Tag Archives: butterflies

Goodbye Summer: Hello Autumn

Well, we’ve reached that juncture again. The Autumn Equinox fell on Sunday (22 September) at precisely 8:44 pm GMT, which was 9:44 by our clocks which are still set to summertime. And it was a fantastic end to a fantastic summer. Now, sadly, the nights are once again longer than the days and things are going to get a lot cooler than we’ve been used to. But there’s still lots to see. Birds and insects are feasting on the blackberries and elderberries which are in abundance this year.

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A male House Sparrow feeding on blackerries on Sunday afternoon.

There are still butterflies about, although the vast majority of them are Small Tortoiseshells and Speckled Woods. In fact, I haven’t seen any other species in the last week.

A Small Tortoiseshell enjoying one of the many still blooming flowers.
A Small Tortoiseshell enjoying one of the many still blooming flowers.

Small Tortoiseshells hibernate for the winter, and on rare occasions will fly on sunny and unseasonably warm winter days. I do emphasise ‘rare occasions’ though.

It’s extremely interesting to find ant colonies still reproducing. Only yesterday I witnessed the extraordinary sight of worker Black Garden Ants swarming over a spider’s web to rescue a newly emerged winged queen ant, which had been nabbed by a House Spider. They harrassed the spider until it released her, and then ran over the web with very little difficulty and began cutting the queen ant free. The spider could only stand to the side and watch helplessly.

Black Garden Ants rescuing a winged queen from a spider's web. This begs the question, can an ant recover from a spider bite?

Black Garden Ants rescuing a winged queen from a spider’s web. This begs the question, can an ant recover from a spider bite?

And that’s only some of the amazing things I’ve seen lately. More to come shortly…

 

Flower Power

We are now at the height of the summer flowering, and wild flowers are now at their most abundant, as are cultivated flowers in gardens. The flowering should continue through to the end of August and into September without a problem, so long as the weather stays reasonably good. The rains of the last few days have really helped the soil and enhanced the blooming. And, as a direct result, there has been an explosion in the insect population, particularly butterflies, moths, bees and hoverflies.

A Red-tailed Bumblebee taking pollen from a Cornflower. These bees are obsessed with the colours blue and purple, and are attracted to blue Cornflowers and big thistle heads, but will often ignore the same species in a different colour. There's a mystery here to be solved...
A Red-tailed Bumblebee taking pollen from a Cornflower. These bees are obsessed with the colours blue and purple, and are attracted to blue Cornflowers and big thistle heads, but will often ignore the same species in a different colour. There’s a mystery here to be solved…

The meadow in the photo above was planted by me. It was an experiment, and has been so successful I’m going to be doing it again next year on a grander scale. This little meadow is the equivalent of a coral reef on dry land and has attracted some less common garden visitors, such as the Small Copper butterfly, which you can see below.

The Small Copper is a very small but striking butterfly only slightly larger than my thumbnail. It can blend into the background perfectly when it wants to, simply by folding its wings, which are camouflaged on the undersides.
The Small Copper is a very small but striking butterfly only slightly larger than my thumbnail. It can blend into the background perfectly when it wants to, simply by folding its wings, which are camouflaged on the undersides.

As beautiful as the butterflies are, they have some serious competition from the moths. A very interesting medium-sized moth coming to house lights at the moment is the Burnished Brass. It gets its name because its wings look like they are literally made of brass. But illustrations in books and photographs often fail to do them justice. However, by sheer force of luck, I think I might have managed it with the photo below.

I photographed this Burnished Brass last night. The wings always remind me of fancy sweet wrappers. That's candy wrappers to you Americans.
I photographed this Burnished Brass last night as it rested on a window. The wings always remind me of fancy sweet wrappers. That’s candy wrappers to you Americans.

But the big moths are not the only interesting or pretty ones. It’s easy to overlook the very small ones, but a closer inspection can reveal incredible patterns and colours. The tiny moth in the photo below is a combination of caricature and beauty, one of many small species that live in the meadows and come to light at night time. As yet it has no common name, so any wit out there can try his or her hand at coming up with an appropriate one, and seeing if it sticks. Only time will tell.

Agriphila selasella is a very common species in Wicklow, but is badly in need of an art common name. 'Meadow Pointer' is my stab at it.
Agriphila selasella is a very common species in Wicklow, but is badly in need of an apt common name. ‘Meadow Pointer’ is my stab at it.

Some of the best meadowland in Wicklow actually lies along the seashore. This week I spotted my first Hummingbird Hawkmoth of the year feeding on the small dense yellow cloud-like flower-clusters of Ladies’ Bedstraw in one of these beach meadows. While you are down there you still have time to see how the Horned Poppy gets its name, as they have their long seedpods which look like horns. The one in the photo below is a classic example.

A Horned Poppy on a Wicklow beach, looking almost like a sculpture.
A Horned Poppy on a Wicklow beach, looking almost like a sculpture, or some strange walking plant.

 

 

Summer… back from oblivion

In May and June the weather went haywire, temperatures well below normal and vast quantities of rain pouring from the sky weekly. Well things are finally starting to look up. The weather seems to have stabilised, with temperatures last week actually reaching 27 Celsius and last night was a balmy 19 C, today all my various thermometers are hovering over 24C and it’s barely lunchtime. Anyhow, the flowers are blooming like crazy. Ireland is said to be one of the best places in the whole world to see fuchsias, which are not indigenous plants but garden escapees originally from southern Chile and Argentina. They have become an unmissable part of our new countryside, and many moths and butterflies like them too.

Beautiful fuchsias hanging by a Wicklow roadside right now.

But if that’s not enough for you, then there’s the oceans of nectar-filled colour to choose from. The Butterfly Bushes, Buddleia davidii are now weighed down with their various coloured blooms, each of which is a remarkable variation of a single type of scent. Needless to say the butterflies, hoverflies and everything else loves them.

A Red Admiral feeding on Butterfly Bush.

 

A Small Tortoiseshell tucks into the buffet.

 

And although this summer has been a genuine disappointment (butterfly numbers are WAY down below average) migrants are reaching our shores, and here is the single Painted Lady (below) I’ve seen so far this year, resting and basking on top of bramble in the 27 C of last week.

My one Painted Lady sighting this year. Elegance personified.

However, don’t let the butterflies take all the limelight – there are some truly fantastic beauties out there, and some of them are exotic-coloured beetles. I call this one the Dream Beetle for a long and complicated reason, but mostly because it has no common name. It’s one of the nectar-feeding long-horns, and last week was only my second time ever seeing one. The last was five years ago in the garden. This one (below) was out on the hogweed by the road. All praise the hogweed, it feeds armies of the most important insects in our countryside, and more besides. Importance, of course, is relative.

The Dream Beetle, Strangalia quadrifaciatus, is a large beetle that feeds on nectar and is only very rarely seen. We are very fortunate to have them in Wicklow, but I’m the only person I know of who has seen one! That’s why a camera is so important.

Well, the blog is back after terrible flu, endless rain, sub-summer temperatures and the many other little nuisances that afflict the online naturalist. I do plan to change the direction a little though, and perhaps make things more exciting. But you, dear reader, will be the judge of that…