Mothing is the New Birding, guest post by Lisa Ann Fanning

The first Moth Night I attended was back in 2012. I was an avid birder for an entire 2 years at that point, but once you get the nature spark, it pulls you in.  Birding is exciting, and as a “lister,” I have a natural passion to see “new” creatures …. “Lifers” as we call it in birding.

Birding starts to slow after the May migration wanes, and doesn’t pick up again until August with shorebird migration. Sooooo… what to do during that “downtime” in June and July… that’s where the moths come in!

I admit it, I came in to this not knowing what to expect. I saw there was a National Moth Week kickoff event that we saw advertised, and decided to check it out.  What did I know about moths? Well, they flit around lights, they eat holes in your sweaters and are boring, right? WRONG!

We have a term in Birding called “Spark Bird” – that’s the bird that hooks you in and gets you excited (and in some cases, obsessed) about birds.  Well, I had a “Spark Moth” that intrigued me back in 2009 – the Royal Walnut Moth (or Regal Moth) … I found it barely flitting around in my front yard. This thing was enormous and gorgeous.  I decided I needed to get it to rehab because “it didn’t look like it was healthy.” Little did I know, they live to reproduce and that’s it.   I actually went so far as to contact a professor in New York State to figure out how to get it help..I soon was educated in Silk Moth life-cycles and started to get the “bug” to learn more about moths.

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A ‘not so healthy’ Regal Moth

When my (then boyfriend, now) husband and I first attended National Moth Week events in NJ, we could not get enough! We went from event to event, “lifing” new moths one more beautiful than the last.  It even got to the point where each year, we put the week on our calendars well in advance to make sure we didn’t commit ourselves to other events, because, we had moths to see!

These creatures truly are amazing. They’re not like the sparrows of the insect world (what we call LBJ’s (Little Brown Jobs))  They are colorful, beautiful and interesting in their own right.

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An IO moth clings to my husband Rob’s shirt during a 2013 Moth Night … we had just gotten married, and this moment felt so magical.

One thing that amuses non-birders about us crazy birders is that we often “chase” rare birds.. that is, we will often share information about the location of a rare or unusual bird withing the community and others will come and look for it. If you miss it, it is called “dipping.”   Well, for me, mothing is no different.  A friend of mine worked at a car dealership in Keyport, NJ and had posted that a Luna Moth (for some, a “holy grail” moth) was hanging out on the side wall of the dealership.  Of course, I was at work in Jersey City, and had to get home, get my car and make my way to Keyport…. yes, I dipped!  But alas, much like birding, other opportunities arise.   The next year, my husband and I vacationed in New Hampshire and had a “flyby” …. in the birding world, this is called a “BVD” (Better Views Desired) … and then, a month later, a friend got word out that he had a Luna Moth just hanging out on his garage door, and welcomed us to his home for what we call in the birding world “upgrade.”   Yessssss!!!

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A sweet Luna Moth gives amazing views while hanging out on a friend’s garage door.  We had to work to “tick” this one.

Much like birding, people have their favorite “patches,” that is, a favorite spot to go and observe.   For some reason, I always had luck at our local Park and Ride. By the time I would leave for work, these beautiful creatures would “roost” on the side of the building. It actually started to make me look forward to my commute (if that’s possible.)

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A Blinded Sphinx Moth at the local Park and Ride (US Quarter for scale)
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A Giant Leopard Moth at the same Park and Ride. I wish I knew what it was about this spot that they loved so much.

So here we are in 2020 – Quarantine, Lockdown, Social Distancing…. sigh! The natural world has been the one constant that gets me through the days (and nights.) Whether it is checking out which birds come to our feeder, what beetles are eating our plants in our garden, or watching NEOWISE, the comet move higher into the sky- it helps to go back to the basics sometimes to feel connected.

You can be sure of one thing… I have our lights, our sheet and iNaturalist all ready to go for National Moth Week 2020.  I can’t wait to hear all the reports.

Good Birding (ehhh, Mothing) to you!

2 thoughts on “Mothing is the New Birding, guest post by Lisa Ann Fanning”

  1. I enjoyed the article “Mothing is the New Birding”. I live on the island of Guam. Not many birds to watch here because the brown treesnake ate most of them. However, we have plenty of insects. I really enjoy bugwatching and I have even bought some close focus binoculars for this (Pentax Papilio 8.5×21).

    1. Thanks Aubrey! Are watching moths this week? Please register to be a participants in National Moth Week. You will be the first from Guam!

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