The Mothing Year: January 2015

A brand new year of mothing has started, but so far, it’s been a bust. I haven’t even seen any Webbing Clothes Moths indoors, let alone any of the outdoor moths. In past Januarys, I’ve seen Green Cloverworm Moth (which can overwinter as an adult) and Spring Cankerworm Moth (one of the early spring moths that will emerge early if there is a mild winter). This year, doubtless due to the nasty weather and frequent cold spells, there’s been no moth activity.

Maybe things will improve in February.

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Preliminary List of New Jersey Moths

Grayish ZanclognathaAs I’ve gotten more interested in moths, I’ve found myself thinking that it would be useful if there were a list of all the moths ever recorded in New Jersey. John B. Smith published a list of New Jersey insects in 1910, and his list included moths, of course. Joseph Muller published a series of articles compiling new records of moths in New Jersey (only macros, however) from 1965-1981 in the Journal of the New York Entomological Society and the Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society. My friend Tom Halliwell compiled a list of macro moths, mainly drawing on and updating Smith’s and Muller’s publications, but it wasn’t published (he kindly gave me a copy some years later when I mentioned to him that I was getting interested in moths).

I finally decided to try my hand at compiling a list of New Jersey moths, mainly for my own reference. I used the sources mentioned above, along with the electronic sources of Moth Photographer’s Group (MPG) and BugGuide. I also found records in various other sources, but my main focus was using sources that themselves compiled a large number of records.

I can finally say that the first draft of the list is complete. It can be found here. It is a bare-bones list, 68 pages long, with entries that include Hodges and MPG numbers, scientific names, and references for each species included. I omitted common names because many species don’t have them at all, while others have multiple common names that have been used in different sources. The list is in Hodges number order, but future versions will probably be reordered to follow the MPG numbers.

This list should be considered a first draft of a document that will hopefully be improved, revised, and refined in the future. There are certain to be errors in the list (moths that have been incorrectly reported from New Jersey over the years, along with moths that have been recorded here but for which I haven’t found a reference). There’s a list of caveats at the end of the document, which goes into more detail about the document’s limitations.

As I noted, this is a first draft. I’m posting it on the web in hopes that other moth-watchers will get some use out of it. Comments, corrections, feedback, etc., can be directed to my Gmail account at ammodramus88.

Happy mothing!

Moths of Plainsboro, Second Edition

Hand-tinted Woodcut Moth by ammodramus88
Hand-tinted Woodcut Moth, a photo by ammodramus88 on Flickr.

Happy new year. I’ve just uploaded a revised and corrected version of my Moths of Plainsboro, NJ, list. Here it is. There are a few corrections, as well as a bunch of new months added for various species, since a number of the usual moths decided to stick around later than normal in the year.

I’m also leaving the original version of the list up, just for the record.

New moths of Plainsboro list, mark 2

Dark-spotted Palthis by ammodramus88
Dark-spotted Palthis, a photo by ammodramus88 on Flickr.

My apologies for the technical difficulties in the last version of this post.

A couple of days ago, I uploaded a list of Plainsboro moths (it’s a PDF file and can be found here). It’s pretty simple: it’s ordered in Hodges number order, includes scientific and common names, and also includes flight period information. The grand total so far is 305 species (not 303 as I originally announced on Twitter), which doubtless just scratches the surface. The information comes mainly from over seven years’ worth of moth photos that I’ve taken in Plainsboro, along with some additional reports from other sources. As new reports accumulate, and old unidentified photos are identified, the list will be updated and revised. With the advent of this new list, my old webpage listing moths of Plainsboro (with links to Flickr photos) has been retired.

Last year at this time, I had just embarked upon the huge project of organizing my moth photos. There are hundreds of them, and they were sitting in a virtual pile on my big backup hard drive. Once I gave up on typing info into a spreadsheet and started moving photos into folders, the organizing process went more smoothly. I finally completed it sometime this spring. Now what I have is an archive of the best photos arranged by location and species, along with separate categories for unidentified moths.

Although organizing the photos was a long, tedious process, it was worth it. With an organized archive, I can now look up observations from the past and quickly incorporate new photos as they are taken. Even better, I was able to compile my sighting information and submit it to Moth Photographers Group for inclusion in the site’s range maps. Finally, I was able to complete this list of my local moths. Submitting to MPG and making this list makes my moth reports accessible to others as they study moths.

Birders and Personal Archiving

Personal archiving is getting increasing attention from the archives community. Archivists have historically been professionals responsible for selecting, arranging, and preserving materials deemed to be important enough to keep for the long term. Now, with the explosion of personal information that has been enabled by technology such as personal computers, digital cameras, and the internet, many people who never would have given a thought to archives are wrestling with the challenge of managing their digital “stuff” for the long term. At the same time, trained archivists are caught between the rock of limited resources and the hard place of the rapidly increasing quantity of information.

Given these trends, it seems likely that individuals will be increasingly responsible for ensuring the preservation and archiving of information they want to keep and pass on to future generations. For their part, professionals have begun to focus on providing tools and knowledge to amateurs who want to take on this work but don’t know where to start. For example, the Library of Congress’s (LOC) digital preservation blog The Signal frequently includes posts about personal archiving; LOC also has a site offering guidance on the subject. These sorts of resources are sure to increase as personal archiving gets more attention from both professionals and amateurs. After all, if this year’s SXSW conference had a panel called Digital Immortals, can more widespread awareness of personal archiving be far behind?

What does this mean if you’re a birder? Well, many birders keep a cumulative list, as well as taking some sort of notes about their field trips. Many post messages to e-mail lists or on discussion sites. Bird photography has become much more popular due to the ease of using digital cameras. Some birders write blogs or use Twitter. Then there’s the correspondence between birding friends that doesn’t take place in the public context of an e-mail list. Text alerts about rarities…

I could go on, but you probably get the idea. Birders are very good at creating lots of information. Little of that information is going to survive, however, if birders don’t start thinking about the “stuff” they create (both digital and hard copy) as part of being a birder. Because birding is a hobby for most people who practice it, the information created by it has historically not been valued outside of the birding community. How many field notebooks and photos have been thrown out after a birder has died? Could that happen to your field notes after you head off to that big migrant trap in the sky? Would it bother you if those notes and memories of days in the field were lost because no one cared about them after you were gone? If having your birding legacy tossed into the trash would bother you, you need to start thinking now about what you want to save and how you can make sure it survives you.

This week is Preservation Week. As a result, there are many events (both online and offline) being held. There’s information out there for everybody from the beginner who’s wondering how to get started to the person looking for practical help on a specific technique. The Signal has a good overview post here with links to information about preserving both digital and nondigital resources.

How am I celebrating Preservation Week? I’m organizing my digital photography in a way that makes more sense than iPhoto’s default organization method. Photos of things I’ve sold on eBay will not make it into the “keep this after I’m gone” folder, but my moth photos will. I’ve been mothing in earnest since 2006 (when I got my digital camera) and most of my moth field notes are photographs. I want my moth documentation to survive me, because it may be useful to researchers yet to be born. Organizing those photos also helps me to get my data into a format that I can submit to Moth Photographers Guide for inclusion in their online range maps (which is another way of making my stuff useful to others).

So, if you’re a birder, give some thought to what you have and how (or if) you want it to last. If you’ve already started doing that, good for you! Happy Preservation Week to all.

In Praise of Horrid Zales

Horrid Zale by ammodramus88
Horrid Zale, a photo by ammodramus88 on Flickr.

Today I saw the first Horrid Zale moth of the season. Although I don’t have a list of favorite moths, Horrid Zale is probably on that list. I smile every time I see one.

It has a wonderful common name (although “horrid” is apparently not the best translation of the Latin “horrida” in this case; Bob Patterson suggests that “shaggy” is a better translation).

It’s easy to identify.

It’s common.

It looks snazzy in an understated way. It looks a lot like a Mourning Cloak butterfly, assuming the mourning cloak had some gilt embossing on the hem.

Happy spring! Horrid Zales are back!

Welcome to Vitrified Headers

John Rogers House, West Windsor, New Jersey.

You might be aware that Posterous was recently acquired by Twitter. The reporting that I’ve seen indicated that this was a “talent acquisition,” suggesting that Posterous’ continued existence is in doubt. As a result, I decided to move Jennifer W. Hanson’s Commonplace Book over to WordPress, where I have another blog (On the Trail of Henry Charlton Beck).

I’ve never been crazy about “Jennifer W. Hanson’s Commonplace Book” as a title, but I wasn’t able to come up with anything more clever. I’m having difficulty naming this new blog something clever, too. In the end, I decided that cleverness might be overrated when it comes to naming blogs, and I just named this blog after something I like: Vitrified Headers.

What are vitrified headers? Vitrification is the process by which an object becomes glassy when exposed to intense heat. A header is the short side of a brick. Vitrified headers (frequently called glazed headers) are a hallmark of the patterned brick style of architecture that can be found in areas of the mid-Atlantic where Quakers settled during the 1600s and 1700s. Southern New Jersey still holds many of these houses, though others have not survived the centuries.

I wouldn’t call myself an expert architectural historian by any means (though my undergraduate degree was in art history), but I enjoy looking at and learning about architecture, especially vernacular architecture. Over the past couple of years, I’ve become more and more interested in the patterned brick style. I have a small Flickr set of patterned brick house photos, and one of the pages on this site is devoted to a list of known patterned brick houses of New Jersey.

Welcome to Vitrified Headers.