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.
May is always a bit of a mixed bag. You never know quite what you’re going to get, but it’s always progressing towards the calmer months of summer. And in the natural world it’s a time of frenetic activity. This year we had May weather in April because the weather was so unusually dry for spring. First it started with early bird nesting.
But the most important aspect of the spring, apart from the weather, is the mass flowering of various plants. The most important is the spring dandelion bloom. Dandelions provide huge amounts of pollen that many insects depend on, especially our pollinators. Every conceivable species of bee, fly and many beetles depend on these flowers in the early part of spring. In May they reach a crescendo in their blooming and then rapidly seed while other spring blooms appear just in time to sustain the insect population. Here you can see dandelions and bluebells together:
The Bluebells are now mostly gone out of flower in the lowlands, but up in the highlands of Wicklow they are only coming into bloom, so if you’re looking for bluebells this late in May then you need to go upland. Tawny Mining Bees among many other species depend on these flowers. The Tawny Mining Bees are gone for this year, but you might see another pollinator about, the somewhat sinister-looking and beautiful Panzer’s Nomada (Nomada panzeri) a cuckoo-bee which parasitizes the mining bees. It is also known to have a bad sting, but this one was very calm and unthreatening:
Also, May is the time to see the Orange-tip butterfly (Anthocaris cardamines). The females are all white with very few black dots on the upper sides of their wings. The males have are identical but have stunning orange markings on the tips of their forewings.
However, from below both the male and female Orange-tip look very different to other white butterflies, having a green marbling pattern which gives them camouflage.
As the weather gets warmer more and more moths appear too, but keep a look out for caterpillars, because many of the caterpillars of moths found in Wicklow are far more spectacular looking than the adults of the same species. Here, for example, is the caterpillar of the Yellow-tail Moth (Euproctis similis). The moth is plain pale white with a bright yellow abdomen tip, but look at the gaudy colours of this caterpillar found on a Cistus bush:
Along with dandelions the other big bloomer where the bees depend on is the big spiny Gorse or Furze bush. The yellow flowers fill the air with the scent of vanilla. Unfortunately in dry conditions they are highly flammable, but now we are at last getting some decent heavy rain showers the danger is passing. Some parts of Ireland have suffered terrible Gorse Fires this year. But fortunately Wicklow has escaped the worst of it:
Last year I made a meadow in my garden with a lot of help from my brother, and the results were spectacular as all sorts of insects were drawn in to feed and collect pollen, and hunt. It’s worth considering doing, and here is a video I made of it, with some nice music from Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers:
Among the flowers are phacelia, buckwheat, poppies, marigolds, anthirrhinum, stock and buddleia bushes. Among the insects in this video are Buff-tailed Bumblebee, Red-tailed Bumblebee, White-tailed Bumblebee, Carder Bee, Honey Bee, Greenbottle fly, Large White butterflies, Green-veined White butterflies and a Common Blue butterfly.
And there is also a species of solitary wasp not often seen in Ireland near the end of the video.