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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
August is actually the best time to see most butterflies in Wicklow. They are quite tolerant of rain so long as they get as much sun, and flowering plants to feed on. The Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii) is the most favoured plant due to its masses of blooms in the form of flower-spikes. And here is a handsome Peacock butterfly feeding on Buddleia:
Sometimes it can be a little difficult to see how truly beautlful a butterfly is, until you see its colours contrasted against a more solid background, as in the case of this Peacock basking on a plank:
The other big butterfly that is easy to find on buddleia bushes in August is the Red Admiral. Worldwide it is also very common, being found all across Europe and Asia and North America:
This year Wicklow was blessed by a very warm spring and summer. August has brought some heavy rain belts, most recently the remains of Hurricane Bertha, which passed across the island overnight, but all in all it has been a very good year. The most unusual thing I came across this year was a nest of Norwegian Wasps (Dolichovespula norvegica) which nested in a buddleia bush in my own garden. These wasps and the similar Tree Wasp look like the Common Wasp but make their nests only in trees and shrubs. It was my first time seeing them and they are considered a relatively new arrival in Ireland. They can only be positively identified by the markings on their faces… and that isn’t easy to do but a camera makes it easier.
They soon got used to my approach, although were still in the habit of buzzing strangers who came near the gate. But in the last few weeks the wasp population has crashed across all species. Instead of wasps there are near identical hoverflies feeding on fallen fruit. But the butterflies are doing exceptionally well this year. Especially this beauty, the Small Tortoiseshell, which can be seen wherever there are butterfly bushes and warm walls and fences to bask on.
However, the damp conditions certainly suit some creatures, most especially frogs. We have only three species of amphibians on the entire island of Ireland, so far known – one species of frog, one toad and a newt. The European Common Frog (Rana temporaria) is thriving in Wicklow and with a little effort (and sometimes none at all) can be found in meadows, hedgerows, marshes and woods. It must be remembered that all amphibians in Ireland are protected species because their role in the ecosystem is so important. They are an essential pest-control.