Friday, August 05, 2005

Two new Underwings for the Central Park Mothers

!. The Clouded Underwing

2. The Oldwife Underwing
Photos by M.Winn

When birdwatchers in a group come upon a bird they have never seen before, a Life Bird, as they call it, they don't always cry out with joy. After all, it might be a common bird for all the others. The admission that one's list is so paltry as to omit this particular sparrow or warbler or vireo might be embarrassing. And unless they are in Attu or Madagascar or some other exotic outpost, rarely does a group of birders come upon a Group Life Bird -- one new to all of them.

The Central Park Mothers [rhymes with authors] are not like birders. They do not have to keep their cool for fear of revealing abysmal ignorance. A new lepidopteran species that turns up on their beloved Moth Tree is likely to be new for most of them since Central Park is the center of their moth-identifying activities. Thus they are free to get excited. Sometimes they go berserk.

If you had been on Central Park's East Drive last Sunday at around 9:30 pm, somewhere in the area between the fancy restaurant at the Loeb Boathouse and the Pilgrim statue near 72nd Street and Fifth Avenue, [and if you are the possessor of excellent night vision], you might have seen a startling sight : seven apparent lunatics doing high fives, performing exuberant high kicks, pumping their arms in the air and then dancing around a scraggly tree labeled Columnar English Oak.

And if you had been strolling that way again about an hour later, you might have heard a rare performance of the Central Park Mother's ancient anthem [well, it dates back to 1998] that begins "We worship Toth and the Moth as well,". and signs off with the bizarre admission that "We are Egyptian Druids."

Perhaps the Mothers would not have burst into loud song that night if they had been visited by a single new species of moth. But to have two new moths in one day, both of them beautiful underwings, well, it caused them to throw all inhibitions to the wind.

It helps to know that the song was written by their youngest member, Davie Rolnick, when he was seven years old. He is now 14, and lives in Vermont with his mother and father. But as luck would have it, he was visiting town last Sunday and was present at the Moth Tree for the big two-new-moth night revelries.

Pictured above are the two moths that inspired the ecstatic celebrations last Sunday: 1. The Oldwife Underwing [Catocala palaeogamma] and 2. The Clouded Underwing [Catacola nebulosa]. Unfortunately the moths did not oblige the photographer by opening their forewings to reveal their eponymous underwings in all their bright orange-yellow, black banded splendor. But the colors were seen as the moths landed on the tree and then again as they departed. For each moth enough of the underwing pattern was glimpsed at those times to confirm the identifications.