Autumn conditions this year began almost exactly with the Autumn Equinox and temperatures have become steadily cooler since then. There are still green leaves on many trees but much of the foliage is yellow or red and showers of cold rain and some northern breezes have reduced temperatures a lot.
Lower temperatures slow the growth of plant life, but also have an immediate effect on insect populations, killing many of them and sending others into torpor or hibernation. Despite this there are still some hardy species to be seen around, including some rarities, such as the very rare and beautifully marked Juniper Shieldbug (Cyphostethus tristriatus). I found this one last weekend, and it is the first recorded in Ireland since 2016. There were only 15 recorded in Ireland before this one:
There are many other insects which are very numerous in Autumn, such as the 22-spot Ladybird (Psyllobora vigintiduopunctata), which seems very at home in the Autumn landscape:
Although temperatures are usually hovering around 10°C, on sunny days some butterflies reach the 15°C necessary in order to fly. Today I found a Red Admiral flying about, feeding on the few remaining blooms of Butterfly Bush:
Some insects are very obvious, such as the handsome little 22=spot Ladybird (Sometimes you might not realise you are looking at an insect, or insect activity. If you can find an oak tree of any size, see if they have oak “apples”. As everyone knows acorns are the fruit of the oak tree. Oak apples are not fruit but look far more like fruit than acorns do:
Oak apples are actually growths caused by tiny insects, oak gall wasps, which somehow create them by making a change happen at a molecular level. These growths are protective pods in which the insect grubs grow and develop. Eventually they hatch out, fly away, mate, and lay eggs on an oak tree.
Although there are fewer insects there are still lots of attractive birds about, and in autumn it’s often easier to get close to them than in summer, as they are forced to forage closer to human habitation. One particularly difficult bird to see is the Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis), but as foliage surrounding ponds and lakes begins to die back they become more apparent:
One bird that is very easy to spot because of it’s bold white colouration is the Little Egret (Egretta garzetta). This bird was very rare in Europe and almost extinct up until the 1950s. The reason for its rarity was due to overhunting for its head plumes, which were used in ladies’ hats back in the days when ladies wore ridiculously ornate hats on a daily basis. In fact, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the RSPB, was originally set up with the aim of protecting the few remaining individuals of this species living on the island of Great Britain:
How did such a rare species come to be living in Ireland, of all places. Incredibly this species is no longer rare. In fact, they can be found all across Europe in huge numbers due to the decline in the fashion for ridiculous hats. For reasons which are not yet understood they migrated into Ireland and can now bee seen in huge numbers along the coast, or on rivers and lakes.