Tag Archives: Ireland

Christmas Day Bees

We’ve had a very cold wet autumn and now a good chilly winter has arrived. Today is Christmas Day and we had a superb bright and sunny morning due to cool, clear skies. There was a good frost this morning. Here is a video I made of bees feeding on blooming mahonia. Mostly they are the hardy White-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus lucorum, with some very big examples. This bee commonly flies in winter. But there was also one Honey Bee in there, Apis mellifera.

Happy Christmas!

Cooler Temperatures

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:

They are probably far more common than the recorded numbers suggest. Keep an eye out for them.

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.

Another Heritage Week… but summer isn’t over yet

This weekend brings another Heritage Week to a close, but summer isn’t over yet. For one thing, I am still seeing one or two Swifts around. These birds are summer visitors, like much larger versions of Swallows and House Martins, but they arrive later, near the end of May, and they generally leave for their wintering grounds in the early weeks of August. They are quite easy to identify, forming crescent shapes when seen in silhouette:

Compare this Swift (Apus apus) above with the shape of a Swallow (Hirundo rustica) below, which has much shorter wings, and a much longer forked tail although here it is photographed at a slight angle as it climbs:

And there are quite a few beautiful moths around to be seen, and for many of them this time of year is their time of year. Keep an eye out for the stunning Garden Tiger (Arctia caja), a large moth that sometimes comes to window light:

There are also quite a few handsome butterflies to be seen in meadows and grasslands, such as this female Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus), which I photographed this morning:

Where there are butterflies there are also predatory insects to hunt them in the air – this is one of the best times of year to get close to dragonflies. The small Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) usually perches on fence posts, or walls and darts up to snatch at smaller insects: I saw this one perched on top of a Butterfly Bush:

However, in the last week I have seen the far larger, and incredibly robust Autumn Hawker (Aeshna mixta) dragonflies about. These powerful dragonflies hunt on the wing, and seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on the wing, although they do find perches to rest on for long periods too:

I was very fortunate to see and photograph (a bad photograph) a beautiful species of beetle I have never seen before, and that is the False Ladybird (Endomychus coccineus), which flew across a meadow and landed on a bench I was standing beside:

It is larger than the average ladybird and much longer, but is actually related and moves very much like a typical ladybird. Far less obvious and much harder to find, although very common, are bush crickets. This female Speckled Bush Cricket (Leptophyes punctatissima) was literally on a leaf I was looking directly at, but I only noticed it because it flicked its long, whip-like antennae, and it’s possible you might even struggle to see it in this photo, as it matches so perfectly the colour of the dock leaf it is standing on. They are quite large insects:

However, many insects are much easier to see, such as this Drone Fly (Eristalis species):

So long as there are flowers there will be insects to feed on them.