Tag Archives: dunes

Some wildlife from Buckroney Nature Reserve

A Common Blue butterfly perched on young bracken.
A male Common Blue butterfly perched on young bracken.

Buckroney is unusual in that it is exclusively a sand dune nature reserve, and for this reason has very unique wildlife. The Common Blue (Polydommatus icarus) is a small but colourful butterfly, and the males will attack any flying insect entering their territory if it looks like it might be a rival butterfly. They will pretty much have a go at anything, even a bit of tissue waved at them. Like the one in the photo they like to perch on tall stems so they can survey the land.

Dunes have uniqe plants too, such as the beautiful low-growing and extremely spiky Burnet Rose (Rosa pimpinellifolia), which usually has cream yellow blooms but in places has pink or reddish, probably due to chemicals in the certain areas.

A thicket of Burnet Roses. Beautiful plants which also provide important nesting areas for some bird species.
A thicket of Burnet Roses. Beautiful plants which also provide important nesting sites for some bird species.

In many areas the sand is exposed, and this keeps the temperatures high in the dunes. Grasses tend to grow thinly, and in some places you find peculiar-looking ball-like objects. These strange things are actually a species of puffball fungus. In this case it is the Brown Puffball (Bovista nigrescens).

The Brown Puffball doesn't look all that brown, yet. But soon it will. It's about the same size as a cricket ball.
The Brown Puffball doesn’t look all that brown, yet. But soon it will. It’s about the same size as a cricket ball.

But for me the most interesting find on the dunes was a collection of about forty little mounds of sand with holes in their tops making them seem like volcanoes. I knew they had to belong to bees, but when a bee did show up it was tiny, but it entered the little mound. This species, which was new to me, is one of the Lasioglossum bees, which are a type of Sweat Bee. In the tropics they cause great annoyance by drinking sweat from people’s skins – but at least they don’t bite! However, in Ireland they are not a problem at all.

A tiny female Sweat Bee perched on her nest mound. She stocks her nest with pollen for a larva to feed on over the summer, autumn and winter months, until it emerges as an adult next spring.
A tiny female Sweat Bee perched on her nest mound. She stocks her nest with pollen for a larva to feed on over the summer, autumn and winter months, until it emerges as an adult next spring.

 

 

Field Meeting of the National Biodiversity Data Centre

National Biodiversity Week ended on bank holiday Monday, but it really only heralds the start of summer. We have had a very mixed spring, with a colder May than anyone would have expected, but the wildlife is certainly out there. During Biodiversity Week the National Biodiversity Data Centre held its field meeting for volunteer recorders of butterflies and bees here in Wicklow, starting in Glendalough.

Above the Upper Lake in Glendalough Dr. Úna Fitzpatrick gets the recorders to pose. I'm not in the photo, for obvious reasons.
Above the Upper Lake in Glendalough Dr. Úna Fitzpatrick gets the recorders to pose. I’m not in the photo, for obvious reasons. In this particular area we were looking for Graylings, a species of butterfly quite rare in Ireland.
Dr. Tomás Murray and Dr. Úna Fitzpatrick who administer the butterfly and bee recording projects. You will probably know them from the radio, and they are always looking for new recorders. Here pictured at Buckroney Nature Reserve to the south of Brittas Bay.
Dr. Tomás Murray and Dr. Úna Fitzpatrick who administer the butterfly and bee recording projects. You will probably know them from the radio, and they are always looking for new recorders. Here pictured at Buckroney Nature Reserve to the south of Brittas Bay.

Most of the wildlife seen was actually at Buckroney Nature Reserve on the second day of the meeting, and not in the very crowded valley of Glendalough. However, there were lots of these insects which you will see around over the summer, Common Dor Beetles (Geotrupes stercorarius) one of the most common species of dung beetles. They are related to the famous Egyptian scarab beetles and have massive digging claws as they do.

One of many Common Dor Beetles in Glendalough. These ones were very recently hatched out as they had no mites on them.
One of many Common Dor Beetles in Glendalough. These ones were very recently hatched out as they had no mites on them. Usually these stocky beetles have loads of mites hitching rides on them from dung heap to dung heap.

Down at Buckroney Nature Reserve we had more luck. This area is part of the Brittas Bay dune system and very hot in bright sunlight due to all the sand. And it’s packed with wildlife.  Such as…

A freshly emerged poisonous day-flying Cinnabar Moth, one of the most beautiful moth species and remarkably common along the dunes. It's poisonous to eat of course, so you're safe unless you have a taste for moths. It actually looks far more like a butterfly when flying.
A freshly emerged poisonous day-flying Cinnabar Moth, one of the most beautiful moth species and remarkably common along the dunes. It’s poisonous to eat of course, so you’re safe unless you have a taste for moths. It actually looks far more like a butterfly when flying.

And here are what naturalists look like in the field when they’ve caught something interesting…

Dr. Murray examines a specimen brought to his attention. Don't worry folks, they were all released unharmed.
Dr. Murray examines a specimen brought to his attention. Don’t worry folks, they were all released unharmed.

There were quite a few interesting creatures at Buckroney, so I’ll post some photos of them in the next instalment.

 

 

Wildlife on the dunes

Wicklow has an incredibly special and impressive coastal area. Ironically one of the best wild areas in Wicklow is the expanse of heath-covered dunes at Brittas Bay (see map). This area is flooded with tourists and holiday-makers on sunny weekends in summer. It is maintained by Wicklow County Council, which allows public access to gorgeous beaches and a fantastically scenic and wildlife-filled area.

The dunes at Brittas Bay

I visited in late June to get photos of butterflies, moths and wild flowers. Here are just some of what I saw:

Dark Green Fritillary - Argynnis aglaja

One of the few completely reliable places on the island of Ireland where you are guaranteed a viewing of this large and handsome species of butterfly is Brittas Bay. They are absolutely everywhere, and unlike their name Dark Green Fritillaries are powerfully built orange-coloured butterflies. The “Dark Green” of the name refers to the colouration at the base beneath the hind wings, something you won’t notice unless you get close to one while it’s feeding. The butterfly is large and can be bigger than in this life-sized photograph.

On the other hand…

Littl Blue Butterfly - Cupido minimus

…the Little Blue butterfly is probably the tiniest in Ireland, and most of Europe. It is rarely seen, not so much because it is rare, but because it is so small most passers-by assume it is a tiny day-flying moth. It looks like quite a large species in this photo, but what you are looking at is actually no larger than your thumbnail.

However, the butterflies are not the only scene-stealers on the dunes. My primary aim was to find orchids, and just now the magnificent Pyramidal Orchids are bursting into bloom all along the dunes of Wicklow.

Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis) with a beautiful metallic green pollen-eating beetle feeding on it.

Scrambling wildly across every bush and tall plant or tree in the sunniest places of the dunes are the unmissable and fragrant candleabra-like flowers of the Honeysuckle. The plant is a beautiful creeper even when out of bloom, but when it comes into flower there are few that can match it.

Honeysuckle (Lonicer periclymenum in full bloom and sporting a potent yet subtly-sensuous perfume. A flower much-loved by insects.

But the flower that will really capture your heart is the tiny, beautiful and easy to miss Dune Pansy (Viola tricolor) which is often yellow in colour. This subspecies of the Wild Pansy can be identified simply by its presence on sand. The flowers, like the Small Blue butterfly, are little more than thumbnail-sized, and grow very close to the ground. This is one of those little stunners that requires patience and careful observation to find, but grows pretty much anywhere there is open ground and a degree of shelter amid the dunes.

A tiny Dune Pansy (Viola tricolor curtisii) at Brittas Bay