Tag Archives: butterfly

Warm Spring Weather at Last!

In fact, it feels more like summer than spring, and all in the space of a week. And summer weather at its best too. The sudden warming of the weather has brought bluebells into full bloom in the lowlands of Wicklow, apples into blossom, and many insects into view.

A beautiful little Holly Blue butterfly, no larger than an adult human's thumbnail with its wings folded.
A beautiful little Holly Blue butterfly, no larger than an adult human’s thumbnail with its wings folded.

It’s a great time to see Holly Blue butterflies, which are everywhere at the moment. Gardens, lanes, hedgerows and even bare muddy ground where they can lap up nutrients directly from the soil, and get some sunbathing done.  But there are also some beautiful and interesting moths about, such as the Small Phoenix (Ecliptopera silaceata):

The Small Phoenix as seen from above. This one is a male.
The Small Phoenix as seen from above. This one is a male.
The male Small Phoenix always keeps its abdomen cocked up in the air.
The male Small Phoenix always keeps its abdomen cocked up in the air.
A commonly seen ground beetle, also known as a Sun Beetle.
A commonly seen ground beetle, also known as a Sun Beetle.

You will probably see some very shiny little black beetles running about the footpaths in the last week, and throughout the summer, and these are Sun Beetles. They are omnivorous, eating small creatures, vegetable matter and even seeds, and run speedily up and down the burning hot sunlit paths at the sunniest times of day, but also after dark on warm nights. The species above seems to be Amara familiaris, although there are many very similar species and they are poorly recorded in Ireland.

Also keep a look out for St. Mark’s Flies (Bibio marci). These large ungainly flies can normally be seen hovering in a sinister motion along hedgerows, but they are completely harmless and actually quite clumsy. As adults they live only to breed and this year they are much fewer in number than is usual. They are named for their tendency to appear in or around St. Mark’s Day, 25th April. However, this year they are later than usual due to the cold spring conditions. Nevertheless, here is a mating pair I came across on the road:

A mating pair of St, Mark's Flies. The male is on the left and has much bigger eyes than the female.
A mating pair of St, Mark’s Flies. The male is on the left and has much bigger eyes than the female.

Spring flies away with the Orange-tips

As it’s such a beautiful sunny weekend here in Wicklow I just want to remind people that spring has finally given way to summer, and the best evidence of this is that the Orange-tip butterflies have already disappeared. Here’s the last one I photographed this year:

Sadly the beautiful Orange-tip butterflies have finished up for another year, but their caterpillars will be munching away all summer. This one was feeding on charlock, a type of mustard.
Sadly the beautiful Orange-tip butterflies have finished up for another year, but their caterpillars will be munching away all summer. This male was feeding on charlock, a type of mustard.

There is always the chance of seeing one or two stragglers in certain areas, but it’s highly unlikely now we are midway through June. Also gone for this season are the thumb-sized queen Red-tailed Bumblebees although you have a better chance of seeing one or two stragglers of this species than an Orange-tip this weekend. And lastly I have seen the first real summer flowering, that of the first Butterfly Bush. Summer is here.

I have a lot more to blog about this weekend, but in the meantime, keep your eyes peeled.

Celtic Winter – Deep Autumn

As many people undoubtedly know, Ireland has very strange weather even at the best of times. Winter snows rarely last more than a week or two if they come at all, and summers can be incredibly variable. The Irish climate can best be described as mercurial, but for the most part it is consistently mild. Last week and the week before it we had some bouts of very warm weather with temperatures reaching 17 degrees Celsius on Halloween itself, largely due to a warm tropical wind from the south.

A Swallow flying in Wicklow in late October, one of many.
A Swallow flying in Wicklow in late October, one of many.

This wind had control of the temperatures earlier in the week too, and prevented many migrants from flying south. Most notably Scandinavian Swallows and House Martins were forced east to forage in our warmer climes and I was amazed to be photoographing them in large numbers swooping overhead, although my shots were not great in the autumn light, nevertheless you can see them here.

A House Martin in October... an even bigger surprise than Swallows.
A House Martin in October… an even bigger surprise than Swallows.

And equally astounding have been the sightings of Red Admiral butterflies feeding on late-flowering buddleia bushes. But I have seen these butterflies in November in other years, prior to cold snaps.

I wasn't expecting to see such a fresh-looking specimen of Red Admiral, whic suggests this one actually spent its caterpillar stage here and emerged in the last few weeks.
I wasn’t expecting to see such a fresh-looking specimen of Red Admiral, whic suggests this one actually spent its caterpillar stage here and emerged in the last few weeks.

They are now known to hibernate in Europe if the occasion demands it. There is even some evidence these migrants have successfully bred here in milder winters. However, temperatures have already dropped within the last few days and the skies already belong to the talkative Starlings who are amassing in huge numbers and flying in great ‘murmurations’ in a display of incredible aerial agility. They are lovely birds, and they enjoy the sun when they can get it in Wicklow winters.

Starlings on an aerial - aerials are being removed now due to digital boxes such as Saorview, so sights like this could become very rare indeed. This might already be an image of a bygone era.
Starlings on an aerial – aerials are being removed now due to digital boxes such as Saorview, so sights like this could become very rare indeed. This might already be an image of a bygone era.

Traditionally yesterday, November 1st – All Saints Day, marked the beginning of the Celtic Winter, which ends on St. Brigid’s Day – February 1st. However, from a practical point of view this time of year is deep Autumn.