August is often a damp and humid month, but it is also usually very consistent, and arguably the most pleasant of the summer months in Wicklow. Perhaps it is because we know another summer is slowly drawing to an end and try to appreciate every moment more knowing Autumn and Winter lie ahead wth their long nights. If you look in long grass around meadows you will now find tiny Common Frogs (Rana temporaria) which were tadpoles earlier in the year. And they really are tiny as you can see by this one which actually hopped onto my hand while I was sitting on a lawn:
We have only one species of frog in Ireland, and it is so important to our economy that it is protected by law at every stage of development. It is illegal to collect frogspawn, catch frogs, or even handle them without a licence. Of course, for practical reasons these creatures do sometimes have to be manhandled to get them out of harm’s way. The reason frogs are so important to Ireland is because of their voracious eating of agricultural pests. And speaking of pests, August is considerably more pleasant than July because the blood-sucking biting flies have greatly diminished in numbers after their population explosion. The Cleg Fly (Haematopota pluvialis) pictured, (our most common Horse Fly) attacked me last week and I just managed to swat it away. I looked for it for five minutes fearing it was still waiting to launch another attack when I suddenly noticed it had been caught by a spider. The spider is at the very rear of the fly and is much smaller. Note the enormous skin-puncturing awl-like beak under the Cleg Fly’s remarkably patterned eyes.
However, August is a sad time too, because one of our summer migrating birds leaves for Africa. The Swift (Apus apus) is quite a bit larger than the Swallow, House Martin or Sand Martin and has much longer wings. It can best be described as a flying crescent. Swifts look black but are actually a very dark, chocolatey brown. Keep your eyes open and you might see one or more stragglers flying with the Swallows. They are difficult to photograph compared with Swallows or House Martins, but they look almost the same close up as they do from a distance due to their dark colouration.
July is a special time of year. The summer migrants are all here and the breeding season for most birds is drawing to a close, a whole new generation of birds taking to the air on the great journey of life. For anybody interested in seabirds or waders the bridge that connects Main Street in Bray with Castle Street in Little Bray is a terrific place right now to see and photograph birds, most of which are very relaxed and enjoying the good sunshine. Here’s a Grey Heron I photographed from the bridge yesterday:
And here is a Black-headed Gull still in its breeding colours:
Despite their name, these birds only have black heads in the spring and summer months of the breeding season. The black begins to fade gradually and they are often back to having white heads by August. It very much depends on the year, the conditions, and the individual. Unfortunately July brings with it some creatures that are less welcome, namely horse flies. The most common species which attacks man is the moth-like Cleg Fly, which is larger than a house fly and smaller than a honey bee in bulk:
Cleg Flies are slow-moving and fly silently, and will often try to land on your face. If one attempts to land on you then it will persist, so do swat it or a bite will be inevitable. They like fields and hedgerows and usually gardens in the countryside too and don’t fly at night. Only the females bite. It’s a good idea to wear long-sleeve shirts and trousers when walking near farmland and horse flies will usually perch on a hat where they can be seen… so wear a hat. Beaches and mountains are normally perfectly safe from them. The bite is mostly just a nuisance with little or no bad reaction.
Yes, they have finally arrived again, as they do every year: the horseflies. While biting flies are normally NOT a huge problem in Wicklow, they can be if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Anyhow, here’s what to look out for, the Cleg Fly, aka Common Horsefly (Haematopota pluvialis).
These flies have silent wings and move more like moths than flies, and can look like them too. Unfortunately they are most likely to attack you when you are being harrassed by the noisy but harmless Sweat Flies (Hydrotea irritans), and therefore paying least attention. However, the Horsefly is robust and stocky. Even when struck full force with a hand while perched on your leg, they can get up again and fly away, or land back on you. All horseflies have bright striped eyes, and they move in a slow, deliberate and sinister manner. Some people, like me, suffer severe irritation from their bites, having an itching localised fever. Normally I cut an ‘x’ shape across the bite with a razor-sharp knife, squeeze it until blood pops out a little in the middle, and then pour neat Detol onto it, the only way to stop the painful itching in my experience.
This is not the fly that made Michelle Obama’s recent trip to Glendalough as hellish as it was. That creature was the extremely tiny Culicoides midge, which attacks in clouds of thousands and gets into every available orifice. It’s hard to believe such apparently puny little flies can be so much of a nuisance, or deliver such painful bites.
The best way of avoiding Culicoides midges is to avoid being in the mountains in the morning and evening in high summer. They don’t like very bright sunny weather, but do love damp places.