The Large White butterfly is extremely common in Wicklow right now, and in some areas much more than in others. They are hatching out from chrysalises hidden under the eaves of roofs, under vehicles and outdoor furniture and, of course, tree trunks. Here’s one I found earlier, its wings still drying out:
So why are there so many Large Whites around right now? Well, as many people will know, especially gardeners, the alternative common name for this butterfly is Cabbage White, because its caterpillars are such pests of cabbages. However, cabbages have many relatives, and by far the most abundant at this time of the year is the Oilseed Rape. Amid all the deep green fields of grass and early corn are the stunning, glowing gold fields of OilseedRape, from which we get cooking oil. If you are seeing a lot of Large Whites around any particular area there will almost certainly be fields of this amazing plant, whose flowers fill the air with a terrific fragrance on sunny days.
It almost beggars belief that it is still only March, but it is sunny and warm and you couldn’t ask for a better summer than what we’re having now. Only a few days ago I was paying a visit to the East Coast Nature Reserve with my brother, Trevor, when he spotted a large male Viviparous Lizard (Lacerta vivipara). Officially there is only one indigenous species of reptile in Ireland, and this is it. They love sunny spaces, so the boardwalk in a nature reserve is perfect. Lizards can be approached with a camera, so long as you move slowly, and that’s what I did when taking this macro at 20cm distance. The usual length of a male is about 18-20cm from nose to tail-tip, but I have actually found one measuring 23cm long. Don’t move fast, because if you do you’ll scare them, and they are very, very fast when escaping.
Butterflies are now already in abundance, and a few times I’ve had to rescue them from the windows of sheds and especially from a polytunnel. Especially interesting was a newly hatched out Speckled Wood, whose wings were still drying after having emerged from a crysalis.
There are also dainty little Holly Blue butterflies to be seen. Sometimes they resemble petals from flowers, and appear to be falling on the wind, possibly a clever illusion to throw predators off the scent.
The clear nights are still relatively cold, but warming day-by-day, and more and more moths are being enticed to the lights of windows. You stand a very good chance of finding a lovely fawn-coloured moth called the Common Quaker during March, and I managed to photograph one earlier in the week.
If you are in Wicklow then now is the time to get out there into the countryside, and if you’re thinking of visiting Ireland, then this is almost certainly the year to do it. Because so much is happening I’m going to be increasing my blogging rate. The tree blossoms are just about to burst into bloom…
Wicklow has an incredibly special and impressive coastal area. Ironically one of the best wild areas in Wicklow is the expanse of heath-covered dunes at Brittas Bay (see map). This area is flooded with tourists and holiday-makers on sunny weekends in summer. It is maintained by Wicklow County Council, which allows public access to gorgeous beaches and a fantastically scenic and wildlife-filled area.
I visited in late June to get photos of butterflies, moths and wild flowers. Here are just some of what I saw:
One of the few completely reliable places on the island of Ireland where you are guaranteed a viewing of this large and handsome species of butterfly is Brittas Bay. They are absolutely everywhere, and unlike their name Dark Green Fritillaries are powerfully built orange-coloured butterflies. The “Dark Green” of the name refers to the colouration at the base beneath the hind wings, something you won’t notice unless you get close to one while it’s feeding. The butterfly is large and can be bigger than in this life-sized photograph.
On the other hand…
…the Little Blue butterfly is probably the tiniest in Ireland, and most of Europe. It is rarely seen, not so much because it is rare, but because it is so small most passers-by assume it is a tiny day-flying moth. It looks like quite a large species in this photo, but what you are looking at is actually no larger than your thumbnail.
However, the butterflies are not the only scene-stealers on the dunes. My primary aim was to find orchids, and just now the magnificent Pyramidal Orchids are bursting into bloom all along the dunes of Wicklow.
Scrambling wildly across every bush and tall plant or tree in the sunniest places of the dunes are the unmissable and fragrant candleabra-like flowers of the Honeysuckle. The plant is a beautiful creeper even when out of bloom, but when it comes into flower there are few that can match it.
But the flower that will really capture your heart is the tiny, beautiful and easy to miss Dune Pansy (Viola tricolor) which is often yellow in colour. This subspecies of the Wild Pansy can be identified simply by its presence on sand. The flowers, like the Small Blue butterfly, are little more than thumbnail-sized, and grow very close to the ground. This is one of those little stunners that requires patience and careful observation to find, but grows pretty much anywhere there is open ground and a degree of shelter amid the dunes.