Tag Archives: “Speckled Wood”

Early Autumn

Autumn began properly last Monday, 23 September, with the Autumn Equinox. This year there is a superabundance of berries of all kinds – most spectacularly those roaring red ones of the Rowan or Mountain Ash tree, and blackberries, the fruit of the Bramble, one of most common and important wild plants. And let’s not forget the seasonal orchard fruit on which civilisation still somewhat depends, such as cooking apples:

However, according to tradition you should not eat blackberries after the feast of Michelmas, which is today, because legend has it the Devil spits on the blackberries! Well, whatever about the Devil, rodents of all sizes have certainly been up in the hedges eating them recently, and many blackberries have gone mouldy on the bush, so there’s probably a  lot of sense to this tradition. However, this year many blackberries are yet to ripen:

   There are certainly lots of moulds and fungi about. Some are drab, and some spectacular. Here is the Common Inkcap, which often appears on damp lawns in September:

Some fungus looks remarkable, such as the Bird’s Nest Fungus  which is named because each flower head looks like a nest with eggs in it, albeit an extremely stylised nest. I think they look like cupcake cake papers:

Although the days are now shorter than the nights, and temperatures are getting progressively lower, it’s one of the very best times of year to see butterflies because in order to feed they often enter gardens where flowers are still blooming, and where there are warm shelters and sun traps. This year has been a bumper one for the Comma butterfly in particular. Commas can easily be identified by their ragged wings. This one was perched on a white sheet, which really highlights the strange ragged appearance of the wings:

The Comma below is sitting on a Butterfly Bush. Some of these bushes are still flowering… but not for very much longer.

The most common butterfly at this time of year is the Speckled Wood, and it will usually be the last seen in Autumn. They are not known to hibernate but it wouldn’t surprise me if they are eventually discovered to do this:

At this time of year, due to the lower temperatures, the butterflies move more slowly and take the time to perch and open their wings in order to warm up. Butterflies can only fly when the temperature reaches 15°C, so basking becomes very important. Many species are known to hibernate. In Ireland Small Tortoiseshells can be seen entering houses, sheds and other buildings to hibernate in autumn and they can often be spotted flying on mild sunny days even in November:

Another species which hibernates, and only recently proven to do so, is the Red Admiral, which is a very bold and striking butterfly, and it will land on people too if they provide a place to rest in the sunshine:

And there is another species which shares these tendencies, although it seems this one also migrates – the Peacock butterfly:

Some butterflies actively migrate, such as the Painted Lady. It will fly south with the swallows and house martins. Thousands of them  filled the skies of Wicklow this year:


Some moth species also  migrate – mostly famously the Silver-Y. While it has been a great year for the Painted Lady it has been a disappointing one for the Silver-Y, but there are some about, flying in both day and night, and sometimes resting by windows at night:

There are still one or two Barn Swallows about, but mostly individual stragglers, older birds more experienced in the vagaries of intercontinental travel. Here’s one I saw flying south a couple of days ago:

Whilst most creatures breed in springtime, spiders mostly prefer autumn. And some spider relationships are quite complex – the male  Segmented Orb-weaver has to impress the female with a gift and she will only select him as her mate if the gift-wrapped gift is satisfactory. This one seems to have been successful and to have moved in with a female:

Slugs and snails also breed at this time of year, but they also mate in spring and all the way through when weather permits – here are two impressive Yellow Slugs, mating:

Slugs are hermaphrodites – each one is both male and female. However, in order to ensure genetic health they must mate – they must share their genes with others. The male in each slug mates with the female in the other. However, not all molluscs are hermaphrodites – cuttlefish, squid and octopuses have male and females – gender is a biological fact and a necessity.

Sadly, some of springs babies have not survived the year. Here is something which was recently drawn to my attention by the warden on the East Coast Nature Reserve  – a young Otter, presumably hit by a car on the Sea Road:

For those creatures that stay and winter in Wicklow there is ample opportunity to plan for next year – here are three Jackdaws inspecting chimney pots for suitable nesting sites – these could be siblings hanging about last year’s nest, but are probably last year’s breeding pair and one of their children. Many birds, including Jackdaws, serve apprenticeships with their parents, choosing nest sites, building nests and helping to get food for the young:

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: