All posts by Samuel Connolly

The Butterfly Extravaganza

Somehow, yet again, we’ve reached the middle of August and the days are getting noticeably shorter, but they’re still long and warm despite there being a bit of rain about. We are now at the peak of the summer bloom, and this is when you will see the most butterflies and most kinds of butterflies. Keep a look out for the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui), although we don’t have a lot of them around this year.

The Painted Lady is found across Europe and Asia and even in North America and is a migrating species.

This summer we have had an abundance of Peacock butterflies (Aglais io) which are very popular with tourists from the Americas and I have been told on more than one occasion by American tourists that when it comes to seeing and photographing butterflies, the one they most want is the Peacock. And who could blame them – it’s absolutely stunning.

However, a very close second when it comes to popularity is the closely-related, but quite different looking Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) , another Old World species much prized by wildlife photographers from the US and Canada.

Personally, I think they are all equally beautiful and the fact that you can often see them all flying together at this time of year, feeding on soil minerals and bramble blossoms, not to mention Butterfly Bushes (Buddleia davidii) and many other plant species, makes them even more special. There are also other beautiful butterflies which occasionally fly among these butterfly species and I hope to see and photograph some of them before the summer is over. Make sure you get out and have a good look at the butterflies this summer, while the spectacle lasts. In two or three weeks the numbers will begin to drop so make the most of it.

The Maturing of Summer

August is often a damp and humid month, but it is also usually very consistent, and arguably the most pleasant of the summer months in Wicklow. Perhaps it is because we know another summer is slowly drawing to an end and try to appreciate every moment more knowing Autumn and Winter lie ahead wth their long nights. If you look in long grass around meadows you will now find tiny Common Frogs (Rana temporaria) which were tadpoles earlier in the year. And they really are tiny as you can see by this one which actually hopped onto my hand while I was sitting on a lawn:

   We have only one species of frog in Ireland, and it is so important to our economy that it is protected by law at every stage of development. It is illegal to collect frogspawn, catch frogs, or even handle them without a licence. Of course, for practical reasons these creatures do sometimes have to be manhandled to get them out of harm’s way. The reason frogs are so important to Ireland is because of their voracious eating of agricultural pests. And speaking of pests, August is considerably more pleasant than July because the blood-sucking biting flies have greatly diminished in numbers after their population explosion. The Cleg Fly (Haematopota pluvialis) pictured, (our most common Horse Fly) attacked me last week and I just managed to swat it away. I looked for it for five minutes fearing it was still waiting to launch another attack when I suddenly noticed it had been caught by a spider. The spider is at the very rear of the fly and is much smaller. Note the enormous skin-puncturing awl-like beak under the Cleg Fly’s remarkably patterned eyes.

    However, August is a sad time too, because one of our summer migrating birds leaves for Africa. The Swift (Apus apus) is quite a bit larger than the Swallow, House Martin or Sand Martin and has much longer wings. It can best be described as a flying crescent. Swifts look black but are actually a very dark, chocolatey brown. Keep your eyes open and you might see one or more stragglers flying with the Swallows. They are difficult to photograph compared with Swallows or House Martins, but they look almost the same close up as they do from a distance due to their dark colouration.

Flowers and Insects

Although June has the longest days, and July is usually the hottest month in Wicklow, August is when summer blooms reach their peak and the most wildlife is most visible. Flowers attract insects, so go where the flowers are and you will find many beautiful insects. Arguably the most spectacularly beautiful of our butterfly species is the Peacock (Inachis io) which loves big blooms on which it can rest and sun itself while feeding:

The Peacock is the only red butterfly with eye-spots found in Europe, so it’s very easy to identify. I’ve met Americans who specifically search for this butterfly when they tour Ireland, as it’s not found in the Americas.

Keep an eye out for Honey Bees (Apis mellifera) too, as they will not only collect pollen from flowers, but occasionally fall asleep in them. Here is a worker Honey Bee in the flower of a lovely species of wild rose known as the Dog Rose (Rosa canina):

  Some insects stand out boldly when perched resting on flowers, or feeding, but others, despite being extremely boldly coloured, actually blend in. You need to look carefully, for example, to spot the male Common Blue butterfly (Polyommatus icarus) perched on the blooms of Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) in this photo: