As the days now get very short it is becoming chilly and frosty in Wicklow, especially on higher ground. But as often happens at this time of year there are spectacular sunsets in the evenings, weather permitting, such as this one a few days ago.
A sure sign of the colder weather is the behaviour of birds. Blackbirds and Robins in particular become much less shy and will allow you get closer to them with a camera, possibly as part of a policy of using as little energy as is necessary in order to stay warm.
A male Blackbird allows me to come within arm’s reach of him, which makes for a great photo opportunity.
Now that the berries on the trees have all been eaten by the birds they have to try and get food from wherever they can. I usually leave some apples out for them, as even insectivorous birds like the Blackbird above will gladly partake of free fruit.
Despite my remarks in the last bulletin about an Indian Summer, I have to stress at this point that we don’t actually have one, as this is still true summer. An actual Indian Summer is unseasonably warm, dry and sunny weather after the Autumn Equinox. This year that moment will be at just after 2 am next Tuesday, so Tuesday will technically be the first day of true Autumn. But we still have a few days before that happens, and the weather has been very good.
Last week my brother, Owen, made a little video of me on the East Coast Nature Reserve, and we actually found something I had not seen before, and in the video you can hear me doubting my initial identification. Apologies for the sound quality… a dodgy camera mic gets the blame:
As you can see from the video the creature in it appears to be all black. I have seen it again since, and it really does appear solid black in all but the brightest sunlight when seen from the right angle, something which I managed to achieve the same morning of the video:
Before continuing on the subject of moths I would just like to wish all students starting their Leaving Cert and Junior Certs tomorrow the very best of luck. Having done my fair share of exams I can tell you that the best thing you can do is close the books well before midnight, relax and then get to bed and get a good sleep. It’s better than any amount of last minute studying. And if you can’t sleep, don’t try. Just let it happen.
Now, back to the moths: we have some very heavy and moist weather at the moment and whereas we find it annoying the moths love it. You will probably see most of them near your windows at night, or the following morning, having been attracted by the light. One of the most common is this little beauty, the Garden Carpet – Xanthorhoe fluctuata:
There are also some bigger moths around, and they don’t all fly at night. A few days ago this handsome butterfly-sized Scalloped Hazel - Odontopera bidentata - flew in the door and landed on the inner side of the frame. This is perfectly natural behaviour, except the moth will usually land on a tree trunk and rely on its camouflage to keep it hidden from birds.
The largest moths found in Wicklow are the various species of hawkmoth, known to those in America as sphinx moths. It is no exaggeration to say that some of them are the size of small birds, and can be mistaken as such. The most common species that turns up in Wicklow gardens is not quite that large, but is bigger than most butterflies, the Poplar Hawkmoth – Laothoe populi – and will be about the largest moth most people will see in their lives outside of the tropics. It has a peculiar habit of resting with its hind-wings positioned level with its head, sticking out from under the forewings, as you can see in this photo I took a few days ago: