Tag Archives: flight

Fledglings and Maybugs

It was a tough spring for the birds because temperatures were almost relentlessly below normal, causing plants to bloom, blossom and leaf late, and insects to be in short supply. I was surprised to see the Blackbird above with such a large fledgling chick. I had put some cream out for them, cream which had just gone off, but they loved it.

Two Cockchafer beetles - the males have rooster-like red combs on their antennae.
Two Cockchafer beetles – the males have rooster-like red combs on their antennae.

Last Thursday was our first really warm sunny summer-like day and later that night I found Maybugs, better known as Cockchafer Beetles, coming to the lights of the house in huge numbers. In fact, I’ve never seen so many at one time. They will be flying around Wicklow skies until late in June, and possibly even into July.  They are heavy beetles and when one very big one accidentally blundered into the web of a female Giant House Spider the poor spider was quite at a loss what to do, as the beetle was a bit bigger than its usuall prey. The Cockchafer fell out of the web soon after, ably assisted by gravity:

When spider dreams come true they're generally too big to handle.
When spider dreams come true they’re generally too big to handle.

Moths, slowly but surely

We have a spectacularly sunny April this year, although the weather is soon to change. One side-effect of our clear skies has been very chilly nights, more like you would find in winter. And due to these chilly nights there have been relatively few moths about, but there are some hardy ones worth looking out for near windows at night. One of the larger spring moths, resembling a butterfly, is the Early Thorn – Selenia dentaria.

This male Early Thorn was lured to a porch light but is seeking a female. You can tell this is a male by the feather-like antenna swept over its head.
This male Early Thorn was lured to a porch light but is seeking a female. You can tell this is a male by the feather-like antenna swept over its head.

Early Thorns do show up early in the year, from about March to May, but a second generation can appear in late summer and Autumn, although I personally have never seen one at this time of year. Strangely enough the spring generation look different to the autumn generation and could be mistaken for different species. Another handsome moth to look out for is the Shoulder Stripe (Anticlea badiata) which is on the wing only for March and April and spends most of its life as a caterpillar.

This Shoulder Stripe perched on a window and its the best place to find this handsome moth.
This Shoulder Stripe perched on a window and its the best place to find this handsome moth.

One of my favourite moths is the funny-looking Common Plume (Emmelina monodactyla) which has the bizarre habit of appearing mostly in colder months, between autumn and late spring. Most people find them on walls, but they are handsome fliers, looking somewhat fairy-like, especially in flash-lit photos.

A Common Plume moth resting on a wall. They often stay in the same place for days on end.
A Common Plume moth resting on a wall. They often stay in the same place for days on end.

Butterfly Season

Well, it’s late in the evening of 31 March and it has been a mostly dry but quite cold March, and tomorrow is the beginning of butterfly season, which is when naturalists all around Ireland begin systematically recording butterflies as part of the National Biodiversity Data Centre’s Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. I have seen few so far, but my first was a Small Tortoiseshell, which I nearly stepped on as it basked in bright sunshine on Sunday, 8 March. It was almost certainly one from last year which had awoken from hibernation.  However, I saw and photographed my second butterfly on 19 March, and it was a newly hatched-out Speckled Wood, which is our most common species.

Not exactly an award-winning photo, but my first of a butterfly this year nonetheless, and a Speckled Wood at that, perched on a polythene tunnel.
Not exactly an award-winning photo, but my first of a butterfly this year nonetheless, and a Speckled Wood at that, perched on a polythene tunnel.

The following day I photographed my second moth of the year, a small handsome March Dagger – Diurnea fagella – a species which also flies in April.

A March Dagger moth.
A March Dagger moth.

And only in the last few days did I see two of the usual suspects flying about the garden, a Small Tortoiseshell which had almost certainly awoken from hibernation, and more surprisingly, a Red Admiral, which probably also was a newly-awakened hibernator, but which had ripped hindwings suggesting it had been pursued by hungry birds which had nipped at its wings.

A very handsome-looking Small Tortoiseshell sunbathing in bright sunlight.
A very handsome-looking Small Tortoiseshell sunbathing in bright sunlight.
A Red Admiral, slightly the worse for wear, but enjoying the bright spring sunshine.
A Red Admiral, slightly the worse for wear, but enjoying the bright spring sunshine.

So far there have been all too few butterflies and moths, but April will see many species waking up, hatching out and taking wing.