In January there were reports of beautiful tropical wading birds called Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) having somehow arrived in Ireland. Three of them found their way to the East Coast Nature Reserve on the Wicklow Coast and have been the focus of huge attention, the area becoming almost a pilgrimage site. And, most remarkably, they don’t shun the attention at all. They are not scared of people.
They are very dark birds, kind of like a choclate brown combined with shimmering dark purple. They have long beaks which they use to probe the boggy ground for insects.
What everybody is wondering is if they are going to stay in Ireland, like the Little Egret did in the 1990s. They are found mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, southeast Asia and Australasia, but in the mid-19th century Glossy Ibises flew across the Atlantic to Brazil and have since colonised much of the Americas. Could they make a permanent colony here too, despite our cold conditions? We’ll know soon enough.
Here is a video I made about them, easily the most exciting nature event in Ireland, and Wicklow, in a few years:
According to the ancient Celtic calendar autumn begins in early August with the feast of Lughnasa, the ancient god, and winter begins at Martinmass (November 11), with Spring starting on Brigid’s Day (February 1). However, the weather in Ireland generally corresponds to the astronomical calendar, with Autumn beginning with the Autumn Equinox, and Winter beginning with the Winter Solstice, and ending with the Vernal (Spring) Equinox.
The weather we have at the moment is certainly autumnal rather than wintery. In fact, we have had a classic Autumn this year, beginning mild and with temperatures almost up to those of summer, and then suddenly plummeting to frosts early on November 1. And then it became mild again, and very wet at the end of November, and now we have reached a dry spell with weather due to become frosty again. This weather is perfect for autumn moths, and this year I have seen some very interesting and beautiful ones. There have been quite a few but these ones are especially interesting. Firstly, in late November this male Feathered Thorn (Colotois pennaria) appeared after a female had briefly waited in the same place. This species flies from September until early December.
Next was the larger Mottled Umber (Erannis defoliaria), a moth which flies from October until January, and seems to like it colder than most moths. The male and female are easy to tell apart because the female has no wings and doesn’t even look very much like a moth. Hopefully I’ll get a photo of one soon to upload.
Finally, a drab but common moth which comes to windows frequently is the November Moth (Epirrita dilutata) which flies from September until early December, weather-permitting. Although this one looks large in the photo these moths are actually only as large as a thumbnail.
Anyone who uses Google will probably have seen the ‘First Day of Summer’ cartoon on the search engine today, but alas it is actually wrong. The Summer Solstice is actually happening at precisely 11.34 pm tonight (10.34 pm GMT/UT) so tomorrow will in fact be the first day of the astronomical summer, and to be honest, summer weather really does only reliably begin with the Summer Solstice. This year is coincides with a Full Moon, so expect high tides. Typically cloudy weather is accompanying the Solstice Full Moon. This can be due to tidal forces, but also pollen dust, which acts like regular dust and attracts moisture in the atmosphere. And there are plenty of summer visitors arriving, such as the much watched for Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui), which I have seen occasionally in the last two weeks. Here’s one of the only good photos I got:
And there are many other exotic insects about, including one which I have only seen twice before, the stunning Wasp Beetle (Clytus arietis), which is as large as a wasp, but completely harmless. You will see these beetles on hedgerows and along, verges, in fields and even gardens:
However, ironically some harmless-looking insects can be a little bit harmful – almost all children know the Hairy Molly, a large hairy caterpillar which is often seen walking along sunlit paths and roads without a care in the world at this time of the year. In England they are known as Woolly Bears. The reason they are so unafraid is that they are bristling with poisonous hairs, which irritate the skin and lungs of some people, fortunately not me, as you can tell from this photo:
As for the adult this caterpillar will turn into – it’s a moth, and one of the most beautiful moths you are ever likely to see, the Garden Tiger (Arctia caja). I’ve only seen the moth twice before, but since there are many, many Hairy Molly caterpillars around, there must be many moths too, in the depth of the summer nights.