Tag Archives: solstice

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

(A special thanks to Auntie Ros for her recent endorsement.)

The Summer Solstice was on Wednesday morning at 5.24 am (BST) aka 4.24 am Greenwich Meantime. However, Midsummer’s Day is actually tomorrow, St. John’s Day, making this the magical time of year known as Midsummer’s Eve. According to legend the most dangerous time of Midsummer’s Night is between midnight and sunrise. This is when the most powerful magical beings were said to roam the earth. However, modern time-keeping has created great confusion because true midnight, when the sun is on the exact opposite side of the earth to when it is in daytime at noon, is 12.00 am GMT.

But thanks to British Summer Time true midnight is actually at 1:00 am tonight at Greenwich in England. But, true midnight does not actually occur here in Wicklow, on the east coast of Ireland, until half-an-hour later because we are a few hundred kilometres to the west. So for us the magical beasts don’t actually have the run of the place until 1.30 am and for the very few hours until sunrise, which is very early in northern Europe. And yes, Midsummer’s Night is actually Midsummer’s Eve’s Night, or more correctly by modern reckoning, Midsummer’s Morning.  And there are some wonderfully magical creatures out there right now, such as this beauty:

   The White Plume Moth is a small moth which appears soon after dark and flies about at the ends of gardens. It looks just like a child’s idea of a fairy and appears to glow in the dark. Also, they are so white their details can only be seen properly in sunlight – your kids will be certain they’re seeing fairies as soon as the sun goes down. So do have a look for these at sunset. And then there is a very similar but much larger creature, the Ghost Moth (Hepialus humuli):

   The very best place to see these moths is on meadows along the seashore on warm balmy nights when they hover like small ghosts over the grassland. You can easily approach them. The males are a shiny, silky white and the reason they hover is that they are searching for the yellow and pink females lying in the undergrowth below them. These are quite large and impressive moths and really do seem magical. They can also be found in gardens with unsprayed lawns where their caterpillars feed on dandelion roots.

The magical creature I’m searching for tonight, and have never managed to see in my life, is the moth that this gigantic caterpillar will turn into:

   This is the caterpillar of the Elephant Hawkmoth (Deilephila elpenor) a very large moth which is a stunning pink and yellow colour. It feeds on honeysuckle in hedgerows and other similar plants, and lays its eggs on Rosebay Willowherb, which the extraordinary caterpillar feeds on. I have found several of these little monsters in my garden in the last few years, but have still never managed to see the moth, so tonight I’ll definitely be looking. And if I have any luck I’ll definitely be posting the photo tomorrow. In case you’re wondering about the caterpillar, it does give the species its name, but those are not eyes but in fact eyespots designed to make it look like a larger animal, perhaps a lizard. The actual head is at the very end of the ‘trunk’ and is a typical caterpillar-type head.

Midsummer’s Eve and Midsummer’s Night

Today is Midsummer’s Eve, and across much of the world the festival of Midsummer, Midsummer’s Night, is held from sunset on the eve until sunrise tomorrow, but only rarely in the British Isles in modern times.  What is the difference between the Summer Solstice and Midsummer? That’s where things get interesting.

A beautiful White Plume Moth, a small fairy-like creature, which is seen on lawns at night. I took this photo tonight.
A beautiful White Plume Moth, a small fairy-like creature, which is seen on lawns at night. I took this photo tonight.

In the same way that Christmas Day occurs three days after the Winter Solstice, the Feast Day of St. John the Baptist was three days after the Summer Solstice. John the Baptist was said to have been exactly six months older than Jesus, and whereas John baptised with water, Jesus was said to baptise with fire. Anyhow, in many places June 25 was the feast day of St. John, but in medieval times it was decided to settle on June 24, possibly for fear or the mirror-image similarities being noticed.

Anyhow, Midsummer’s Night, was traditionally held to be the most dangerous time of year, because between midnight and sunrise all sorts of spirits, ghosts, ghouls and goblins were held to be at their most powerful. Here in Wicklow midnight, the point at which the sun is furthest from where it set and where it will rise, actually occurs at around 12.30 GMT, which, in summertime, is actually 1.30 am. At Greenwich in London it occurs at 1 am tonight – so make sure you’re safe in bed before that time, or else go looking for Will-O’-The-Wisp, as traditionally it is most often seen on Midsummer’s Night.  It should also be a great night for moths and other creatures of the night. A good time for nature lovers.

 

Summer Solstice

Today the exact moment of the Summer Solstice occured at 5.38 pm Summertime (4.38 pm GMT), but in practical terms and astronomical ones, this is only the beginning of summer in Wicklow. We have had a dry but cold spring and only in the last two weeks has it become properly and consistently warm. There is still Cuckoo-spit on many of the hedgerow plants, the strange protective covering of bubbles worn by froghopper nymphs. And there in the flowers there are Flower Crab Spiders hiding in plain sight, and some of them will not be alone, as in the case of this photo below:

A tiny male Flower Crab Spider perched on the bulbous abdomen of the much larger female, fortunately out of her reach. Mating is a delicate and dangerous procedure for him.
A tiny male Flower Crab Spider perched on the bulbous abdomen of the much larger female, fortunately out of her reach. Mating is a delicate and dangerous procedure for him.Hi is camouglaged to blend in with bird dung, of all things.

Also, keep an eye out for the remarkably bright green-coloured Cucumber Orb-weaver aka Green Orb-weaver (Araniella cucurbitina ) which makes a tiny web, usually in the middle of large leaves, curling their edges. It hangs upside down from this so its amazing colours are often not quite so obvious, but it has a red spot on the underside rear of its abdomen.

The best photo I have ever achieved of a Cucumber Orb-weaver, and this one is a male. You can tell this by the club-shaped palps (little arms) hanging below his head. Unusually for orb-weaver spiders, the male and female in this species are almost the exact same size. Very little is known about their behaviour.
The best photo I have ever achieved of a Cucumber Orb-weaver, and this one is a male. You can tell this by the club-shaped palps (little arms) hanging below his head. Unusually for orb-weaver spiders, the male and female in this species are almost the exact same size. Very little is known about their behaviour.

All you need to know about orb-weaver spiders is that they produce the classic spider webs, the really beautiful ones. The largest of the family you are likely to see will be the Garden Spider, which has been covered often on this blog. Anyhow, this time of year, which has always been associated with powerful magic, is indeed a magical time.