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WDEL Blog: Eclectic Hobbies with Allan Loudell

A warm day (and night) in the New Jersey Pine Barrens

I journeyed into the Pine Barrens with some members of the Newark (New Jersey) Entomological Society Saturday (which just happened to be the hottest day of the year!)

As I've posted before, the Pine Barrens are a very special place, a sandy area of solitude in a highly urbanized state.

I sense many Delawareans familiar with Atlantic City, Cape May, and the New Jersey shore have never spent any time in the barrens (other than driving through, perhaps, as quickly as possible!).

Yet, in some parts of the barrens, the poor soil accounts for dwarf foliage abutting Atlantic white cedar swamps. It's all quite surreal.

Because of the unique habitat, the New Jersey Pine Barrens represent either the southernmost - or northernmost - occurrence for a number of critters.

The area around Lakehurst, New Jersey, is a classic butterflying area, and we began our search there. Butterflies included one Spicebush Swallowtail; a couple of Cabbage Whites; a female Falcate Orangetip; a Clouded Sulphur; an American Copper; an Eastern Pine Elfin; about half a dozen Spring Azures (the "Holly" form); three or four Pearl Crescents; a Mourning Cloak; an American Lady; and a couple of Juvenal's Duskywings.

From there we drove southwest to Warren Grove, where a wildlife management area to the northwest contains a stretch of Bearberry flats. Bearberry is the host plant to a fairly tiny butterfly called the Hoary Elfin. Dozens, or even hundreds, of Hoary Elfins can typically be found in those flats in late April--early May. However, it was getting hotter & hotter, and the Hoary Elfins (along with a few other butterflies) seemed to take refuge in the shadows.

Also saw a few Brown Elfins, Spring Azures, Pearl Crescents, an American Lady and a Red Admiral, and - another specialty of this habitat this time of year - the intricately patterned Cobweb Skipper. (You can also find the Cobweb Skipper in the serpentine barrens of Nottingham County Park in Pennsylvania.) We visited the white cedar swamp up the road. It was hot even in the normally cooler swampy area. A student from Juniata College managed to find one Hessel's Hairstreak, the brilliantly colored shamrock green butterfly. It's a tiny treasure, though, about the size of a thumbnail.

You also get some colorful, day-flying moths at this location.

From Warren Grove, it was to Mile Post 9 off Route 72, the classic white cedar location for Hessel's Hairstreak. (These butterflies spend most of their time in the white cedar canopy. Then, they swoop down to nectar in patches of Sand Myrtle or Button Bush.)

Also found Brown Elfins, an Eastern Pine Elfin, a mating pair of Eastern Tailed-Blues, and Pearl Crescents.

A warm day was just about guaranteed to usher in an evening with many species of characteristic Pine Barrens moths. Several folks set up lights and bait traps. By 9:30 p.m., the lights were drawing several dozen species of moths, including many of the intricately patterned Zales. The Green-dusted Zale is a particularly striking moth, with its green iridescent scales atop mostly black wings. I was happy to see an Apple Sphinx moth, which was a new Sphinx moth for me.

Some of most dedicated lepidopterists stayed at that desolate location all night long; I left around 11, as I had to get back to Delaware. No silkmoths before I departed, but some of the guys had seen a Polyphemus moth the previous night.

By the way, even some of the guys who've spent a lot of time in the barrens have YET to see any sign of the "Jersey Devil"... I wonder why...

Posted at 8:45pm on May 2, 2010 by Allan Loudell

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