

Elf Owl Birds

Elf Owl, adult and owlets in nest © Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO

Owls, elf owls for example, vie with day birds for a chance at the hollow tree cavities or holes in saguaros.

Birds so well occupy every level of the environments of earth from the darkest caves to the highest mountains that it was inevitable that they would make such good use of holes in trees, or in caves, or in sandy and clay banks.

They have extended the possibility of their survival, not merely by accommodating themselves to natural holes but also by building their own, as do the many wood boring woodpeckers, the burrowing owls of the American prairies.

The bank-digging bee-eaters of Africa and Australia.

Bank Swallow Birds

Bank Swallow, nest © Greg Lasley/VIREO

The bank swallows of North America dig long tunnels in soft banks, despite their relatively weak beaks and feeble feet.

The puffins of the North Atlantic, members of the auk family, dig deep burrows on offshore islands and so find sanctuary from prowling peregrine falcons, from jaegers and foxes. The urge to dig, to burrow, to drill wood, to seek complete concealment is an innate force of evolution as each species seeks the same result with different means.

The cavity-seekers are not united by species or in physical form or geography. They include many sea birds as well as owls, wrens as well as parrots, warblers as well as kingfishers. And there is no conformity to the types of cavities sought, or the methods used to nest in them, to build them, to acquire them or to commander them. Each species has conformed to the availability of cavities and has evolved accordingly.

Atlantic Puffin Birds

Atlantic Puffin adult, breeding © Garth McElroy/VIREO

Puffins dig underground tunnels close together to create widespread underground refuges of nesting birds.

The rhinoceros auklet of British Columbia digs out individual tunnels, which may be as long as thirty feet, making it virtually impossible for any predator to reach the eggs buried so deeply in the ground.

The burrowers, it would seem, should be physically powerful, but this is not always true.

The bee-eaters are quite slight physically, and so are all of the smaller kingfishers. But this does not prevent them from digging with their beaks and kicking out the loose earth with their feet like digging mammals.

The woodpeckers are the master builders of the cavity-makers, as opposed to the cavity-seekers, and they are specially adapted to the work. They have heavy skulls, strong gripping feet and stiff tails to support them while clinging to the tree, powerful beaks with capability of making staccato blows-all of which enable them to dig into solid wood.

But not even physical adaptation is necessary to make a cavity-digger. Chickaees dig holes in trees but, unequipped with either heavy heads or strong bills, they search for trees already rotted and so are able to excavate as effectively as the woodpeckers can chisel.

After the chickadee come an array of birds that search for existing cavities, either naturally formed or made by others.

The nuthatches look for chinks in trees, formed by branches partially broken from the trunk and then healed into place. If the entrance is too big, they will partially seal it with clay, allowing just enough room for their slight bodies to slip safely.

The cavity-seekers and cavity-builders are studies in the force of evolution. They have grouped themselves according to the sophistication of their evolution.

Razorbill Birds

Razorbill adult, breeding © David Tipling/VIREO

Those that nest in natural holes-fissures in soil or rock, apertures between boulders along the seashore, such as razorbills and guillemots, or in caves along the sea shore, such as Humboldt penguins-have not found it necessary to devise more complex shelters.

The next step in the evolution of the cavity nest is taken by those birds that use the burrow nest.

The small petrels, for instance, have weak, webbed feet and even smaller bills, but they somehow manage to dig deep burrows on the islands where they nest in offshore waters. Such burrowing is made even more extraordinary by the fact that is done at night-the petrels are totally day birds during the rest of their nonbreeding lives.

By digging a burrow the bird can be greatly extend its range of breeding possibilities.

Burrowing owls usually claims burrows that have been abandoned by prairie dogs or pocket gophers but is quite capable of digging its own.

Puffins are safe from gyrfalcons and peregrine falcons and eagles, which once constantly prowled their northern breeding islands.

Black-capped Petrel Birds

Black-capped Petrel, adult © Harold Stiver/VIREO

The petrels are safe from their great enemies, the gulls.

Many birds of the Andes have been able to colonize the high mountains because of their capacity to dig in loose soil or under rocks, thus achieving not only safety from enemies but also more or less constant temperatures.

There the technique is modified yet further by the Andean flicker which, lacking trees for its nesting place, has taken to burrowing in to the ground.

The tree-cavity nesters include a more widely diffused group of birds.

The woodlands and the forest edges give more opportunities for breeding and feeding than do less diverse environments, such as open grasslands.

Thus many species have had the chance to exploit the opportunities if cavity-nesting. Here both owls and parrots find similar refuges, as do the hoopoes and the rollers, the pigeons and the toucans, the trogons and some of the ducks, the flycatchers and the starlings, the tits and the barbets.

In one sense, at least, the cavity-seekers are all more successful forms of evolution than the nest builders, despite the great skill of the weavers and the others that make complicated warmer constructions.

Only about half of the eggs laid in cavities are hatched out.

Cavity nesting is a fine point of evolution, and the cavity-seekers exemplify the ingenuity of the bird to use every part of its environment to survive in a world of enemies.

Dawn Chorus: Nature’s Best Bird Songs


Friday, August 10th, 2012

Wood Thrush © Brian E. Small/Vireo


Dawn Chorus: Nature’s Best Bird Songs by Meg Lowman

As I come over the hill, I hear the wood thrush singing his evening lay. This is the only bird whose note affects me like music, affects the flow and tenor of my thoughts, my fancy and imagination. It lifts and exhilarates me … It is a medicative draught to my soul. It is an elixir to my eyes and a fountain of youth to all my senses…

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 1853

The time was 4:24 a.m. I sat upright in bed, awakened by an inspirational choir that just burst into sound. Vacationing in the woods of northern Vermont, I took a June sojourn back to my childhood forests of New England. Sleeping until noon is an obvious privilege of vacation, but late sleepers in the short Northern summer miss one of the best musical events of the year.

The American Robin was the first songster on nature’s program. Opening up the dawn chorus with a melodious, cheerful message, it announced to the forest denizens that sunrise was imminent. Soon, that dawn harbinger was joined by other robins, a trio in full song. As if not to be outdone, the White-throated Sparrows trilled, “Oh sweet Canada, Canada.” Almost 150 years after Thoreau described New England songbirds, their melodies have remained remarkably true over time.

White-throated Sparrow birds

White-throated Sparrow, adult (bright) © Robert Royse/VIREO

Within 10 minutes of the robin’s wake-up song, the entire hillside was in full symphony – Red-eyed Vireo, House Wren, bluebird, goldfinch, Ovenbird, Song Sparrow, Eastern Wood-Peewee. I was awestruck and wide awake – no going back to bed now. By 5 a.m., all musicians were in full song. Suddenly the forest quieted for a brief lull. One soloist took center stage. Its flutelike song and resplendent trills filled every hollow of the forest, sending chills down my spine. Thoreau was correct in saying that the Wood Thrush “is an elixir to my eyes and a fountain of youth to all my senses.”

Eastern Wood-Pewee birds

Eastern Wood-Pewee, adult © Brian E. Small/VIREO

In North Carolina, the dawn chorus in downtown Raleigh is very different. Robins provide the wake-up call (often a predawn solo!), following soon after by Carolina Wrens, cardinals, mockingbirds. As an urban dweller, I rejoice to have feathered residents announcing the day.

Carolina Wren birds

Carolina Wren, adult © Glenn Bartley/VIREO

After hearing the Wood and Hermit Thrushes in the spruce boughs of Vermont, my annual pilgrimage back to childhood is complete. Like an opera buff, I am willing to travel great distances to hear my favorite singers. By midmorning, the forest is relatively quiet. Having faithfully announced the new day, my feathered musical troupe moves from song to other activities – nest-building, tending to their young, foraging for food and defending territories. There is something inspirational, almost celestial, about the dawn chorus. Birds seem to celebrate each new day with great optimism, but after a stunning performance, they move on to the business of survival.

Margaret D. Lowman, Ph.D.

About Margaret D. Lowman, Ph.D.: As Director of North Carolina’s new Nature Research Center (NRC), Meg Lowman oversees all aspects of this cutting-edge research center including staff supervision, research laboratories, technology, fund-raising, strategic planning, and integration with existing Museum programs.


The Bird that Would be A Fish: American Dipper


Friday, August 10th, 2012

The Bird That Would Be A Fish: American Dipper, Cinclus mexicanus by Bob Moore

The American Dipper is a strong contestant for the strangest feeding strategy award.

American Dipper Birds

American Dipper, Cinclus mexicanus, adult © Glenn Bartley/VIREO

This small (­7.5”) dark-gray, North American songbird resides along the banks of rushing streams, where it is often seen disappearing into the froth and foam of whitewater to certain peril, only to re-emerge, unfazed, seconds later. Dippers are experts at understanding the currents and eddies of whitewater, for it is there that they find their preferred food of insects, larvae, and occasionally small fish. While they are always going for a “dip”, these birds might get their name from their peculiar habit of bobbing up and down with their whole body.

American Dippers will stand on wet, moss soaked rocks surrounded by swirling current, or wade, occasionally with their head underwater in a shallow eddy, looking for prey. When they see a promising morsel in deeper water, in they dive. They walk along the streambed to reach their prize, even in currents that would be considered too fast for a person to safely walk. They use powerful beats of their stout wings underwater to stabilize and propel themselves through and out of turbulent water.

Dippers are able to see underwater in fast-moving currents thanks to a thin membrane that covers their eyes like a clear eyelid. Scale-like closures cover their nostrils when they are underwater. They have much larger oil glands than other songbirds, enabling them to preen their plumage with oil to prevent saturation. With such specific adaptations and feeding habits, these little songbirds really do compete with trout for the same food. Both animals share the same needs: clean, cool moving water supporting a healthy population of aquatic invertebrates.

American Dipper Birds

American Dipper, Cinclus mexicanus, adult © Kevin Smith/VIREO

Dippers don’t like to venture too far from the stream. They situate their nest, a small oven-like hut of woven moss and vegetation, in a bank or cliff not far from the water, or out on a rock midstream. When the four or five white eggs hatch, young dippers must quickly adapt to their surroundings. By the time they leave the nest for the first time, they are competent divers, swimmers, and climbers.

American Dippers are incredibly adaptive, and can survive in some of the harshest habitats. They are active during arctic winters when temperatures can drop to minus 100 degrees F, feeding in streams that are kept open by deep, underground springs.

Video: Exploring with Dick Hutto – American Dippers

Remarkable Nature Place: Richardson’s Bay


Friday, August 10th, 2012

Remarkable Nature Places – Richardson’s Bay, CA

Richardson’s Bay Courtesy of Richardson Bay Audubon Center & Sanctuary

The 11 acres of land and 900 acres of open water protected by the Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary provides essential habitat for resident and migratory birds in the San Francisco Bay area.  Nestled in the midst of a sprawling urban area, this Important Bird Area is dedicated to restoring and preserving the ecosystems upon which these birds depend.

Brown Pelicans & Cormorants © Bob Hinz

The daughter of a tenant farmer, Rose da Fonta Verrall, had lived most of her life on the 11-acre knoll overlooking Richardson Bay.  Known locally as the “Goat Lady,” she allowed her small herd of goats to graze on the land that had been given to her by a former suitor. (The landowner’s son was not allowed to marry Rose, but that didn’t stop him from giving her some land.)

Richardson’s Bay Fog Courtesy of Richardson Bay Audubon Center & Sanctuary

During the 1950’s, there was a plan to fill in a large portion of Richardson Bay to create space for hundreds of houses.  Local citizens were very concerned that they were going to lose the Bay.  Not willing to allow her land and the nearby bay to fall to developers, Mrs. Verrall donated her land to the National Audubon Society to be used as headquarters for a wildlife sanctuary.  Richardson Bay was saved by this extraordinary donation and by the efforts of local citizens, conservationists, and the National Audubon Society, who worked together to acquire additional properties.

Shore Birds © Jen Miller

Recognizing its significance, nearby wetlands (including Richardson Bay) have been designated as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Site of Hemispheric Importance for shorebirds (the highest possible ranking).  Along with its conservation efforts, the Center provides environmental education opportunities through day camps, Scout programs, field trips, youth internships, and weekend programs for kids and families.

Enjoy the spectacular views along the ½ mile trail, and visit the hummingbird garden, redwood grove, pond, and shoreline; you’ll understand why so many people have worked so hard to preserve and restore this wonderful place.

Allen's Hummingbird birds

Allen’s Hummingbird Courtesy of Richardson Bay Audubon Center & Sanctuary

Did You Know? Facts about Butterflies


Friday, August 10th, 2012

Some butterflies are particularly foul tasting, and they advertise the fact with bright and distinctive colors.

Monarch Butterflies

Monarch with caterpillar © E. R. Degginger, Color-Pic, Inc.

If an insect tastes bad it wants birds to know it.  Monarch butterflies have a bitter taste that is disliked by birds and mammals.  The taste comes from milkweed, which is food for monarch larvae.

Common Milkweed

Common Milkweed © Justine Riegel

The Viceroy butterfly is famous for mimicking the Monarch, and birds which have learned to avoid Monarchs also keep clear of the look-alike Viceroy. Viceroys also get protection from their mildly fearsome appearance, with its hunched and horned foreparts.

Viceroy Butterflies

Viceroy, northern © Rick Cech

Another nasty tasting and brilliantly colored butterfly is the “Pixie” which discourages attackers by imitating distasteful tropical moths. The Pixie is a member of a South American genus called Melanis, with contains some of the most brightly colored butterflies in the world.

Red-bordered Pixie Butterflies

Red-bordered Pixie © Rick Cech

Did You Know? Moth Facts


Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Facts about Moths

The Luna Moth

Luna Moth

Luna Moth

If you’ve ever walked out your door in the morning and encountered a Luna Moth clinging to the underside of a light or on the screen door, you know what a delight it is to see these large, lime green moths. The Luna, known as the “moon moth,” is perhaps the most famous among giant silkworm moths. Its 4 ½-inch wingspan, together with the delicate wing coloration and the added grace of its tails, make it a striking creature to see. It ranges east of the Great Plains.

  • When the Luna hatches its first instar is 6 – 8 mm (.23inches) and grows to 65mm (2.5 inches) before pupating.
  • Luna Moths are endangered due to deforestation and pesticides.
  • Female Luna’s release a potent perfume by contracting muscles in the abdomen.  It is almost undetectable to humans, but the scent is detected by a male Luna up to a half a mile away.
  • Female Lunas prefer to deposit their fertilized eggs on hickory, birch, sweet gum or persimmon trees.
  • Luna’s deposit their eggs on trees where other species of moths have laid their eggs, making stiff competition for the caterpillars.

Giant silkworm moths are hard to spot because they prefer to fly high in the trees. The caterpillars are lime green with yellow bands, and red and silver tubercles (small, knob-like or rounded protuberances that sometimes bear a spine).

Luna Moth

Luna Moth

Tiger Moths

The Rattlebox Moth is one of the few moths active during daylight hours.

Rattlebox Moth

Rattlebox Moth © James H. Robinson

  • They can be found in the American Southeast and Texas.
  • They are brightly colored with pink hind wings bordered by black, and orange-yellow forewings, which have white accents speckled with black.
  • The Rattlebox got its name because the caterpillar feeds on rattlebox, a genus of herbaceous plants, as well as sweet clover and sweet fern.
  • The caterpillar has a red head, yellow body, white side stripes, and alternating black and white stripes on its back.
  • The Lichen caterpillar feeds on lichens, which are usually shunned by insects.
    • Lichen Moths are often mistaken for netwing beetles because of their similar color, pattern, size and tendency to be found on the same flowers.
  • The caterpillar of the Woolly Bear is said in folklore to predict the severity of the winter based on the number of black hairs, rather than red ones, on the species.
    • This myth does actually have a bit of truth to it: Cold weather in early autumn causes a Woolly Bear to seek shelter sooner, and at this time, their black hairs are more grown in than their red hairs.

Facts on Other Moths:

  •  The pupas of Polyphemus Moths emerge from the cocoon as brownish-yellow with an eyespot on each hind wing and without any tails.
Polyphemus Moth

Polyphemus Moth showing eyespots © Tom Vezo

  • Cecropia caterpillars spend their lives on ash, elm, willow, and lilac trees.
    • These caterpillars are green with blue side shading and red, yellow, and blue tubercles.
    • This pupa spins a cocoon along a twig that must hold up all winter long.
    • The Io Moth is known for its small size, with a wingspan three inches or less, which still enables the moth to flash a warning to predators.
        • The Io caterpillar has venomous spines
  • The White-lined Sphinx Moth whir like hummingbirds and is found in meadows and gardens especially where portulaca grows.
  • The Hummingbird Moth is often mistaken for a hummingbird because of its soft buzzing and outstretched wings while sipping nectar.
  • The Lappet Moth, commonly found in Michigan, is named after its caterpillar that has small lobes, or “lappets,” on the sides of its body.