On Monday I was completing my last butterfly transect of the year, my once-a-week walk recording butterflies for the National Biodiversity Data Centre. I finished at the beach, where I found an unusual number of cars parked, yet not many people around. There was a very noticeable shimmering mirage caused by the unusual heat that day, and the warming of the sand, rock and air by the unfiltered sun. And then there was the loud wail of a train sounding its horn in the distance. Suddenly people began apearing from everywhere, and many had cameras. I realised the engine was an older one, but immaculately clean – it was Emerald Express. Somehow, by sheer coincidence, I had arrived on the beach by the railway on one of the two days per year when the Emerald Express travels south from Dublin, through Wicklow, en route to Waterford City.
I had heard that the Emerald Express is pulled by an Emerald Green No. 71 engine, but, it seems, this had been replaced temporarily by a classic orange Irish Rail No. 73 engine. It still bore the sign ‘Emerald CIE Express’ on the front. What is the Emerald Express? Believe it or not, this train is the means by which the most luxurious heritage tour of Ireland is undertaken. For the princely sum of €5,999 (currently) per person you can see Ireland in five star luxury on this extremely posh presidential train, stopping off to stay in a castle for each night of your eight-day scenic journey of Ireland. And don’t worry about overcrowding – only a maximum of 50 guests are allowed travel on any tour! It’s out of my league, but if you love trains, castles, and being pampered then you might want to look it up. It only travels twice a year, once in May and once in September, so far. However, I suspect, if demand goes up, it will become a more common sight. But who has that kind of money! Clearly somebody does. As for me – I’ll stick to the DART for now.
Tonight at midnight National Heritage Week starts and runs until Sunday, 27th August. There are events celebrating Irish heritage all over the country and Wicklow has many too. This year the emphasis is on my favourite subject, natural heritage. However, as usual every kind of heritage is covered. You can see a full list of events here: http://www.heritageweek.ie/
Even if you don’t attend any of the events, or if you attend all of them (not really possible) you can celebrate natural heritage in your own way. I’m starting by photographing moths tonight.
Here are some interesting ones I’ve already found, and which you can see tonight too, as they’re very common. Firstly the beautiful Mother-of-Pearl moth (Pleuroptya ruralis), which I’ve written about recently. It really does look like its wings are made of mother-of-pearl as they have the same sort of shine as the inside of an oyster shell:
And here is a lovely moth called the Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica) as it has a marking on its wings which look somewhat like a Hebrew letter. The caterpillars of these moths can commonly be found on lawns in spring, and sometimes even during winter months.
Somehow, yet again, we’ve reached the middle of August and the days are getting noticeably shorter, but they’re still long and warm despite there being a bit of rain about. We are now at the peak of the summer bloom, and this is when you will see the most butterflies and most kinds of butterflies. Keep a look out for the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui), although we don’t have a lot of them around this year.
The Painted Lady is found across Europe and Asia and even in North America and is a migrating species.
This summer we have had an abundance of Peacock butterflies (Aglais io) which are very popular with tourists from the Americas and I have been told on more than one occasion by American tourists that when it comes to seeing and photographing butterflies, the one they most want is the Peacock. And who could blame them – it’s absolutely stunning.
However, a very close second when it comes to popularity is the closely-related, but quite different looking Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) , another Old World species much prized by wildlife photographers from the US and Canada.
Personally, I think they are all equally beautiful and the fact that you can often see them all flying together at this time of year, feeding on soil minerals and bramble blossoms, not to mention Butterfly Bushes (Buddleia davidii) and many other plant species, makes them even more special. There are also other beautiful butterflies which occasionally fly among these butterfly species and I hope to see and photograph some of them before the summer is over. Make sure you get out and have a good look at the butterflies this summer, while the spectacle lasts. In two or three weeks the numbers will begin to drop so make the most of it.