Tag Archives: wildlife

Cooler Temperatures

Autumn conditions this year began almost exactly with the Autumn Equinox and temperatures have become steadily cooler since then. There are still green leaves on many trees but much of the foliage is yellow or red and showers of cold rain and some northern breezes have reduced temperatures a lot.

Lower temperatures slow the growth of plant life, but also have an immediate effect on insect populations, killing many of them and sending others into torpor or hibernation. Despite this there are still some hardy species to be seen around, including some rarities, such as the very rare and beautifully marked Juniper Shieldbug (Cyphostethus tristriatus). I found this one last weekend, and it is the first recorded in Ireland since 2016. There were only 15 recorded in Ireland before this one:

They are probably far more common than the recorded numbers suggest. Keep an eye out for them.

There are many other insects which are very numerous in Autumn, such as the 22-spot Ladybird (Psyllobora vigintiduopunctata), which seems very at home in the Autumn landscape:

Although temperatures are usually hovering around 10°C, on sunny days some butterflies reach the 15°C necessary in order to fly. Today I found a Red Admiral flying about, feeding on the few remaining blooms of Butterfly Bush:

Some insects are very obvious, such as the handsome little 22=spot Ladybird (Sometimes you might not realise you are looking at an insect, or insect activity. If you can find an oak tree of any size, see if they have oak “apples”. As everyone knows acorns are the fruit of the oak tree. Oak apples are not fruit but look far more like fruit than acorns do:

   Oak apples are actually growths caused by tiny insects, oak gall wasps, which somehow create them by making a change happen at a molecular level. These growths are protective pods in which the insect grubs grow and develop. Eventually they hatch out, fly away, mate, and lay eggs on an oak tree.

Although there are fewer insects there are still lots of attractive birds about, and in autumn it’s often easier to get close to them than in summer, as they are forced to forage closer to human habitation. One particularly difficult bird to see is the Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis), but as foliage surrounding ponds and lakes begins to die back they become more apparent:

One bird that is very easy to spot because of it’s bold white colouration is the Little Egret (Egretta garzetta). This bird was very rare in Europe and almost extinct up until the 1950s. The reason for its rarity was due to overhunting for its head plumes, which were used in ladies’ hats back in the days when ladies wore ridiculously ornate hats on a daily basis. In fact, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the RSPB, was originally set up with the aim of protecting the few remaining individuals of this species living on the island of Great Britain:

How did such a rare species come to be living in Ireland, of all places. Incredibly this species is no longer rare. In fact, they can be found all across Europe in huge numbers due to the decline in the fashion for ridiculous hats. For reasons which are not yet understood they migrated into Ireland and can now bee seen in huge numbers along the coast, or on rivers and lakes.

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:

Another Heritage Week… but summer isn’t over yet

This weekend brings another Heritage Week to a close, but summer isn’t over yet. For one thing, I am still seeing one or two Swifts around. These birds are summer visitors, like much larger versions of Swallows and House Martins, but they arrive later, near the end of May, and they generally leave for their wintering grounds in the early weeks of August. They are quite easy to identify, forming crescent shapes when seen in silhouette:

Compare this Swift (Apus apus) above with the shape of a Swallow (Hirundo rustica) below, which has much shorter wings, and a much longer forked tail although here it is photographed at a slight angle as it climbs:

And there are quite a few beautiful moths around to be seen, and for many of them this time of year is their time of year. Keep an eye out for the stunning Garden Tiger (Arctia caja), a large moth that sometimes comes to window light:

There are also quite a few handsome butterflies to be seen in meadows and grasslands, such as this female Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus), which I photographed this morning:

Where there are butterflies there are also predatory insects to hunt them in the air – this is one of the best times of year to get close to dragonflies. The small Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) usually perches on fence posts, or walls and darts up to snatch at smaller insects: I saw this one perched on top of a Butterfly Bush:

However, in the last week I have seen the far larger, and incredibly robust Autumn Hawker (Aeshna mixta) dragonflies about. These powerful dragonflies hunt on the wing, and seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on the wing, although they do find perches to rest on for long periods too:

I was very fortunate to see and photograph (a bad photograph) a beautiful species of beetle I have never seen before, and that is the False Ladybird (Endomychus coccineus), which flew across a meadow and landed on a bench I was standing beside:

It is larger than the average ladybird and much longer, but is actually related and moves very much like a typical ladybird. Far less obvious and much harder to find, although very common, are bush crickets. This female Speckled Bush Cricket (Leptophyes punctatissima) was literally on a leaf I was looking directly at, but I only noticed it because it flicked its long, whip-like antennae, and it’s possible you might even struggle to see it in this photo, as it matches so perfectly the colour of the dock leaf it is standing on. They are quite large insects:

However, many insects are much easier to see, such as this Drone Fly (Eristalis species):

So long as there are flowers there will be insects to feed on them.