Tag Archives: lepidoptera

St. Brigid’s Day

I know what you’re wondering – where have I been for the month of January? I’ll tell you – sick with the worst dose of flu I’ve had in 22 years! But I’m almost over it.

According to Irish tradition the first day of February, which is St. Brigid’s Day, is the beginning of spring. And, considering that the term ‘spring’ refers to the ‘springing forth’ of plantlife, then it is usually pretty accurate. However, this year, despite a good cold January and a very cold and blustery first day of spring, has seen very early plant growth – the earliest I’ve ever seen. Daffodils rose out of the ground in late December and I saw my first daffodil blooms last weekend!

   And this is not an early type of daffodil. However, the crocuses beat the daffodils to it, just.

The crocus above was the first crocus bloom I saw this year, and it appeared las week during a short bout of freakishly warm weather which lasted four days. But the Early Crocuses I usually rely on as the definitive announcement of the arrival of spring have not risen yet, let alone bloomed, so maybe they think we still could get snow. However, other spring plants, usually much later than daffodils and crocuses, have already made an appearance. Check these out:

They are, of course, snowdrops, which are usually the earliest bloomers of the spring plants, although they are technically more winter flowers. However, in snowy areas they usually signal the end of carpeting snowfalls. What is really strange is how quickly these much less hardy plants have jumped out of the ground:

These are the relatively delicate leaves of Lords-and-Ladies, aka Cuckoo-pint, aka Arum Lily (Arum maculatum) which normally break out of the ground in February but don’t unfurl their leaves like this until March at the earliest, yet here they are. And here’s something more impressive:

Believe it or not, these are bluebells! I have never seen them appear out of the ground quite so early, and looking so robust. However, there are also insects astir, including this extremely early moth, the Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria):

The male is a stocky moth, shown here, and the female is wingless. This species is around from January until March, so it’s not exactly early. To make things interesting there are two varieties of this species. Both have silky ‘silver screen’ underwings.

The Butterfly Extravaganza

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.

July Moths

Some butterflies only fly for a number of specific weeks or months, but the same is also true for quite a number of moth species found in Wicklow. There are a few you might want to keep an eye out for, as they fly mainly only in July. Probably the most noticeable is the beautiful Swallow-tailed Moth (Ourapterix sambucaria). These moths normally take to the skies in late June and fly throughout July, but disappear by the end of the month. There is still a small chance of seeing this butterfly-like, butterfly-sized moth:

The Swallow-tailed Moth usually appears along hedgerows or in gardens about half-an-hour after sunset, and it flies swiftly at head height, rarely stopping. However, wait long enough and you might find one feeding on flowers, or, if you are very lucky, one might rest on a wall in the light of a window, as in the case of the one pictured.

Another common species, but smaller, is the Small Magpie (Anania hortulata), which is extremely common along hedgerows and ‘waste ground’ and can be seen flying soon after sunset and even occasionally in daylight when foliage is disturbed. This beautiful moth flies from June until the end of July, occasionally into  August.

However, there are moths which can be found flying throughout the summer, and some of them are very beautiful and very common. One of these is the feathery, fairy-like White-plumed Moth (Pterophorus pentadactyla) which will fly from June until the end of August, and even into September. Look for it in gardens on lawns, and along hedgerows. Like the Swallow-tailed moth it seems to glow in the dark, even though this is due to the brightness of its colouration and not actual glowing.

The White-plumed Moth pictured was attracted to light at a window. They don’t often come to light, usually preferring very dark areas of gardens.

Another moth which is extremely beautiful and found all summer, but which is less easily seen, is known only by the scientific name Carcina quercana. I usually call it the ‘Poncho Moth’ because its wings resemble a poncho. You will find this creature along hedgerows but also along river banks and sometimes meadows near the sea. It has extremely long antennae.

This Poncho Moth landed on a car parked beside a river.