Tag Archives: Apus apus

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.

The Maturing of Summer

August is often a damp and humid month, but it is also usually very consistent, and arguably the most pleasant of the summer months in Wicklow. Perhaps it is because we know another summer is slowly drawing to an end and try to appreciate every moment more knowing Autumn and Winter lie ahead wth their long nights. If you look in long grass around meadows you will now find tiny Common Frogs (Rana temporaria) which were tadpoles earlier in the year. And they really are tiny as you can see by this one which actually hopped onto my hand while I was sitting on a lawn:

   We have only one species of frog in Ireland, and it is so important to our economy that it is protected by law at every stage of development. It is illegal to collect frogspawn, catch frogs, or even handle them without a licence. Of course, for practical reasons these creatures do sometimes have to be manhandled to get them out of harm’s way. The reason frogs are so important to Ireland is because of their voracious eating of agricultural pests. And speaking of pests, August is considerably more pleasant than July because the blood-sucking biting flies have greatly diminished in numbers after their population explosion. The Cleg Fly (Haematopota pluvialis) pictured, (our most common Horse Fly) attacked me last week and I just managed to swat it away. I looked for it for five minutes fearing it was still waiting to launch another attack when I suddenly noticed it had been caught by a spider. The spider is at the very rear of the fly and is much smaller. Note the enormous skin-puncturing awl-like beak under the Cleg Fly’s remarkably patterned eyes.

    However, August is a sad time too, because one of our summer migrating birds leaves for Africa. The Swift (Apus apus) is quite a bit larger than the Swallow, House Martin or Sand Martin and has much longer wings. It can best be described as a flying crescent. Swifts look black but are actually a very dark, chocolatey brown. Keep your eyes open and you might see one or more stragglers flying with the Swallows. They are difficult to photograph compared with Swallows or House Martins, but they look almost the same close up as they do from a distance due to their dark colouration.