Tag Archives: garden

High Summer Beauties

Although the Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year, summer doesn’t really mature until the end of July when it becomes High Summer, and this is the best time to see moths and butterflies. This year the warm and sometimes moist conditions have greatly helped the blooming of flowers and growth of foliage, in turn supporting insects, especially moths and butterflies. One of the most beautiful moths is the toxic Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae) which is usually seen flying in daytime, but this year a significant number came to the lighted windows at night. You might still see some. They are red and black and about the size of a butterfly:

These moths love meadows. They can fly in daytime because they are distasteful to birds, and they advertise their toxins with bright bold colour patterns.

However, most moths much prefer night time, such as this Small Magpie (Anania hortulata), which likes to come to lighted windows, but can be disturbed from long grass in meadows and along hedgerows:

This species is called ‘small’ magpie because there is another, larger Magpie Moth (Abraxas grossulariata), which looks very like a butterfly and feeds on honeysuckle and other night-blooming flowers. Many flowers close up for the night, but not this lot. I encountered one a few days ago and it landed on my hat just long enough for me to get a bad selfie with the moth before it flew off into the night sky:

Why do I wear a brimmed hat at night? Spider-webs. Spiders spin their webs mostly by night and there is nothing worse than walking through a fresh one and getting the web in your eyes. Back to the moths – keep an eye out for the lovely Grass Emerald (Pseudoterpna pruinata), which is on the wing right now and comes to window light. Here’s one I found a few days ago:

For all of the brightly-coloured species many are more drab, and better camouflaged, but are beautifully-patterned, such as the Mottled Beauty (Alcis repandata), which comes in a number of variations, such as these two which arrived side-by-side by the porch light to perch below the Grass Emerald, which stayed put for a few days. These Mottled Beauties were very handsome, despite lacking the colour of some moths species.

   If you have fruit trees, even small ones in pots, you have a very good chance of finding Herald Moths (Scoliopteryx libatrix ) at these time of the year. I found three feeding on Logan berries this week, and two were sitting on the same berry, eating from opposite sides of the fruit:

   These moths are so-called because they will hibernate and overwinter, reawakening in late winter to herald a new spring. They are very beautiful and unusual moths, quite chunky and appearing to have a luminous orange “H” mark on their backs.

Not all moths are quite so easy to find. Some require you to look for them, in the undergrowth, and one of the most handsome of these species is the Bordered Beauty (Epione repandaria ). I was very fortunate to get some good shots of one of these moths this week, and carefully used flash so as to illuminate it without causing it to panic and flee:

An Incredible Encounter

I thought I’d heard of everything until on Friday night my brother told me to hurry out into the garden with my camera because he had been clipping the garden hedge when suddenly a Sparrowhawk (Accipter nisus) lunged out of the sky and attempted to carry off his garden shears! My first reaction was he must be losing his marbles, but then, he said the sparrowhawk had dropped to the ground after making its attack, looking stunned. It was now watching him from the top of the fence! Surely he had to be wrong? But, incredibly, it was still there, and still watching him. I managed to get several photos!

I got close enough to see that the sparrowhawk was almost certainly a young male, quite a bit smaller than a female. About the size of a Collared Dove, but far more robust. I attempted to edge closer for a better shot but, annoyed by my presence, the sparrowhawk flew into a neighbouring garden. I went back into the house and my brother continued clipping the hedge, and then he suddenly came to the door and said “He’s back! He’s watching me!”

   Incredibly, the sparrowhawk was now perched on a neighbour’s house and was watching my brother working with his shears, possibly considering another attack. Clearly the sound of the shears was encouraging the hawk. I took several still photos and some video and edged closer as darkness approached. The sparrowhawk decided to fly off at that point. And if you doubt any of this please look at the video  I took, below, showing the hawk actually watching my brother at work. You will not be disappointed.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

(A special thanks to Auntie Ros for her recent endorsement.)

The Summer Solstice was on Wednesday morning at 5.24 am (BST) aka 4.24 am Greenwich Meantime. However, Midsummer’s Day is actually tomorrow, St. John’s Day, making this the magical time of year known as Midsummer’s Eve. According to legend the most dangerous time of Midsummer’s Night is between midnight and sunrise. This is when the most powerful magical beings were said to roam the earth. However, modern time-keeping has created great confusion because true midnight, when the sun is on the exact opposite side of the earth to when it is in daytime at noon, is 12.00 am GMT.

But thanks to British Summer Time true midnight is actually at 1:00 am tonight at Greenwich in England. But, true midnight does not actually occur here in Wicklow, on the east coast of Ireland, until half-an-hour later because we are a few hundred kilometres to the west. So for us the magical beasts don’t actually have the run of the place until 1.30 am and for the very few hours until sunrise, which is very early in northern Europe. And yes, Midsummer’s Night is actually Midsummer’s Eve’s Night, or more correctly by modern reckoning, Midsummer’s Morning.  And there are some wonderfully magical creatures out there right now, such as this beauty:

   The White Plume Moth is a small moth which appears soon after dark and flies about at the ends of gardens. It looks just like a child’s idea of a fairy and appears to glow in the dark. Also, they are so white their details can only be seen properly in sunlight – your kids will be certain they’re seeing fairies as soon as the sun goes down. So do have a look for these at sunset. And then there is a very similar but much larger creature, the Ghost Moth (Hepialus humuli):

   The very best place to see these moths is on meadows along the seashore on warm balmy nights when they hover like small ghosts over the grassland. You can easily approach them. The males are a shiny, silky white and the reason they hover is that they are searching for the yellow and pink females lying in the undergrowth below them. These are quite large and impressive moths and really do seem magical. They can also be found in gardens with unsprayed lawns where their caterpillars feed on dandelion roots.

The magical creature I’m searching for tonight, and have never managed to see in my life, is the moth that this gigantic caterpillar will turn into:

   This is the caterpillar of the Elephant Hawkmoth (Deilephila elpenor) a very large moth which is a stunning pink and yellow colour. It feeds on honeysuckle in hedgerows and other similar plants, and lays its eggs on Rosebay Willowherb, which the extraordinary caterpillar feeds on. I have found several of these little monsters in my garden in the last few years, but have still never managed to see the moth, so tonight I’ll definitely be looking. And if I have any luck I’ll definitely be posting the photo tomorrow. In case you’re wondering about the caterpillar, it does give the species its name, but those are not eyes but in fact eyespots designed to make it look like a larger animal, perhaps a lizard. The actual head is at the very end of the ‘trunk’ and is a typical caterpillar-type head.