We have a spectacularly sunny April this year, although the weather is soon to change. One side-effect of our clear skies has been very chilly nights, more like you would find in winter. And due to these chilly nights there have been relatively few moths about, but there are some hardy ones worth looking out for near windows at night. One of the larger spring moths, resembling a butterfly, is the Early Thorn – Selenia dentaria.
Early Thorns do show up early in the year, from about March to May, but a second generation can appear in late summer and Autumn, although I personally have never seen one at this time of year. Strangely enough the spring generation look different to the autumn generation and could be mistaken for different species. Another handsome moth to look out for is the Shoulder Stripe (Anticlea badiata) which is on the wing only for March and April and spends most of its life as a caterpillar.
One of my favourite moths is the funny-looking Common Plume (Emmelina monodactyla) which has the bizarre habit of appearing mostly in colder months, between autumn and late spring. Most people find them on walls, but they are handsome fliers, looking somewhat fairy-like, especially in flash-lit photos.
Early last week, when the weather started to warm up and get sunny as a spring should be, I decided to walk the Cliff Walk between Bray and Greystones, starting in Bray and ending in Greystones. It was a very misty but beautiful day for it nonetheless.
However, no sooner had I started the walk than I was surprised to see a big flock of Brent Geese flying south along the cliffs. Normally they would be well on their way to their summer breeding grounds, far to the north, by now.
The strange thing was that not only did I see geese, but there were no Barn Swallows (our only species) or even Sand Martins arrived from Africa yet. I expected to see at least one. In fact, I didn’t see my first swallow until two days ago, and only one at that. Yesterday I saw another two flying fast along the beach from south to north. They are definitely late this year. But on the cliffs last week breeding season was already well under way, with many seabirds staking their claims for nest sites on the cliff ledges.
I was especially glad to see that the Fulmars had returned. These gull-like petrels spend most of their lives far out at sea, returning to shore only briefly, to nest on the cliffs. By June you will be lucky to see one, let alone get a good look at a Fulmar. They can be currently seen nesting both above and below the Cliff Walk on cliff ledges. Be very careful if leaning over to observe them. And don’t get too close either – they are known to projectile vomit a stinking liquid at anyone who they feel may pose a threat, and I’m reliably informed it doesn’t wash off.
Well, it’s late in the evening of 31 March and it has been a mostly dry but quite cold March, and tomorrow is the beginning of butterfly season, which is when naturalists all around Ireland begin systematically recording butterflies as part of the National Biodiversity Data Centre’s Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. I have seen few so far, but my first was a Small Tortoiseshell, which I nearly stepped on as it basked in bright sunshine on Sunday, 8 March. It was almost certainly one from last year which had awoken from hibernation. However, I saw and photographed my second butterfly on 19 March, and it was a newly hatched-out Speckled Wood, which is our most common species.
The following day I photographed my second moth of the year, a small handsome March Dagger – Diurnea fagella - a species which also flies in April.
And only in the last few days did I see two of the usual suspects flying about the garden, a Small Tortoiseshell which had almost certainly awoken from hibernation, and more surprisingly, a Red Admiral, which probably also was a newly-awakened hibernator, but which had ripped hindwings suggesting it had been pursued by hungry birds which had nipped at its wings.
So far there have been all too few butterflies and moths, but April will see many species waking up, hatching out and taking wing.