Tag Archives: Equinox

The Last Days of Summer

Recently I have been asked if we are still in summer, or is this technically autumn. It can depend on weather conditions, but after a more typical kind of summer, like we just had, then this is still summer. The days are getting shorter, but are still longer than the nights, summer blooms are still blooming, and the trees still have their leaves and the various plants have their foliage, which keeps temperatures higher than in spring because the wind cannot run across the landscape as it pleases lowering the temperatures. There are still butterflies to be seen, swallows and house martins (and maybe even the odd swift) and many interesting species of summer moth.However, Friday night saw our Autumn Equinoctial Full Moon, the full moon which is closest to the equinox, and in a matter of days it will be autumn, because night will be longer than day.

Beneath the Equinoctial Full Moon
Beneath the Equinoctial Full Moon

Late summer sometimes brings in extraordinary creatures, particularly when the weather is warm – early last week Wicklow had temperatures of 23 degrees Celsius, and Dublin recorded 26 degrees. On Thursday I found two huge Convolvulus Hawkmoths (Agrius convolvuli) flying around inside the polytunnel in my garden, their wings as loud as birds’. In fact, they are as large as our smallest bird, the Goldcrest, and about the same weight.

A Convolvulus Hawmoth - our largest resident moth species.
A Convolvulus Hawmoth – our largest resident moth species.

It’s been a very good summer in Wicklow, especially in the coastal lowlands. There is always the possibility of an Indian Summer, which is technically summerlike weather conditions after the Autumn Equinox. This year the Equinox occurs this coming Thursday 22 September at 2.21 PM (GMT) which is 1.21 Summertime.

Poppies and Tansy-leaved Phacelia in a meadow I sowed this year. This is how they are right now.
Poppies and Tansy-leaved Phacelia in a meadow I sowed this year. This is how they are right now.

However, the summer flowers are still blooming happily and feeding the many insects. There are quite a few handsome butterflies around, including this famous migrant, the Painted Lady:

A Painted Lady calmly basking in the sun.
A Painted Lady calmly basking in the sun.

However, the most numerous butterfly species in late summer, and in early autumn, is the Speckled Wood. These butterflies like gardens, woodlands and hedgerows, and will happily bask in the sun, or shelter from the wind, on the walls of houses.

A Speckled Wood sheltering from a strong gale on a wall. This is probably a male as the female has very bright cream-coloured spots.
A Speckled Wood sheltering from a strong gale on a wall. This is probably a male as the female has very bright cream-coloured spots.

As regards photo opportunities – although the harvest is mostly already done, and most of the bales of hay and straw have been taken in, you can still find some out in the fields drying off before storage for the winter. They always look beautiful.

Bales of hay in the late summer sun.
Bales of hay in the late summer sun.

Finally, there are already many quite spectacular spiderwebs and spiders to be seen, and there are sure to be many more as we move into autumn, but keep a lookout for the extrememly beautiful Garden Spider, also known as Cross Spider (Araneus quadratus) which is very bad at walking on the ground but makes terrific big webs to catch insects. That’s why it’s a good idea to wear a hat when walking about gardens and areas with trees or tall plants at this time of year – getting spider-webs over the eyes is very annoying.  Here is a large Garden Spider I found recently with it’s big metre-wide web strung between two large bushes:

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The Vernal Equinox

At 4.30 GMT (Ireland is in the same timezone as Greenwich) this morning we reached the exact halfway point between the Winter Solstice just past, and the approaching Summer Solstice. Today the night and day were of equal length, which is where the term ‘equinox” derives, night and day being equal in length. We are now in the Great Northern Summer, when each day is longer than each night. And it was a lovely sunny day here in Wicklow too, a change from the cloudy days of the last week. And it does look like proper spring. Here are some of the delights I’ve encountered:

25239549894_7ba8a50e3fAbove is the amazing broad green on the way into Greystones from the south (Charlesland) side. Every year it is gold from the flowers of thousands of cultivated daffodils. You still have time to see this, but soon the flowers will begin to wilt, so don’t wait too long.

Yesterday I found two different moth species under the light by the back door, firstly the beautiful little Double-striped Pug (Gymnoscelis rufifasciata):

25617928750_3057233c0cAnd secondly, the slightly larger and longer Diurnea fagella, which badly needs a common name:

25285794564_6741eee9beTwo heralds of warmer weather. And now, with midnight approaching, I must go.

The Eclipse and Equinox

St. Patrick’s Day is usually the time when spring begins to feel like spring, and this year we had a bright and dry St. Patrick’s Day. And it was the first day I noticed the power of the spring booms.

The biggest bloomers of the moment are the prickly Gorse or Furze bushes. You need to lean in close to get the scent, but it's very strong and beautiful too.
The biggest bloomers of the moment are the prickly Gorse or Furze bushes. You need to lean in close to get the scent, but it’s very strong and beautiful too.
Alexanders is a smooth relative of the hogweed which dominates the banks and hedgerows of Wicklow in spring, dying off in early summer. They creamy flowers are like cauliflower, but the unusual frangrance they produce is very much the perfume of spring. They are very important flowers as bees depend on them to make honey at this time of year.
Alexanders is a smooth relative of the hogweed which dominates the banks and hedgerows of Wicklow in spring, dying off in early summer. The creamy flowers are like cauliflower, but the unusual frangrance they produce is very much the perfume of spring. They are very important flowers as bees depend on them to make honey at this time of year.

Friday, March 20, brought with it a rare event, an eclipse of the sun, the first since August 11, 1999. It was a cloudy morning but I still managed to get some decent photos of the spectacle. 90% of the sun was eclipsed at the darkest point. Our next one won’t be until 2026.

Approaching the darkest part of the eclipse the cloud gave way temporarily to allow me this photo.
Approaching the darkest part of the eclipse the cloud gave way temporarily to allow me this photo.
Ironically this photo of the eclipse nearing its end is more impressive than the earlier photo, largely because you can see more clearly what is happening between the two heavenly bodies.
Ironically this photo of the eclipse nearing its end is more impressive than the earlier photo, largely because you can see more clearly what is happening between the two heavenly bodies.

On Friday night at 10.45 pm GMT another important event occurred – the spring equinox. This moment is the exact half-way point between the winter and summer solstices. That means that Saturday was the first day of astronomical spring. And it was a beautiful day too. I have more spring phenomena report, but just for now let’s leave it at that.