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Moths of Autumn

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.

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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.

A handsome male Feathered Thorn.
A handsome male Feathered Thorn. This moth is about the size of an average butterfly species.

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.

A very striking Mottled Umber. These moths can be very variable in pattern and colouration. Well, the males can be...
A very striking Mottled Umber. These moths can be very variable in pattern and colouration. Well, the males can be…

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.

The very grey November Moth.
The very grey November Moth.

Full Moon and Summer Solstice

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:

A very beautiful Painted Lsdy butterfly. They visit Wicklow every year, but will leave in the autumn, if they survive their stay.
A very beautiful Painted Lsdy butterfly. They visit Wicklow every year, but will leave in the autumn, if they survive their stay.

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:

A very handsome Wasp Beetle. Dangeorus-looking, but harmless. They are usually walking about on tall plants, or sunbathing, like this one.
A very handsome Wasp Beetle. Dangeorus-looking, but harmless. They are usually walking about on tall plants, or sunbathing, like this one.

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:

A handsome fuly-grown Hairy Molly.
A handsome fuly-grown Hairy Molly.

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.

A Very Wild June

So far we have had a very warm, sunny and mostly dry June here in Wicklow, with temperatures ranging from 20 degrees to 24 degrees Celsius in the shade. Last year was a very cold summer in contrast. And the lovely weather has brought the wildlife out. Here is a young Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) crossing the road right in front of me:

A lovely young red fox, returning from a foraging trip to a shop!
A lovely young red fox, returning from a foraging trip to a shop!

I was standing at a bus stop and happened to notice the electric green of a girl crossing out into the middle of the road, and the little fox was trotting in front of her, wary but not too scared. The girl and her sister went to the shop to get some food for it, as they were fairly certain hunger had brought it out. I suspect it was in the habit of foraging in the shop’s forecourt bin. It ented a field behind the bus stop and I got this lovely photo of it peering out from the corn:

Foxes have very beautiful eyes, as you can see here.
Foxes have very beautiful eyes, as you can see here.

Whereas livestock farmers often hate foxes, cereal farmers really appreciate their presence as they eat a lot of rodents and scare birds away from their fields. Birds are extremely wary of fields where they’ve previously seen foxes. At night you will often hear the piercing shriek of vixens across the hillsides. This usually happens in winter or early spring, but they also call in summer and autumn.

This year the Hawthorn blooms have lingered for a very long time, and they are absolutely beautiful:

A lovely white-blossomed hawthorn tree, one of the most beautiful sights in the late spring and early summer countryside.
A lovely white-blossomed hawthorn tree, one of the most beautiful sights in the late spring and early summer countryside.
Hawthorn blossom up close - the scent is amazing. The scent of spring.
Hawthorn blossom up close – the scent is amazing. The scent of spring.

I’ve been very slow with my posts in recent weeks but from now on I intend to keep them at a steady space, so watch out for them.