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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
Anyone who uses Google will probably have seen the ‘First Day of Summer’ cartoon on the search engine today, but alas it is actually wrong. The Summer Solstice is actually happening at precisely 11.34 pm tonight (10.34 pm GMT/UT) so tomorrow will in fact be the first day of the astronomical summer, and to be honest, summer weather really does only reliably begin with the Summer Solstice. This year is coincides with a Full Moon, so expect high tides. Typically cloudy weather is accompanying the Solstice Full Moon. This can be due to tidal forces, but also pollen dust, which acts like regular dust and attracts moisture in the atmosphere. And there are plenty of summer visitors arriving, such as the much watched for Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui), which I have seen occasionally in the last two weeks. Here’s one of the only good photos I got:
And there are many other exotic insects about, including one which I have only seen twice before, the stunning Wasp Beetle (Clytus arietis), which is as large as a wasp, but completely harmless. You will see these beetles on hedgerows and along, verges, in fields and even gardens:
However, ironically some harmless-looking insects can be a little bit harmful – almost all children know the Hairy Molly, a large hairy caterpillar which is often seen walking along sunlit paths and roads without a care in the world at this time of the year. In England they are known as Woolly Bears. The reason they are so unafraid is that they are bristling with poisonous hairs, which irritate the skin and lungs of some people, fortunately not me, as you can tell from this photo:
As for the adult this caterpillar will turn into – it’s a moth, and one of the most beautiful moths you are ever likely to see, the Garden Tiger (Arctia caja). I’ve only seen the moth twice before, but since there are many, many Hairy Molly caterpillars around, there must be many moths too, in the depth of the summer nights.