Tag Archives: butterfly

The Last Days of Summer

Recently I have been asked if we are still in summer, or is this technically autumn. It can depend on weather conditions, but after a more typical kind of summer, like we just had, then this is still summer. The days are getting shorter, but are still longer than the nights, summer blooms are still blooming, and the trees still have their leaves and the various plants have their foliage, which keeps temperatures higher than in spring because the wind cannot run across the landscape as it pleases lowering the temperatures. There are still butterflies to be seen, swallows and house martins (and maybe even the odd swift) and many interesting species of summer moth.However, Friday night saw our Autumn Equinoctial Full Moon, the full moon which is closest to the equinox, and in a matter of days it will be autumn, because night will be longer than day.

Beneath the Equinoctial Full Moon
Beneath the Equinoctial Full Moon

Late summer sometimes brings in extraordinary creatures, particularly when the weather is warm – early last week Wicklow had temperatures of 23 degrees Celsius, and Dublin recorded 26 degrees. On Thursday I found two huge Convolvulus Hawkmoths (Agrius convolvuli) flying around inside the polytunnel in my garden, their wings as loud as birds’. In fact, they are as large as our smallest bird, the Goldcrest, and about the same weight.

A Convolvulus Hawmoth - our largest resident moth species.
A Convolvulus Hawmoth – our largest resident moth species.

It’s been a very good summer in Wicklow, especially in the coastal lowlands. There is always the possibility of an Indian Summer, which is technically summerlike weather conditions after the Autumn Equinox. This year the Equinox occurs this coming Thursday 22 September at 2.21 PM (GMT) which is 1.21 Summertime.

Poppies and Tansy-leaved Phacelia in a meadow I sowed this year. This is how they are right now.
Poppies and Tansy-leaved Phacelia in a meadow I sowed this year. This is how they are right now.

However, the summer flowers are still blooming happily and feeding the many insects. There are quite a few handsome butterflies around, including this famous migrant, the Painted Lady:

A Painted Lady calmly basking in the sun.
A Painted Lady calmly basking in the sun.

However, the most numerous butterfly species in late summer, and in early autumn, is the Speckled Wood. These butterflies like gardens, woodlands and hedgerows, and will happily bask in the sun, or shelter from the wind, on the walls of houses.

A Speckled Wood sheltering from a strong gale on a wall. This is probably a male as the female has very bright cream-coloured spots.
A Speckled Wood sheltering from a strong gale on a wall. This is probably a male as the female has very bright cream-coloured spots.

As regards photo opportunities – although the harvest is mostly already done, and most of the bales of hay and straw have been taken in, you can still find some out in the fields drying off before storage for the winter. They always look beautiful.

Bales of hay in the late summer sun.
Bales of hay in the late summer sun.

Finally, there are already many quite spectacular spiderwebs and spiders to be seen, and there are sure to be many more as we move into autumn, but keep a lookout for the extrememly beautiful Garden Spider, also known as Cross Spider (Araneus quadratus) which is very bad at walking on the ground but makes terrific big webs to catch insects. That’s why it’s a good idea to wear a hat when walking about gardens and areas with trees or tall plants at this time of year – getting spider-webs over the eyes is very annoying.  Here is a large Garden Spider I found recently with it’s big metre-wide web strung between two large bushes:

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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.