Tag Archives: Small Tortoiseshell

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.

Progenies of a Warm Summer

This year Wicklow was blessed by a very warm spring and summer. August has brought some heavy rain belts, most recently the remains of Hurricane Bertha, which passed across the island overnight, but all in all it has been a very good year. The most unusual thing I came across this year was a nest of Norwegian Wasps (Dolichovespula norvegica) which nested in a buddleia bush in my own garden. These wasps and the similar Tree Wasp look like the Common Wasp but make their nests only in trees and shrubs. It was my first time seeing them and they are considered a relatively new arrival in Ireland.  They can only be positively identified by the markings on their faces… and that isn’t easy to do but a camera makes it easier.

The nest of the Norwegian Wasps wound around the bracnhes of a butterfly bush, with some wasps perched on the outside.
The nest of the Norwegian Wasps wound around the bracnhes of a butterfly bush, with some wasps perched on the outside.

They soon got used to my approach, although were still in the habit of buzzing strangers who came near the gate. But in the last few weeks the wasp population has crashed across all species. Instead of wasps there are near identical hoverflies feeding on fallen fruit. But the butterflies are doing exceptionally well this year. Especially this beauty, the Small Tortoiseshell, which can be seen wherever there are butterfly bushes and warm walls and fences to bask on.

One of the most beautiful of our native butterflies, the Small Tortoiseshell is also long-lived and hibernates through the winter.This one pictured is feeding on mustard nectar.
One of the most beautiful of our native butterflies, the Small Tortoiseshell is also long-lived and hibernates through the winter.This one pictured is feeding on mustard nectar.

However, the damp conditions certainly suit some creatures, most especially frogs. We have only three species of amphibians on the entire island of Ireland, so far known – one species of frog, one toad and a newt. The European Common Frog (Rana temporaria) is thriving in Wicklow and with a little effort (and sometimes none at all) can be found in meadows, hedgerows, marshes and woods. It must be remembered that all amphibians in Ireland are protected species because their role in the ecosystem is so important. They are an essential pest-control.

A handsome specimen of Common Frog which was hunting for insects in a woodland.
A handsome specimen of Common Frog which was hunting for insects in a woodland.