Tag Archives: naturalist

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.

August Colour and a Little Rain

There were times in July when there was some worry we could have a drought, but after several bouts of rain over the last couple of weeks those fears have been allayed and the sunburnt lawns have recovered. However, one of these rainy periods is coinciding with the August Bank Holiday, which is usually the high point of the Irish summer. Thanks to all of the good weather, and some helpful rain, we are having a great summer and a colourful one. There are many interesting creatures about. You might find circles cut from rose leaves, both wild and cultivated forms, and you might also see a leaf flying through the air, carried by the Leaf-Cutter Bee, a beautiful solitary species.

The species in the photo, which is the most likely one you will see, is the Patchwork Leaf-cutter Bee (Megachile centuncularis) which likes to make nests in nail-holes in fence-posts which it stocks with leaves for its larvae.

There are also lots of dragonflies and damselflies around, and many will fly along hedgerows, green areas and even gardens with or without ponds, although they all need ponds or slow moving rivers in order to breed. Some damselflies are very dainty, and they can be difficult to tell apart from one another. This one was in a meadow garden, and it is almost certainly an Azure Bluet (Coenagrion puella), and is a very handsome species which can easily go unnoticed despite being as long as an adult’s little finger:

   There are some very interesting little creatures which you can find absolutely everywhere right now, in meadows, gardens, hedgerows and pretty much wherever there are flowers. These are Pollen Beetles (Meligethes aeneus), tiny beetles which can be seen in almost every flower everywhere across Wicklow right now. They are important but barely-noticed pollinators of many species of plant and they often appear in huge numbers. Here are quite a few of them in a poppy:

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.