It’s an incredible summer this year, our reward for many which were well below par. Anyhow, if you’re coping with the heat stroke, the sunburn and the hot summer stomach bug doing the rounds (always during the good summers) then you might notice the amazing wildlife around at the moment. There are some very big dragonflies, such as the Hairy Hawker (Brachytron pratense) in the photo below. Many people assume this is the Emperor Dragonfly, due to the similar colouration, but the Emperor is way bigger even than this one.
Now for a little field craft. Now that the nesting season is drawing to a close you are going to start finding bits of eggs and even nests which have fallen from trees. Sometimes you might be a little suspicious as to how they got there. Were the eggs attacked before they hatched out? It’s actually very easy to tell. Look at this Wood Pigeon egg which I found beneath a tree. The secret lies in looking at the rim.
Moths usually like damper conditions, but there are dozens around at the moment, and the chance of some exotics showing up. Below is the beautiful Pale Oak Beauty (Hypomecis punctinalis), a species as large as a large butterfly. Its beautiful pattern acts as camouflage of the highest order. I found it outside my window yesterday.
As promised, here are some tracks for you to look for this long weekend while out and about. In this case I have chosen the three largest land carnivores officially found in Ireland (there are possibly other even larger, but non-native carnivores on the loose here), the Red Fox, European Badger and the European Otter, and a Labrador Retriever thrown in for good measure, with a one-Euro coin for scale.
The darker areas are the most likely to show up. I have illustrated a rear print of the otter because that is where they place the most weight when resting, often holding their front paws off the ground. In soft riverside or estuary mud you stand a good chance of seeing the marks of the webbing between the toes. In the case of the Badger print, I opted for the front foot because Badgers often press their front feet quite hard into the ground while checking the soil. They eat lots of earthworms and like to dig for beetle grubs too. The long “toes” are actually the long digging nails of the badger. The hind footprint of a badger has shorter nails closer to the pads of the foot, and sometimes they appear to have only four nails.
Look for natural tracks in forests and fields, because many animals use these as highways to get around. Bare areas near streams are brilliant places to find all manner of prints because many animals, even if they don’t like being in water so much, will want to drink good fresh water.