Tag Archives: “Speckled Wood”

The Autumn Equinox

Tonight, and only a short time ago,  at 9.02 am local time here in Wicklow (8.02 pm GMT) was the exact halfway point between the Summer Solstice and the Winter Solstice. To put it bluntly, this is the definite end of summer and start of autumn, and from now until the Vernal Equinox next March each day will be shorter than the night. And the birds know that, so they’re fattening up, increasing their energy reserves by eating the various berries on the myriad trees and bushes which are brimming with them right now. Here’s a photo I got of a male House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) feeding on blackberries:

   And now butterflies are disappearing fast, although there are Large Whites, Green-veined Whites, Red Admirals, Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells still to be seen in small numbers. The latter two will hibernate and need to find suitable accomodation relatively soon if they are to make it to spring. However, the most numerous butterfly at this time of the year, and the one that blends in best with the autumn colours, is the Speckled Wood, which is usually the last species seen along hedgerows in the autumn. Their numbers are falling too, though. This September has been cooler than those we’ve had in recent years and that’s probably a factor.

But, if any creature plucks the heart strings more than others as it disappears from the landscape it’s the Swallow, You can still see some in our skies, but they’re flying south-east at speed, and usually not playfully hunting for insects as they were a few weeks ago. Now they have no time to waste and need to get to southern Europe and across the Sahara Desert to southern Africa with some degree of urgency, as the insect population on which they depend crashes in the colder, less sunny climate of autumn. There’s still a lot to enjoy out there though, and I’ll be doing my best to showcase it. Here is my slightly out-of-focus photo of a Swallow flyng quickly south,  and quite high up, this morning. I guess this is farewell and bon voyage, until next March or April:

 

The Last Days of Summer

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.

Beneath the Equinoctial Full Moon
Beneath the Equinoctial Full Moon

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.

A Convolvulus Hawmoth - our largest resident moth species.
A Convolvulus Hawmoth – our largest resident moth species.

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.

Poppies and Tansy-leaved Phacelia in a meadow I sowed this year. This is how they are right now.
Poppies and Tansy-leaved Phacelia in a meadow I sowed this year. This is how they are right now.

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:

A Painted Lady calmly basking in the sun.
A Painted Lady calmly basking in the sun.

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.

A Speckled Wood sheltering from a strong gale on a wall. This is probably a male as the female has very bright cream-coloured spots.
A Speckled Wood sheltering from a strong gale on a wall. This is probably a male as the female has very bright cream-coloured spots.

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.

Bales of hay in the late summer sun.
Bales of hay in the late summer sun.

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:

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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.