Tag Archives: Comma

Early Autumn

Autumn began properly last Monday, 23 September, with the Autumn Equinox. This year there is a superabundance of berries of all kinds – most spectacularly those roaring red ones of the Rowan or Mountain Ash tree, and blackberries, the fruit of the Bramble, one of most common and important wild plants. And let’s not forget the seasonal orchard fruit on which civilisation still somewhat depends, such as cooking apples:

However, according to tradition you should not eat blackberries after the feast of Michelmas, which is today, because legend has it the Devil spits on the blackberries! Well, whatever about the Devil, rodents of all sizes have certainly been up in the hedges eating them recently, and many blackberries have gone mouldy on the bush, so there’s probably a  lot of sense to this tradition. However, this year many blackberries are yet to ripen:

   There are certainly lots of moulds and fungi about. Some are drab, and some spectacular. Here is the Common Inkcap, which often appears on damp lawns in September:

Some fungus looks remarkable, such as the Bird’s Nest Fungus  which is named because each flower head looks like a nest with eggs in it, albeit an extremely stylised nest. I think they look like cupcake cake papers:

Although the days are now shorter than the nights, and temperatures are getting progressively lower, it’s one of the very best times of year to see butterflies because in order to feed they often enter gardens where flowers are still blooming, and where there are warm shelters and sun traps. This year has been a bumper one for the Comma butterfly in particular. Commas can easily be identified by their ragged wings. This one was perched on a white sheet, which really highlights the strange ragged appearance of the wings:

The Comma below is sitting on a Butterfly Bush. Some of these bushes are still flowering… but not for very much longer.

The most common butterfly at this time of year is the Speckled Wood, and it will usually be the last seen in Autumn. They are not known to hibernate but it wouldn’t surprise me if they are eventually discovered to do this:

At this time of year, due to the lower temperatures, the butterflies move more slowly and take the time to perch and open their wings in order to warm up. Butterflies can only fly when the temperature reaches 15°C, so basking becomes very important. Many species are known to hibernate. In Ireland Small Tortoiseshells can be seen entering houses, sheds and other buildings to hibernate in autumn and they can often be spotted flying on mild sunny days even in November:

Another species which hibernates, and only recently proven to do so, is the Red Admiral, which is a very bold and striking butterfly, and it will land on people too if they provide a place to rest in the sunshine:

And there is another species which shares these tendencies, although it seems this one also migrates – the Peacock butterfly:

Some butterflies actively migrate, such as the Painted Lady. It will fly south with the swallows and house martins. Thousands of them  filled the skies of Wicklow this year:

 

Some moth species also  migrate – mostly famously the Silver-Y. While it has been a great year for the Painted Lady it has been a disappointing one for the Silver-Y, but there are some about, flying in both day and night, and sometimes resting by windows at night:

There are still one or two Barn Swallows about, but mostly individual stragglers, older birds more experienced in the vagaries of intercontinental travel. Here’s one I saw flying south a couple of days ago:

Whilst most creatures breed in springtime, spiders mostly prefer autumn. And some spider relationships are quite complex – the male  Segmented Orb-weaver has to impress the female with a gift and she will only select him as her mate if the gift-wrapped gift is satisfactory. This one seems to have been successful and to have moved in with a female:

Slugs and snails also breed at this time of year, but they also mate in spring and all the way through when weather permits – here are two impressive Yellow Slugs, mating:

Slugs are hermaphrodites – each one is both male and female. However, in order to ensure genetic health they must mate – they must share their genes with others. The male in each slug mates with the female in the other. However, not all molluscs are hermaphrodites – cuttlefish, squid and octopuses have male and females – gender is a biological fact and a necessity.

Sadly, some of springs babies have not survived the year. Here is something which was recently drawn to my attention by the warden on the East Coast Nature Reserve  – a young Otter, presumably hit by a car on the Sea Road:

For those creatures that stay and winter in Wicklow there is ample opportunity to plan for next year – here are three Jackdaws inspecting chimney pots for suitable nesting sites – these could be siblings hanging about last year’s nest, but are probably last year’s breeding pair and one of their children. Many birds, including Jackdaws, serve apprenticeships with their parents, choosing nest sites, building nests and helping to get food for the young:

Embracing Autumn in Wicklow

This year autumn really feels like autumn. Since the Equinox the weather has seemed markedly cool, although there’s been good sunshine too. There’s a lot of rain about also, though. However, there are still some very interesting things to be seen. All across the landscape there are the big, beautiful, shimmering webs of the Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus) slung between bushes and trees, and occasionally buildings too:

  These webs are mostly made by the females, which reach full size at this time of the year. They are extremely pretty spiders, almost jewel-like, and very ungainly on the ground, so they almost never leave their webs. There are mainly two variations – a common, boldly-marked one with strong brown and white markings; and a pale, almost golden variety, which you can see here:

The presence of these large, stout spiders attracts insectivorous birds. Spiders are extremely nutritious, on average about 40 times more nutritious than a fly of similar size, and also relatively easy to catch in comparison to flying insects. As a result, this is one of the best times of year to see bird species such as the Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea), which are much less shy than they usually are during the majority of the year. Usually they hunt along riverbanks, and specialise in catching semi-aquatic insects, such as mayfly or stonefly:

   Many people assume, when they see one, that they are looking at the Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) as this one has so much yellow on it, but the Yellow Wagtail is actually almost completely yellow, whereas the Grey Wagtail has quite a lot of grey on it, although it’s not so noticeable when one of these birds flies across the path in front of you. Although spiders are easy pickings, birds have lots of flying insects to hunt too. The past summer was a bumper year for Comma butterflies (Polygonia c-album), and you can see a second, even more brightly-coloured generation this autumn, if you keep your eyes peeled. Here is one I came across at the weekend:

However, this is the end of the time of the Commas, and very soon this second generation will also be gone into hibernation. They live to re-emerge in the springtime when they breed.

Besides butterflies there are also many moths to be seen, and one very interesting species which is attracted to the lights of windows, is the Feathered Thorn (Colotois pennaria). The ‘feathered’ title comes from the shape and size of the male’s antennae, which do look like miniature feathers. Here is a very handsome specimen which I photographed on a wall by a window the night before last. It’s a male, but unfortunately its antennae are folded beneath it:

   Autumn is only beginning, and there are many interesting things to be seen, and still more to come.

Year of the Comma

In 2011 we had the so-called Summer of the Painted Lady due to a population explosion of that butterfly species which arrived in the British Isles in hundreds of thousands, if not millions of individuals. This summer in eastern Ireland we have a population explosion of another species of butterfly, the distinctive and beautiful Comma (Polygonia c-album). It is a bright rusty orange colour and flies extremely fast, and when you eventually manage to see it paused to rest and sunbathe on a leaf you will probably think somebody cut its wings into odd shapes with a scissors, because this butterfly has very odd wings:

   The undersides of the wings are very dark and drab, but look like dried leaves. However, there is one bright white mark on each lower wing in the shape of a comma punctuation mark, which is how this remarkable-looking butterfly gets its name:

So it’s a very exciting summer so far, and it’s only reaching the high point.

Finally, as a matter of house-keeping I would like to apologise to anyone attempting to contact or comment on this blog. Due to an unprecedented level of spam attacks the filter is turned to maximum and many legitimate messages have almost certainly been put into the spam folder. The spam problem will shortly be fixed, hopefully, and the legitimate messages will be read. So please don’t feel you are being ignored if you have taken the trouble to leave a comment. Many thanks for doing so!