This morning we had a few shorebirds for Northwest Arkansas Audubon Society’s field
trip to Craig State Fish Hatchery in Centerton: Killdeer, Solitary Sandpiper,
Spotted Sandpiper, and Least Sandpiper (a few of each). Hawks: Mississippi Kite,
Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, and America Kestrel. Belted
Kingfishers and two heron species. Otherwise, this has been a decidedly Monarch kind
Arkansas Game and Fish folks have left unmowed until this fall several areas to
protect Swamp Milkweed, a plant with limited distribution in Arkansas. Half of the
35-40 folks who turned out for birding were interested enough in the milkweed patch
to walk along the fence north of the hatchery alongside one of several natural
spring runs. The milkweed is in full, aromatic glory, a fact also noticed by
butterflies and other pollinators. An insect festival of sorts with Monarchs, Black
Swallowtails, other butterfly and numerous bee, wasp, beetle and other insects
False Crocus Geometer Moth
As we were moving in for closer looks, we noticed some odd, moth-like creature. What
is it? It perched on one of my favorite wet ground plants, Yellow Nutsedge. Later
and at home in Fayetteville, I tried Googling “moth on yellow nutsedge.” There was
nothing helpful, but you know you are probably in trouble when what Googles up are
mainly herbicides ads. The nutsedge thrives where nature intends wet meadow and
seasonally-wet prairie – and plants like Swamp Milkweed. Generally, though, people
want lawn and pasture, hence a thriving herbicide industry.
David Oakley and Mitchell Pruitt figured out later that what perched on the nutsedge
was the False Crocus Geometer Moth, Xanthotype urticaria. At this point, I can’t
find any Arkansas records for this moth. To say the least, an unexpected moth in a
patch of habitat protected from mowing is an interesting development on a bird
watching field trip.
Ecologically-speaking, presence of X. urticaria, in a patch of unusual plants like
Swamp Milkweed and others, and all attended by numerous pollinator species –
provides a good description for a wetland ecosystem disappearing under a tsunami of
It is a system important to birds and other native creatures. When American
Golden-Plovers migrate through northwest Arkansas in spring, they are looking for
these wet meadows. Seldom seen: an entire ecosystem of snakes, frogs, salamanders.
Green Herons forage along the spring runs.
Today, as we admired Swamp Milkweed from the bank, it was American Goldfinches down
in the spring run, foraging in a patch of brilliant green algae.