Tag Archives: “wild flowers”

Autumn Surprises

At the end of every summer I usually have a few regrets, mostly places I didn’t go, creatures I didn’t see, and photos I just missed. One of my regrets this year was I didn’t see so much as a single Hummingbird Hawkmoth (Macroglossum stellatarum) all spring and summer. And then it happened – the Autumn Equinox was gone and it was getting cooler, and one bright sunny morning (late morning) a Hummingbird Hawkmoth flew past me and landed on a Butterfly Bush to bask in the weakening sunlight, allowing me to sneak up and get a macro of what looks, to the casual observer, like a large and very unspectacular moth. Of course, we all know differently:

   But that wasn’t all – this spring and summer, for reasons which never revealed themselves, I didn’t see one Beaked Hoverfly (Rhyngia species). And then one appeared as if by magic only moments after the Hummingbird Hawkmoth had flown away, feeding on a cultivated convolvulus flower:

This year there are plenty of hoverflies to be seen, even now. There has been a mass blooming of dandelions this autumn, currently underway, and many handsome species can be seen feeding on them. And their favourites, the convolvulus flowers, are still blooming in many places. Here is the very common hoverfly species Syrphus ribesi feeding on Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium). However, it seems some of the predators which stalk these flowers are still about – I didn’t notice it when I took this photo, but look at the white object beneath the flower. Do you know what that is?

This bright white beast, which looks like a fallen petal, is a female Flower Crab Spider (Misumena vatia) and the hoverfly is very lucky it had left the flower as it almost certainly would not have seen the spider until after it had been caught by it. Autumn, more than any other time of year, is dominated by spiders. Flies beware!

Flowers and the Dawn Chorus – Spring is Here!

It was in the last days of January the crocuses began to spring up. They didn’t open though, remaining spear-like flowerbuds. And then last Saturday some opened slightly and briefly, and then shut again due to the cold. There is one group of Early Crocuses which have always grown in my garden which I consider the markers of true spring, when snow simply will not sit on the ground anymore even if it does fall. These crocuses finally opened today after a night of rain.

Early Crocuses open and declare the spring.
Early Crocuses open and declare the spring. As you can see the shadows are stil long under the winter sun.
Crocuses are robust little flowers until they open, at which time they become as delicate as tissue paper. They are surreal against what had been a winter landscape.
This one is a different crocus, a hortiucultural variety, but still beautiful. Crocuses are robust little flowers until they open, at which time they become as delicate as tissue paper. Their gaudy colours are surreal against what had been a winter landscape.

Flowers begin the spring because they provide pollen and nectar for insects to feed on. The more flowers there are, the more insects there are, and the more larger animals have to feed on. Of course, the slightly warmer temperatures also cause grubs to transform into beetles, and here is one of the first I’ve seen this year, Aphodius prodromus, a type of tiny dung beetle which breeds in horse-manure. There just happens to be a field full of horses nearby.

This little beetle had evidently flown across the garden before crash-landing in a puddle of water - a lucky escape. They are stong fliers but clumsy too.
This little dung beetle had evidently flown across the garden before crash-landing in a puddle of water -from which it had a lucky escape with my help. They are stong fliers but clumsy too.

Wicklow was very dry this winter, with little or no rainfall for almost a month up until two days ago. The result has been an almost magical opening of flowers, including one unexpected little beauty, and one of the most important wild flowers of the spring – Lesser Celandine.

This specimen of Lesser Celandine has nine petals, but they can have as few as six. The plant is a member of the buttercup family, and so many bloom they can turn whole areas yellow. Insects absolutely thrive on their flowers, particularly hoverflies.
This specimen of Lesser Celandine has nine petals, but they can have as few as six. The plant is a member of the buttercup family, and so many bloom they can turn whole areas yellow. Insects absolutely thrive on their flowers, particularly hoverflies. For now this one stands alone.

At seven this morning, in the damp twilight, the dawn chorus began. Birds of many species began singing loudly and melodiously and were perfectly audible indoors. The chorus lasted about half-an-hour and it is the first time I’ve heard it this year. Dawn is still quite late, but gradually the mornings will lengthen and become earlier and the dawn choruses will grow longer and longer. However, the breeding season has begun and spring is most definitely here.

Flower Power

We are now at the height of the summer flowering, and wild flowers are now at their most abundant, as are cultivated flowers in gardens. The flowering should continue through to the end of August and into September without a problem, so long as the weather stays reasonably good. The rains of the last few days have really helped the soil and enhanced the blooming. And, as a direct result, there has been an explosion in the insect population, particularly butterflies, moths, bees and hoverflies.

A Red-tailed Bumblebee taking pollen from a Cornflower. These bees are obsessed with the colours blue and purple, and are attracted to blue Cornflowers and big thistle heads, but will often ignore the same species in a different colour. There's a mystery here to be solved...
A Red-tailed Bumblebee taking pollen from a Cornflower. These bees are obsessed with the colours blue and purple, and are attracted to blue Cornflowers and big thistle heads, but will often ignore the same species in a different colour. There’s a mystery here to be solved…

The meadow in the photo above was planted by me. It was an experiment, and has been so successful I’m going to be doing it again next year on a grander scale. This little meadow is the equivalent of a coral reef on dry land and has attracted some less common garden visitors, such as the Small Copper butterfly, which you can see below.

The Small Copper is a very small but striking butterfly only slightly larger than my thumbnail. It can blend into the background perfectly when it wants to, simply by folding its wings, which are camouflaged on the undersides.
The Small Copper is a very small but striking butterfly only slightly larger than my thumbnail. It can blend into the background perfectly when it wants to, simply by folding its wings, which are camouflaged on the undersides.

As beautiful as the butterflies are, they have some serious competition from the moths. A very interesting medium-sized moth coming to house lights at the moment is the Burnished Brass. It gets its name because its wings look like they are literally made of brass. But illustrations in books and photographs often fail to do them justice. However, by sheer force of luck, I think I might have managed it with the photo below.

I photographed this Burnished Brass last night. The wings always remind me of fancy sweet wrappers. That's candy wrappers to you Americans.
I photographed this Burnished Brass last night as it rested on a window. The wings always remind me of fancy sweet wrappers. That’s candy wrappers to you Americans.

But the big moths are not the only interesting or pretty ones. It’s easy to overlook the very small ones, but a closer inspection can reveal incredible patterns and colours. The tiny moth in the photo below is a combination of caricature and beauty, one of many small species that live in the meadows and come to light at night time. As yet it has no common name, so any wit out there can try his or her hand at coming up with an appropriate one, and seeing if it sticks. Only time will tell.

Agriphila selasella is a very common species in Wicklow, but is badly in need of an art common name. 'Meadow Pointer' is my stab at it.
Agriphila selasella is a very common species in Wicklow, but is badly in need of an apt common name. ‘Meadow Pointer’ is my stab at it.

Some of the best meadowland in Wicklow actually lies along the seashore. This week I spotted my first Hummingbird Hawkmoth of the year feeding on the small dense yellow cloud-like flower-clusters of Ladies’ Bedstraw in one of these beach meadows. While you are down there you still have time to see how the Horned Poppy gets its name, as they have their long seedpods which look like horns. The one in the photo below is a classic example.

A Horned Poppy on a Wicklow beach, looking almost like a sculpture.
A Horned Poppy on a Wicklow beach, looking almost like a sculpture, or some strange walking plant.