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