Tag Archives: Small Tortoiseshell

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.

True Spring – Equinoctial Full Moon

Although many spring flowers bloomed since St. Brigid’s Day today was the first day that actually felt like spring in every sense, and it coincided with the Equinoctial Full Moon, the Full Moon closest to the Equinox, which is one week from Wednesday, in case you didn’t know. And this morning I saw my first butterfly of the year basking in the bright sunlight:

A Small Tortoiseshell butterfly newly-emerged from hibernation. Those whoich hatch from chrysalises look far brighter, but this one has survived the winter in pretty good condition.

If the weather continues as good as this there will undoubtedly be more Small Tortoiseshells around soon. However, during the warmer nights more and more moth species are on the wing, including this handsome butterfly-sized Shoulder Stripe (Anticlea badiata) which is attracted to lights, which is why it has perched beneath a light.

A Shoulder Stripe perched beneath a porch light.

And here is a close-up of the same Shoulder Stripe showing the camouflage which matches the very common Turkeytail fungus which grows on rotting wood:

   The blooming flowers which grow more numerous as the days grow longer and warm the countryside are what sustain the butterflies, moths, bees and, of course, hoverflies. Now the daffodils are growing numerous there are more and more insects:

And here is one of the earliest appearing hoverfly species, Melanostoma scalare:

And now that there are so many insects about the birds are spending a lot of time hunting and preparing to breed, like this handsome male Blackbird searching for caterpillars, grubs and earthworms on a grassy verge:

   And despite the many frosts this winter, the bright conditions have meant that many wild flowers which would normally flower later in the year are already blooming, such as these two species of handsome Dead-nettles, which are not related to nettles but look almost identical, but lack a sting, first the White Dead-nettle (Lamium album):

and secondly the Red Dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum):

Butterfly Season

Well, it’s late in the evening of 31 March and it has been a mostly dry but quite cold March, and tomorrow is the beginning of butterfly season, which is when naturalists all around Ireland begin systematically recording butterflies as part of the National Biodiversity Data Centre’s Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. I have seen few so far, but my first was a Small Tortoiseshell, which I nearly stepped on as it basked in bright sunshine on Sunday, 8 March. It was almost certainly one from last year which had awoken from hibernation.  However, I saw and photographed my second butterfly on 19 March, and it was a newly hatched-out Speckled Wood, which is our most common species.

Not exactly an award-winning photo, but my first of a butterfly this year nonetheless, and a Speckled Wood at that, perched on a polythene tunnel.
Not exactly an award-winning photo, but my first of a butterfly this year nonetheless, and a Speckled Wood at that, perched on a polythene tunnel.

The following day I photographed my second moth of the year, a small handsome March Dagger – Diurnea fagella – a species which also flies in April.

A March Dagger moth.
A March Dagger moth.

And only in the last few days did I see two of the usual suspects flying about the garden, a Small Tortoiseshell which had almost certainly awoken from hibernation, and more surprisingly, a Red Admiral, which probably also was a newly-awakened hibernator, but which had ripped hindwings suggesting it had been pursued by hungry birds which had nipped at its wings.

A very handsome-looking Small Tortoiseshell sunbathing in bright sunlight.
A very handsome-looking Small Tortoiseshell sunbathing in bright sunlight.
A Red Admiral, slightly the worse for wear, but enjoying the bright spring sunshine.
A Red Admiral, slightly the worse for wear, but enjoying the bright spring sunshine.

So far there have been all too few butterflies and moths, but April will see many species waking up, hatching out and taking wing.