Tag Archives: biology

The Spring/Summer Intermediate

We’ve had a cold spring this year, and now we have reached the intermediate time when spring turns into summer. The first thing you will notice about this time of year is that, despite long days and sunny spells, there are few butterflies about. You might see one or two Orange-tip butterflies still on the wing,  but their time is now pretty much over until next year. They are beautiful though:

There are, of course, other butterflies around, but they are small in number, and mostly more drab species, such as the Speckled Wood,  which is a species I’m very fond of because it makes up for its lack of colours with attitude, being a cheeky butterfly that will ‘buzz’ you. However, butterflies aside, there are lots of other interesting creatures, such as beetles. In woodland glades you might find long horn beetles, aka timberman beetles, feeding on pollen. Here’s a very handsome species, Rhagium bifasciatum, which I found on a buttercup flower:

On the bogs along the coast of Wicklow there are many interesting creatures and plants to be seen at this time of year. There are warbler species and Stonechats are very brazen and beautiful in their breeding plumage – such as this male which regarded me suspiciously as I walked along the railway fence:

At this moment the bogs are covered in the beautiful blooms of the Yellow Flag, an iris species which grows in waterlogged ground and even in ponds. Many insects depend on them:

Keep an eye out for a very large caterpillar, which you might see crossing your path on a bog walkway if you visit a nature reserve. This wonderful-looking creature is the caterpillar of the Drinker Moth (Euthrix potatoria). The caterpillar is actually the source of the name, as it is said to be seen to drink drops of dew at this time of year,  a story that could have some truth to it, as folklore often does.:

The moth is much smaller than the caterpillar, but technically a large moth, as all of its relatives are quite big. The Drinker Moth is very stout and robust in a chunky sort of way. While you are looking for these caterpillars you might have a largish dragonfly zoom noisily past your ear. This will probably be the Hairy Hawker (Brachytron pratense), which is one of our earliest large dragonfly species. It is colourful and definitely hairy. I was very lucky to get a close-up shot of one only recently, and the camera lens was literally only a few centimetres from the dragonfly, which remained calm as it perched on a nettle:

Finally, a number of people have asked me if I could tell them what the amazing-looking  small blue-green beetles are that can be found on almost every flower along the coastal dunes in the last few weeks, as it is not easily found in books or online. That is definitely true. This beetle is the Blue-Green Soft-winged Flower Beetle (Psilothrix viridicoeruleus), which is a remarkably hairy little creature and seems to spend its time eating pollen and mating. Living the dream, I guess:

   Lately we have been having a very wet and cold time of it, and this does sometimes happen, with the weather far below par up until the Summer Solstice, which is the longest day of the year, but also the exact border between the seasons, ending the springtime and starting the true summer. The Summer Solstice this year will be this Friday at precisely six minutes before five o’clock in the afternoon in our local time, which is British Summertime (15.54 GMT). Many great summers started off as bad, if not worse than this one, so we can still hope for the best.

Autumn Geese and a natural mystery

Autumn came in very slowly this year, but it turned quite cold quite quickly. However, now at last we are getting rain in proper autumn levels. We had proportionally very little rain all last winter, spring and summer. Finally the geese have started to arrive too. Here are two of the most common species, the Brent Goose (Branta bernicla):

and a flock of Greylag (Anser anser), with two Rooks (Corvus frugilegus) providing a sense of scale:

All of these birds are pictured at the famous Kilcoole Breaches and nature reserve.

There have been two noticeable trends this autumn – firstly there have been far less spiders than you would expect on average, particularly House Spiders. But all species seem to be lower in number than usual. The only spider species at normal levels, or apparently normal levels, has been the Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus), which is also the most obvious autumn spider:

    Conversely, there has been a population explosion of Brown Rats (Rattus norvegicus) which has been attributed to the long hot summer and the summer heatwave of May, June and July which almost led to a severe drought. The increased population of Brown Rats very likely has reduced the number of spiders, as rats and mice will happily eat large spiders. More rats equals less spiders.

However, from my own observations I disagree that the summer heatwave is responsible for the population explosion of rats – back in March, during the heavy snows, there was a massive surge in rat numbers. They were especially attracted to bird feeders. The winter had been very cold even before the snows arrived late, and it seems that this factor drew rats from the countryside towards human settlements in order to find food and warmth. But whatever the exact cause, there were a lot of them around, although numbers at last seem to be returning to normal:

Gently Fading Summer

This year we had an extraordinary summer. Until August we had little or no rain, and some very consistently warm temperatures. August brought some badly-needed rain and this gradually put an end to a dangerous situation, gorse fires having become a serious threat to the landscape. It was a great year for butterflies, and here are some examples:

Peacock (Inachis io)

Small Tortoiseshells (Aglais urticae) gathered on a Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii)

Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia)

Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina)

Meadow Brown captured by Flower Crab Spider (Misumena vatia)

But butterflies were not the only brightly-coloured winged insects flying about in the day. Here is a beautiful Six-spot Burnet moth (Zygaena filipendulae), a species which has toxins in its body which birds find distasteful.

Six-spot Burnet moth feeding on Ragwort.

Of course, most moths are nocturnal, such as these beauties which were attracted to the light of a window:

Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing moth (Noctua janthe)

Brimstone Moth (Opisthograptis luteolata)

Moths, in particular depend on wildflowers, and in August, and even now in September some wildflowers are blooming brightly, such as the hedge-climbing Honeysuckle (

Honeysuckle or Woodbine (Lonicera periclymenum)

On 7th August I saw my last Swift. Swifts arrive in May, usually about a month after the Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins. Last in and first out, they seem to follow their migration patterns almost like clockwork, and leave very early in August. Most are recorded as leaving the British Isles (a geographical term which includes Ireland, as the second-largest island in the archipelago). Now, however, the Swallows are preparing to leave, and the young are perching on wires, resting, before migrating to southern Africa.

Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) gathering on wires before migration. The adults are cajoling the youngsters into taking flight.