Tag Archives: beautiful

Moths, slowly but surely

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.

This male Early Thorn was lured to a porch light but is seeking a female. You can tell this is a male by the feather-like antenna swept over its head.
This male Early Thorn was lured to a porch light but is seeking a female. You can tell this is a male by the feather-like antenna swept over its head.

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.

This Shoulder Stripe perched on a window and its the best place to find this handsome moth.
This Shoulder Stripe perched on a window and its the best place to find this handsome moth.

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.

A Common Plume moth resting on a wall. They often stay in the same place for days on end.
A Common Plume moth resting on a wall. They often stay in the same place for days on end.

Spring on the Cliffs

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.

A beautiful day on the Cliff Walk, looking north in this photo.
A beautiful day on the Cliff Walk, looking north in this photo.

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.

A flock of beautiful dark Brent Geese flying south along the cliffs of Bray Head.
A flock of beautiful dark Brent Geese flying south along the cliffs of Bray Head.

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.

Nesting colonies of seabirds are often very mixed. Here you can see Herring Gulls (our most common species of gull) and penguin-like Razorbills on the dangerous cliff ledges. Unlike penguins Razorbills are well able to fly, which is they only reason they can reach those ledges.
Nesting colonies of seabirds are often very mixed. Here you can see Herring Gulls (our most common species of gull) and penguin-like Razorbills on the dangerous cliff ledges. Unlike penguins Razorbills are well able to fly, which is they only reason they can reach these 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.

Love birds - a handsome couple of Fulmars nesting on a ledge below the Cliff Walk. If you want to get a photo of this lovely species, now is your chance.
Love birds – a handsome couple of Fulmars nesting on a ledge below the Cliff Walk. If you want to get a photo of this lovely species, now is your chance.

Butterfly Season

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.

Not exactly an award-winning photo, but my first of a butterfly this year nonetheless, and a Speckled Wood at that, perched on a polythene tunnel.
Not exactly an award-winning photo, but my first of a butterfly this year nonetheless, and a Speckled Wood at that, perched on a polythene tunnel.

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.

A March Dagger moth.
A March Dagger moth.

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.

A very handsome-looking Small Tortoiseshell sunbathing in bright sunlight.
A very handsome-looking Small Tortoiseshell sunbathing in bright sunlight.
A Red Admiral, slightly the worse for wear, but enjoying the bright spring sunshine.
A Red Admiral, slightly the worse for wear, but enjoying the bright spring sunshine.

So far there have been all too few butterflies and moths, but April will see many species waking up, hatching out and taking wing.