Tag Archives: Summer Solstice

The Spring/Summer Intermediate

We’ve had a cold spring this year, and now we have reached the intermediate time when spring turns into summer. The first thing you will notice about this time of year is that, despite long days and sunny spells, there are few butterflies about. You might see one or two Orange-tip butterflies still on the wing,  but their time is now pretty much over until next year. They are beautiful though:

There are, of course, other butterflies around, but they are small in number, and mostly more drab species, such as the Speckled Wood,  which is a species I’m very fond of because it makes up for its lack of colours with attitude, being a cheeky butterfly that will ‘buzz’ you. However, butterflies aside, there are lots of other interesting creatures, such as beetles. In woodland glades you might find long horn beetles, aka timberman beetles, feeding on pollen. Here’s a very handsome species, Rhagium bifasciatum, which I found on a buttercup flower:

On the bogs along the coast of Wicklow there are many interesting creatures and plants to be seen at this time of year. There are warbler species and Stonechats are very brazen and beautiful in their breeding plumage – such as this male which regarded me suspiciously as I walked along the railway fence:

At this moment the bogs are covered in the beautiful blooms of the Yellow Flag, an iris species which grows in waterlogged ground and even in ponds. Many insects depend on them:

Keep an eye out for a very large caterpillar, which you might see crossing your path on a bog walkway if you visit a nature reserve. This wonderful-looking creature is the caterpillar of the Drinker Moth (Euthrix potatoria). The caterpillar is actually the source of the name, as it is said to be seen to drink drops of dew at this time of year,  a story that could have some truth to it, as folklore often does.:

The moth is much smaller than the caterpillar, but technically a large moth, as all of its relatives are quite big. The Drinker Moth is very stout and robust in a chunky sort of way. While you are looking for these caterpillars you might have a largish dragonfly zoom noisily past your ear. This will probably be the Hairy Hawker (Brachytron pratense), which is one of our earliest large dragonfly species. It is colourful and definitely hairy. I was very lucky to get a close-up shot of one only recently, and the camera lens was literally only a few centimetres from the dragonfly, which remained calm as it perched on a nettle:

Finally, a number of people have asked me if I could tell them what the amazing-looking  small blue-green beetles are that can be found on almost every flower along the coastal dunes in the last few weeks, as it is not easily found in books or online. That is definitely true. This beetle is the Blue-Green Soft-winged Flower Beetle (Psilothrix viridicoeruleus), which is a remarkably hairy little creature and seems to spend its time eating pollen and mating. Living the dream, I guess:

   Lately we have been having a very wet and cold time of it, and this does sometimes happen, with the weather far below par up until the Summer Solstice, which is the longest day of the year, but also the exact border between the seasons, ending the springtime and starting the true summer. The Summer Solstice this year will be this Friday at precisely six minutes before five o’clock in the afternoon in our local time, which is British Summertime (15.54 GMT). Many great summers started off as bad, if not worse than this one, so we can still hope for the best.

Full Moon and Summer Solstice

Anyone who uses Google will probably have seen the ‘First Day of Summer’ cartoon on the search engine today, but alas it is actually wrong. The Summer Solstice is actually happening at precisely 11.34 pm tonight (10.34 pm GMT/UT) so tomorrow will in fact be the first day of the astronomical summer, and to be honest, summer weather really does only reliably begin with the Summer Solstice. This year is coincides with a Full Moon, so expect high tides. Typically cloudy weather is accompanying the Solstice Full Moon. This can be due to tidal forces, but also pollen dust, which acts like regular dust and attracts moisture in the atmosphere.  And there are plenty of summer visitors arriving, such as the much watched for Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui), which I have seen occasionally in the last two weeks. Here’s one of the only good photos I got:

A very beautiful Painted Lsdy butterfly. They visit Wicklow every year, but will leave in the autumn, if they survive their stay.
A very beautiful Painted Lsdy butterfly. They visit Wicklow every year, but will leave in the autumn, if they survive their stay.

And there are many other exotic insects about, including one which I have only seen twice before, the stunning Wasp Beetle (Clytus arietis), which is as large as a wasp, but completely harmless. You will see these beetles on hedgerows and along, verges, in fields and even gardens:

A very handsome Wasp Beetle. Dangeorus-looking, but harmless. They are usually walking about on tall plants, or sunbathing, like this one.
A very handsome Wasp Beetle. Dangeorus-looking, but harmless. They are usually walking about on tall plants, or sunbathing, like this one.

However, ironically some harmless-looking insects can be a little bit harmful – almost all children know the Hairy Molly, a large hairy caterpillar which is often seen walking along sunlit paths and roads without a care in the world at this time of the year. In England they are known as Woolly Bears. The reason they are so unafraid is that they are bristling with poisonous hairs, which irritate the skin and lungs of some people, fortunately not me, as you can tell from this photo:

A handsome fuly-grown Hairy Molly.
A handsome fuly-grown Hairy Molly.

As for the adult this caterpillar will turn into – it’s a moth, and one of the most beautiful moths you are ever likely to see, the Garden Tiger (Arctia caja). I’ve only seen the moth twice before, but since there are many, many Hairy Molly caterpillars around, there must be many moths too, in the depth of the summer nights.

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.