Tag Archives: butterflies

Butterflies, Moths and Moorhens

We are now in deep Autumn and, although the Met service will declare the first day of December the start of Winter, usually winter does not take effect until after the Winter Solstice. For the first time in many weeks I spotted a butterfly basking in the sun, albeit on an unseasonably warm day. It was a Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae), a species which hibernates:

With any luck this one will also be basking in the sunlight of next spring. I observed it for quite a while and watched as it finally entered an old wooden nest box. Hopefully it will vacate the premises before any spring breeding birds move in and eat it.

While butterflies more properly belong to the warmer months there are moth species which only appear in autumn. One very handsome species which you might see, and which will soon be finished for the year is the Feathered Thorn (Colotois pennaria)  – the male has antennae that resemble feathers:

   In August I was in the Herbert Park in Dublin when I spotted a family of birds which are common in Wicklow, but almost impossible to see here because they are so shy and the ponds and lakes they inhabit are often on private land. These birds are Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) and, incredibly I saw young chicks and was able to record them over a period of months as they grew to full size – here is the video I made about them and I hope you enjoy it:

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. 

Biodiversity Week!

You probably don’t realise it with all of the big news stories, referendum issues, etc. but this is Ireland’s National Biodiversity Week, and here is a little celebration of the biodiversity you will see in Wicklow right now, in no particular order:

   This is my first proper photo of a Red Kite (Milvus milvus), a large and very beautiful bird-of-prey which mostly feeds on carrion, and can often be seen soaring above the roads of Wicklow on the watch out for roadkill. It is a huge bird, and has only been back in Ireland for about a decade having been reintroduced, with the first released in Wicklow. They have since thrived.

Wicklow loves its cherry trees, and in spring they are everywhere blooming. Here’s a handsome double-flower cherry. Most are now gone out of bloom but you might still find some stragglers.

After the mass blooming of dandelion flowers seed-eating birds come into their element, with beauties such as the Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) and Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) coming into gardens to feed on them. The bird in the photo is a male Bullfinch.

Butterfly numbers have been steadily climbing in May, and these dainty creatures can be found almost everywhere. The one in the photo is easily identified as it is the only Irish species with eye-spots, the Peacock butterfly (Inachis io).

Apple trees doe very well in Ireland, and Wicklow has no shortage of them. Here is one with immense blooms. Once fertilised by a pollen-covered bee or hover fly, each flower will gradually develop into an apple, but it will take a few months. And here’s a close-up of the beautiful blossoms.

Here (below) is one of the best of all the pollinators and in 2018 it seems to be enjoying a population explosion in Wicklow – the Chocolate Mining Bee (Andrena scotica), which doesn’t mine chocolate, but is chocolate-coloured. It is often confused with the Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) but has no pollen sacs on its hind legs, and no sting. The one in the photo is collecting pollen from a potentilla flower.

May is the time of the Maybugs – large, clumsy beetles best known as Cockchafer (Melolontha melolontha), which emerge from pupa having spent a year or two under ground as large white grubs feeling on the roots of dandelions. They appear in May and June and fly about at night, and are attracted to lights. You will see them now almost every night until the end of June.

And, of course, there are also moths to be seen:

   Many moths, like the one above, are attracted to window lights at night. This handsome species is the Small Phoenix (Ecliptopera silaceata), which is quite common in Wicklow, and which appears as two different generation of moths. This one belongs to the first, and in late summer a second generation of moths will appear.

On leaves all around gardens in Wicklow little green eggs appear. Some belong to moths, some to butterflies, some to true bugs and some to beetles. These eggs (above) belong to the Green Shieldbug (Palomena prasina).

Finally, to end my little showcase, here is a very beautiful game bird, the Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus). These birds used to very much belong to the countryside, but in recent years they have begun coming to live in gardens, and can even be found in the centre of Dublin city, especially in universities with trees and green areas, such as Trinity College. However, in Wicklow they are in much larger numbers.