Tag Archives: Small Tortoiseshell

Butterfly Spring

While it is quite possible to see a hibernating butterfly emerge on a rare sunny day in the depths of winter, it doesn’t usually happen, and I don’t ever really feel like a spring has begun until I see a butterfly. I saw my first this year only three days ago, on Friday, the very first day of March. As is the case almost every year, it was a Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae), and it was perched in a sheltered area, on the iron grey branch of an old apple tree:

This Small Tortoiseshell almost certainly emerged from its chrysalis late last summer, or in the early autumn. However, it was in pretty good nick so it might have gone into hibernation very soon after hatching, as it bears none of the injuries butterflies get after a few days on the wing. Well, mostly. There are some patches of colour missing.

On Wednesday I saw another spring moth, the Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria), which likes to perch under lighted windows. It is a lovely species, although drab in colour, and it flies from now until the end of May, or thereabouts:

   If you look closely, although you don’t have to look too closely, you will see the familiar bright scarlet or orange of our most common ladybird species, the Seven-spot Ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata), which is beloved of children and adults alike. At the moment they are basking in sunlight, and with so few aphids around (their favourite food) at this time of year they depend heavily on the pollen of spring plants:

   I’m glad to say there are lots more spring wildflowers about now. One of the most important of all is the Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna), which is very beautiful and very important as a source of pollen for spring insects, although many of them eat the pollen rather than carry it to other flowers:

However, spring will not be properly and reliably here until the Spring Equinox, which this year occurs on 20th March, at the precise time of 9.58 pm in the evening. Right now, as I write this, we have torrential rain, and snow brought in by ex-Hurricane Freya. Fortunately our ground temperatures are nicely above average and will keep any snow from sticking.

Butterflies, Moths and Moorhens

We are now in deep Autumn and, although the Met service will declare the first day of December the start of Winter, usually winter does not take effect until after the Winter Solstice. For the first time in many weeks I spotted a butterfly basking in the sun, albeit on an unseasonably warm day. It was a Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae), a species which hibernates:

With any luck this one will also be basking in the sunlight of next spring. I observed it for quite a while and watched as it finally entered an old wooden nest box. Hopefully it will vacate the premises before any spring breeding birds move in and eat it.

While butterflies more properly belong to the warmer months there are moth species which only appear in autumn. One very handsome species which you might see, and which will soon be finished for the year is the Feathered Thorn (Colotois pennaria)  – the male has antennae that resemble feathers:

   In August I was in the Herbert Park in Dublin when I spotted a family of birds which are common in Wicklow, but almost impossible to see here because they are so shy and the ponds and lakes they inhabit are often on private land. These birds are Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) and, incredibly I saw young chicks and was able to record them over a period of months as they grew to full size – here is the video I made about them and I hope you enjoy it:

Moths and Butterflies Return

Winter has been very long and drawn out, but at last the weather seems to be improving and very gradually warming up. Late last night I was delighted to find two spring moths on a wall by a window. The first is the old reliable still lacking a common name, Diurnea fagella:

Slightly more impressive than this drab but variable moth was the stockier, and more handsomely marked Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi):

   This medium-sized (small medium) moth had a small chunk taken out of its left forewing, which was very possibly due to a nip from a bird’s beak.  The recent more consistent temperatures have caused spring flowers to bloom in a big way, and the annual mass flowering of dandelions is now beginning. Dandelions are extremely important for pollinators, and many other insects, as are the Lesser Celandine flowers. You can see one here being attended to by a Honey Bee (Apis mellifera).

   However, today I saw something which really lifted my spirits, my first butterfly of the year, a Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae):

And I even made a video about it, and it’s not as bad as it first seems: