This year there is a superabundance of migratory Hummingbird Hawkmoths (Macroglossum stellatarum) in Wicklow. Usually they migrate from southern Europe, but some come all the way from Africa. These beautiful moths seem to fill an identical niche in the European ecosystem to that occupied by hummingbirds in the Americas, although related species of moths that behave similarly are also found over there. Instead of a beak the moth has a macroglossum, or “giant tongue”, which looks and works just like a hummingbird’s beak. And, amazingly, the moth also has tufts that act like, and very closely resemble tail feathers! Look for them on buddleia bushes, honeysuckle, red valerian and along coasts on trefoils. An exotic and magnificent little creature not to be missed.
One of the most beautiful creatures in the Wicklow countryside is the male Ring-necked Pheasant. It is as beautiful as the most exotic birds of the most far-distant jungles, and more gaudy than even the Resplendent Quetzel. The territorial call of the male pheasant is now a fundamental part of the background noise of Ireland, but it wasn’t always the case. These birds genuinely are exotic, having been introduced into Europe from southern Asia in the 18th century by hunters. And those poor creatures certainly were hunted, to the point where it’s hard to understand how it could be considered a “sport”. For example, most hunters kept copious notebooks recording the amount of pheasants they shot during their careers. Lord Carnarvon, who famously financed Howard Carter’s archaeological excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt, is said to have personally killed almost 23 million (23,000,000) pheasants! It boggles the mind. Clearly a man with too much time on his hands.
Anyhow, at this time of year the pheasants comprising the wild (naturalised) populations in Ireland can be found hiding in the long grasses of meadows, woodland and roadside verges and in the rushes around lakes and rivers in Ireland. The magnificent males are now usually accompanied by small hareems of superbly-camouflaged females. They are so well camouflaged that they can simply stand still in a field and disappear.
A few years ago I discovered a unique trick. I was able to leap clear over a big metal farm gate, without touching it, while wearing heavy boots. I have only attempted this remarkable feat on one occasion, when a large herd of cattle stampeded down hill towards me at a gallop.
The Irish countryside is probably one of the safest you can visit anywhere on earth, but like all countrysides it does have some small dangers. Try to keep to tracks and paths and be very wary of crossing fields, because there are often bulls and other semi-wild cattle about. I know of one bull which once managed to topple over a tractor. Most cattle in Wicklow are beef cattle, big muscular creatures that have become progressively less used to being handled by people since farming methods changed in the 1990s. It is agreed by almost all naturalists that domestic cattle are the most dangerous aspect of the countryside, and they do kill a small number of people in Ireland each year. Remember, if you see a fence it’s there for a reason, usually to keep a big animal in. Even if a field looks empty, a large territorial bull could be lurking behind a bush, or lying down in long grass.
But now we are in June it’s the smaller creatures that can be a bit of a nuisance in the countryside. In June many species of horsefly emerge. The females usually wait along hedgerows, landing on large mammals that pass by to drink their blood. Some of them will target human beings and can give a bite that you won’t feel until it’s too late, as the saliva of the horsefly is designed to quieten nerves. Watch out for any insect that flies quietly, almost like a moth, and seems to want to land on your clothes. If it is slow-moving and with extremely colourful eyes, then you have found one. They are not swarming insects, but one person could attract a number of individuals if passing through dense vegetation in or near a hedgerow.
Here’s one that landed on my brother. As male horseflies are harmless nectar-feeders they might land on a brightly-coloured shirt. But the female will be after only one thing…