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:
It has been the most protracted cold spring in living memory, and as a result butterflies have been extremely slow to appear, as they need 15° Celsius in which to fly, and it was much less than that up until last week. In fact, we had daytime temperatures as low as 6° Celsius! But this week temperatures leaped up to what would be normal for this time of year, and even above that, and suddenly butterflies and spring moths were appearing as if by magic. Here is one which I was very surprised to see, the Comma (Polygonia c-album):
Most surprising of all has been the numbers of Peacock butterflies (Inachis io) which have appeared in only the last three days. They are big and bold wine red butterflies with dramatic eye-spots:
Here’s a male Orange-tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines) which had hatched out from a chrysalis,perched on some garden netting and waiting for its wings to expand and stiffen. This one is a male, as you can tell from the orange tips visible at the top of its fore-wings:
The butterflies of spring are here, but that’s not all – so too are the moths…
Winter has been very long and drawn out, but at last the weather seems to be improving and very gradually warming up. Late last night I was delighted to find two spring moths on a wall by a window. The first is the old reliable still lacking a common name, Diurnea fagella:
Slightly more impressive than this drab but variable moth was the stockier, and more handsomely marked Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi):
This medium-sized (small medium) moth had a small chunk taken out of its left forewing, which was very possibly due to a nip from a bird’s beak. The recent more consistent temperatures have caused spring flowers to bloom in a big way, and the annual mass flowering of dandelions is now beginning. Dandelions are extremely important for pollinators, and many other insects, as are the Lesser Celandine flowers. You can see one here being attended to by a Honey Bee (Apis mellifera).
However, today I saw something which really lifted my spirits, my first butterfly of the year, a Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae):
And I even made a video about it, and it’s not as bad as it first seems: