Tag Archives: late summer

The Last Days of Summer

Recently I have been asked if we are still in summer, or is this technically autumn. It can depend on weather conditions, but after a more typical kind of summer, like we just had, then this is still summer. The days are getting shorter, but are still longer than the nights, summer blooms are still blooming, and the trees still have their leaves and the various plants have their foliage, which keeps temperatures higher than in spring because the wind cannot run across the landscape as it pleases lowering the temperatures. There are still butterflies to be seen, swallows and house martins (and maybe even the odd swift) and many interesting species of summer moth.However, Friday night saw our Autumn Equinoctial Full Moon, the full moon which is closest to the equinox, and in a matter of days it will be autumn, because night will be longer than day.

Beneath the Equinoctial Full Moon
Beneath the Equinoctial Full Moon

Late summer sometimes brings in extraordinary creatures, particularly when the weather is warm – early last week Wicklow had temperatures of 23 degrees Celsius, and Dublin recorded 26 degrees. On Thursday I found two huge Convolvulus Hawkmoths (Agrius convolvuli) flying around inside the polytunnel in my garden, their wings as loud as birds’. In fact, they are as large as our smallest bird, the Goldcrest, and about the same weight.

A Convolvulus Hawmoth - our largest resident moth species.
A Convolvulus Hawmoth – our largest resident moth species.

It’s been a very good summer in Wicklow, especially in the coastal lowlands. There is always the possibility of an Indian Summer, which is technically summerlike weather conditions after the Autumn Equinox. This year the Equinox occurs this coming Thursday 22 September at 2.21 PM (GMT) which is 1.21 Summertime.

Poppies and Tansy-leaved Phacelia in a meadow I sowed this year. This is how they are right now.
Poppies and Tansy-leaved Phacelia in a meadow I sowed this year. This is how they are right now.

However, the summer flowers are still blooming happily and feeding the many insects. There are quite a few handsome butterflies around, including this famous migrant, the Painted Lady:

A Painted Lady calmly basking in the sun.
A Painted Lady calmly basking in the sun.

However, the most numerous butterfly species in late summer, and in early autumn, is the Speckled Wood. These butterflies like gardens, woodlands and hedgerows, and will happily bask in the sun, or shelter from the wind, on the walls of houses.

A Speckled Wood sheltering from a strong gale on a wall. This is probably a male as the female has very bright cream-coloured spots.
A Speckled Wood sheltering from a strong gale on a wall. This is probably a male as the female has very bright cream-coloured spots.

As regards photo opportunities – although the harvest is mostly already done, and most of the bales of hay and straw have been taken in, you can still find some out in the fields drying off before storage for the winter. They always look beautiful.

Bales of hay in the late summer sun.
Bales of hay in the late summer sun.

Finally, there are already many quite spectacular spiderwebs and spiders to be seen, and there are sure to be many more as we move into autumn, but keep a lookout for the extrememly beautiful Garden Spider, also known as Cross Spider (Araneus quadratus) which is very bad at walking on the ground but makes terrific big webs to catch insects. That’s why it’s a good idea to wear a hat when walking about gardens and areas with trees or tall plants at this time of year – getting spider-webs over the eyes is very annoying.¬† Here is a large Garden Spider I found recently with it’s big metre-wide web strung between two large bushes:

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Summer in September

Last week I finally met a naturalist who has become unwittingly famous, and he even let me take his photo.

Wildlife photographer Shay Connolly - no relation (as far as I know) exhibiting a seriously big lens. We do have similar taste in vests and hats, but that's probably not a genetic predisposition... probably. But I could be wrong.
Wildlife photographer Shay Connolly – no relation (as far as I know) exhibiting a seriously big lens. We do have similar taste in vests and hats, but that’s probably not a genetic predisposition… probably. But I could be wrong.

Every time I come across a likely naturalist (any person with binoculars and/or a big camera) and introduce myself they ask me, if they don’t immediately assume it, if I am related to Shay Connolly. This has been going on for years, yet I had never come across the enigmatic wildlife photographer, until last week when I came across him after he had spent a morning photographing beautiful little migratory birds called Wheatears. He kindly agreed to let me take a photo of him for the blog and reveal to the world, finally, what the legend looks like. I’m seriously considering writing¬†A Field Guide to the Naturalists of Ireland. The birds would think it a fair revenge, no doubt.

A Small Tortoiseshell butterfly basking in the sun. This species is still on the wing, but as autumn draws in they will begin entering buildings, caves and even hollowed tree trunks to hibernate.
A Small Tortoiseshell butterfly basking in the sun. This species is still on the wing, but as autumn draws in they will begin entering buildings, caves and even hollowed tree trunks to hibernate.

Anyhow, back to our story – a lot of people tend to assume that September is Autumn, but in all truth it is often as much if not more of an extension of summer than it is the first month of autumn, and this year is a perfect example. After a very cool August we have had a perfect ‘Indian Summer’ September. The weather has been absolutely fantastic and reliably so too.

The Speckled Wood is the most common butterfly species in Wicklow and Ireland as a whole. It is one of the hardiest too, often being the earliest seen in spring, and often the latest in autumn, sometimes seen as late as December in warm years. At the moment they are the most common along the hedgerows and possibly the only butterflies many people are seeing as we approach the Equinox marking the beginning of true autumn.
The Speckled Wood is the most common butterfly species in Wicklow and Ireland as a whole. It is one of the hardiest too, often being the earliest seen in spring, and often the latest in autumn, sometimes seen as late as December in warm years. At the moment they are the most common along the hedgerows and possibly the only butterflies many people are seeing as we approach the Equinox marking the beginning of true autumn.

In fact, it’s a little too dry for Wicklow’s ecosystem, but that will almost certainly change very soon, when true Autumn arrives early next week and the nights grow steadily longer than the days. But the landscape is still full of butterflies, caterpillars, moths and all sorts of insects and their dependants – bats, shrews, hedgehogs and many, many bird species. The swallows are still very much with us although some will have begun departing for Africa, and I saw my last swift two weeks ago, which is late in the summer for those birds.

To shake things up a little I plan to link some videos to my next instalments, which will hopefully be helpful to people although they are by no means perfect. But if videos aren’t your thing, please continue to enjoy the text and photos, which will be accompanying the videos.