Tag Archives: butterfly

The Autumn Equinox

Tonight, and only a short time ago,  at 9.02 am local time here in Wicklow (8.02 pm GMT) was the exact halfway point between the Summer Solstice and the Winter Solstice. To put it bluntly, this is the definite end of summer and start of autumn, and from now until the Vernal Equinox next March each day will be shorter than the night. And the birds know that, so they’re fattening up, increasing their energy reserves by eating the various berries on the myriad trees and bushes which are brimming with them right now. Here’s a photo I got of a male House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) feeding on blackberries:

   And now butterflies are disappearing fast, although there are Large Whites, Green-veined Whites, Red Admirals, Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells still to be seen in small numbers. The latter two will hibernate and need to find suitable accomodation relatively soon if they are to make it to spring. However, the most numerous butterfly at this time of the year, and the one that blends in best with the autumn colours, is the Speckled Wood, which is usually the last species seen along hedgerows in the autumn. Their numbers are falling too, though. This September has been cooler than those we’ve had in recent years and that’s probably a factor.

But, if any creature plucks the heart strings more than others as it disappears from the landscape it’s the Swallow, You can still see some in our skies, but they’re flying south-east at speed, and usually not playfully hunting for insects as they were a few weeks ago. Now they have no time to waste and need to get to southern Europe and across the Sahara Desert to southern Africa with some degree of urgency, as the insect population on which they depend crashes in the colder, less sunny climate of autumn. There’s still a lot to enjoy out there though, and I’ll be doing my best to showcase it. Here is my slightly out-of-focus photo of a Swallow flyng quickly south,  and quite high up, this morning. I guess this is farewell and bon voyage, until next March or April:

 

September Cooling

Last year it felt like summer right up until the Autumn Equinox and even beyond, but this year autumn seemed to follow the old Celtic tradition and start in early August. The bouts of rain have brought a coolness in with them and only for the bright sunlight of the late morning and afternoon, between showers, creatures would be few and far between. However, keep an eye out for the big strong Autumn Hawker dragonfly (Aeshna mixta) which can be seen patrolling gardens an hedgerows all across Wicklow right now. Occasionally they land and you can see their beauty:

These powerful dragonflies are migrants and snatch big insects such as butterflies and moths out of the air. They hunt by sight, like most birds. The really funny thing about them is that this species was a rare visitor to Ireland until the turn of the 21st century when they first began to arrive in large numbers. But some insects are adept at hiding from such predators, such as the Silver-Y moth (Autographa gamma). Can you see this one hiding among the dried flowers of a phacelia plant? Look for the Y markings.

   Many other flying insects are ending their life-cycles, and their last act is to mate and lay eggs from which caterpillars hatch. If you look on lettuces, cabbages, watercress or nasturtiums you have a good chance of seeing quite big Large White butterfly caterpillars (Pieris brassicae), like this one stretched out on a nasturtium leaf.

And lastly, and sadly, there are still some small numbers of swallows around. Our swallow is found not only  in Europe and Africa but also across much of Asia and in the Americas where it migrates from North to South America every year. It is properly known as the Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) and it feeds entirely on insects, so far as is known. Here are a large number of them I photographed at the end of August, as they gathered on electricity cables to rest before beginning their long flights south across Europe and over the Mediterranean Sea and the vast Sahara Desert to tropical and southern Africa where they will spend our winter. For them it will be another summer.

Year of the Comma

In 2011 we had the so-called Summer of the Painted Lady due to a population explosion of that butterfly species which arrived in the British Isles in hundreds of thousands, if not millions of individuals. This summer in eastern Ireland we have a population explosion of another species of butterfly, the distinctive and beautiful Comma (Polygonia c-album). It is a bright rusty orange colour and flies extremely fast, and when you eventually manage to see it paused to rest and sunbathe on a leaf you will probably think somebody cut its wings into odd shapes with a scissors, because this butterfly has very odd wings:

   The undersides of the wings are very dark and drab, but look like dried leaves. However, there is one bright white mark on each lower wing in the shape of a comma punctuation mark, which is how this remarkable-looking butterfly gets its name:

So it’s a very exciting summer so far, and it’s only reaching the high point.

Finally, as a matter of house-keeping I would like to apologise to anyone attempting to contact or comment on this blog. Due to an unprecedented level of spam attacks the filter is turned to maximum and many legitimate messages have almost certainly been put into the spam folder. The spam problem will shortly be fixed, hopefully, and the legitimate messages will be read. So please don’t feel you are being ignored if you have taken the trouble to leave a comment. Many thanks for doing so!