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Messages from Samuel Connolly

August Colour and a Little Rain

There were times in July when there was some worry we could have a drought, but after several bouts of rain over the last couple of weeks those fears have been allayed and the sunburnt lawns have recovered. However, one of these rainy periods is coinciding with the August Bank Holiday, which is usually the high point of the Irish summer. Thanks to all of the good weather, and some helpful rain, we are having a great summer and a colourful one. There are many interesting creatures about. You might find circles cut from rose leaves, both wild and cultivated forms, and you might also see a leaf flying through the air, carried by the Leaf-Cutter Bee, a beautiful solitary species.

The species in the photo, which is the most likely one you will see, is the Patchwork Leaf-cutter Bee (Megachile centuncularis) which likes to make nests in nail-holes in fence-posts which it stocks with leaves for its larvae.

There are also lots of dragonflies and damselflies around, and many will fly along hedgerows, green areas and even gardens with or without ponds, although they all need ponds or slow moving rivers in order to breed. Some damselflies are very dainty, and they can be difficult to tell apart from one another. This one was in a meadow garden, and it is almost certainly an Azure Bluet (Coenagrion puella), and is a very handsome species which can easily go unnoticed despite being as long as an adult’s little finger:

   There are some very interesting little creatures which you can find absolutely everywhere right now, in meadows, gardens, hedgerows and pretty much wherever there are flowers. These are Pollen Beetles (Meligethes aeneus), tiny beetles which can be seen in almost every flower everywhere across Wicklow right now. They are important but barely-noticed pollinators of many species of plant and they often appear in huge numbers. Here are quite a few of them in a poppy:

July Moths

Some butterflies only fly for a number of specific weeks or months, but the same is also true for quite a number of moth species found in Wicklow. There are a few you might want to keep an eye out for, as they fly mainly only in July. Probably the most noticeable is the beautiful Swallow-tailed Moth (Ourapterix sambucaria). These moths normally take to the skies in late June and fly throughout July, but disappear by the end of the month. There is still a small chance of seeing this butterfly-like, butterfly-sized moth:

The Swallow-tailed Moth usually appears along hedgerows or in gardens about half-an-hour after sunset, and it flies swiftly at head height, rarely stopping. However, wait long enough and you might find one feeding on flowers, or, if you are very lucky, one might rest on a wall in the light of a window, as in the case of the one pictured.

Another common species, but smaller, is the Small Magpie (Anania hortulata), which is extremely common along hedgerows and ‘waste ground’ and can be seen flying soon after sunset and even occasionally in daylight when foliage is disturbed. This beautiful moth flies from June until the end of July, occasionally into  August.

However, there are moths which can be found flying throughout the summer, and some of them are very beautiful and very common. One of these is the feathery, fairy-like White-plumed Moth (Pterophorus pentadactyla) which will fly from June until the end of August, and even into September. Look for it in gardens on lawns, and along hedgerows. Like the Swallow-tailed moth it seems to glow in the dark, even though this is due to the brightness of its colouration and not actual glowing.

The White-plumed Moth pictured was attracted to light at a window. They don’t often come to light, usually preferring very dark areas of gardens.

Another moth which is extremely beautiful and found all summer, but which is less easily seen, is known only by the scientific name Carcina quercana. I usually call it the ‘Poncho Moth’ because its wings resemble a poncho. You will find this creature along hedgerows but also along river banks and sometimes meadows near the sea. It has extremely long antennae.

This Poncho Moth landed on a car parked beside a river.

 

 

Butterfly Fly-bys

Some butterflies and many moths have short flight periods. They spend most of their lives as caterpillars and only become butterflies or moths in order to find mates and lay eggs. We are coming to the end of the flight season of one of these butterflies right now, the Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperanthus). This butterfly like long grass in open areas such as fields or meadows, so it’s a little off the beaten track for most people to come across. It’s also quite dark. Here is a male, which is quite handsome and has a white edge to its wings which looks quite impressive:

The female is slightly more brownish and less bold.

Another summer butterfly which lives in a similar habitat, but which flies mostly throughout July until the end of August is the Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina). Although not very brightly-coloured they are very handsome, but rarely sit still for too long except in the tall grasses of meadows. Here is one which, unusually, has stopped to feed on a buddleia bush:

   You have up until the end of august to see this butterfly, but if you want to see a Ringlet you have only a matter of days.

Despite my efforts to find and photograph an Elephant Hawkmoth it seems that the window of opportunity for this year has run out, or just about, and I will have to wait until next year. However, there is no shortage of food for the enormous caterpillars, which jungles of its beloved rosebay growing all around Wicklow, especially on the eastern seaboard, as you can see here:

Sometimes rosebay can grow to almost three metres tall!