Lullybeg Reserve News

Lullybeg’s Crabtree Reserve continues to produce good numbers of butterflies well into September, despite the often disappointing weather since late July.

Sunday saw some stunning conditions and Red Admirals, many very recently emerged, were observed feeding on Devil’s-bit Scabious, one of Lullybeg’s best nectar sources and certainly the best autumn food source for the reserve’s butterfly, moth, bee and hoverfly populations.

There were significantly fewer  Red Admirals than earlier in the month, but this points to migration; at this time of the year, Red Admirals, after feeding up for a few days after emerging, head across the seas to breed further south where temperatures and larval food plants are more suitable. The individuals still present are mainly later emergents and will leave in their turn. However, already their basking behaviour differs from that observed in early September. When direct sunshine was interrupted by a cloudy then, the Red Admirals continued to feed initially, but then left the flower to bask, often on the ground or low down to recover heat lost while feeding during a cloudy interval.  Towards the end of the month the butterflies leave the flower shortly after it clouds over to seek cover or to bask higher up, such as on a tree trunk, to catch the  light when the sunshine returns, especially in the afternoon when shadows lengthen. Basking  by Red Admirals on trees is often observed in late September and  October; as the sun’s angle becomes lower, the butterfly basks higher up. Luckily it finds food on trees that contain Common Ivy, a valuable late autumn nectar source. Humble and even unloved it may be,  ivy is a banquet for insects flying late in the year. In overcast but mild conditions, Red Admirals are capable of remaining active.  Because of this ability it can fly during mild conditions even in mid-winter.  The butterfly only needs direct sunshine to maintain activity when air temperatures are cool.

Brimstones were also on the wing, enjoying the Devil’s-bit Scabious nectar in the lovely autumn sunshine. Here the benefits of the lower autumn light can be seen; it passes through the golden male Brimstone’s wings, showing an intense purity, like holding up a jar of honey to view with the sun shining through it. In fact, the colour of the Brimstone appears liquid, a fluid intensity that one almost expects to see leak golden light! In short, a photograph of a back-lit Brimstone is a must-have!

Another busy butterfly is the Small Tortoiseshell. Like the Brimstone he is feeding in advance of over-wintering in its adult incarnation; unlike the Brimstone which seeks a leafy sanctuary such as that afforded by Common Ivy, Common Holy and bramble, it seeks dark, often pitch black winter quarters. The Brimstone is more vulnerable to paralysis when the sun stops shining. It very swiftly loses the ability to fly when direct sunshine is terminated while the Small Tortoiseshell can fly in dull but mild conditions. This explains the longer flight season of the Small Tortoiseshell in Ireland, and why it is found throughout the country while the Brimstone does not occur in north Leinster or Ulster.

Speckled Woods were about in fair numbers last Sunday. The autumn brood of this woodland and hedgerow butterfly, whose numbers peak around mid-September, is often very large and for a week or two it seems that summer is not over at all! Sadly, this boom passes quickly, and numbers are now thinning out…

A few Green-veined Whites, representing a partial third brood put in an appearance. One male Green-veined White tormented a male Brimstone. The rather annoyed Brimstone did his best to shake off the unwelcome attention by flying erratically, and by gaining height; Green-veined Whites rarely fly at tree-top level. This one did. The Brimstone then tumbled downwards pursued by his amorous pest until I netted both and released one, then the other. The likely end to this scenario was avian attack and I was in an interfering mood. However, the male Green-veined White was fairly exhausted by his efforts, and needed a rest to bask and recover lost body heat. Both protagonists are pictured here, after the incident.

Enjoy the rest of September.

Green-veined White.©J.Harding.
Male Brimstone on Devil’bit Scabious.©J.Harding.
Red Admiral basking on birch trunk©J.Harding.


Killeglan Grasslands Special Area of Conservation (SAC) Update

Butterfly Conservation Ireland attempted to contact the National Parks and Wildlife personnel responsible for the region in which Killeglan Grasslands is located to check if the site was damaged or about to be damaged. This issue is referred to in a previous post.

After several phone calls and over a week after our concerns were relayed, we were contacted and a site visit was made by the person responsible for checking on designated sites in that area. We were told that the damage done bordering the site took place some (unspecified )time ago and that the piling up of stone on the SAC was carried out several years ago and is that noted in the site description published on the National Parks and Wildlife website.

Butterfly Conservation Ireland expressed its concern to the official about the failure to respond to our message and about the time taken to deal with the issue. The National Parks and Wildlife staff have the crucial role of monitoring our designated sites which contain our best natural habitats. The delay in responding might see irreparable damage caused.

We hope that our special places receive the protection they need, and that the National Parks and Wildlife Service is given the resources, management and support needed. Above all, we will continue to press for the fullest commitment to nature conservation by the staff of the organisation.

Enormous destruction of Ireland’s natural heritage took place especially from the 1970’s. Unless we show we really are serious about defending remaining patches, we will have nothing left to protect.

End of a Raised Bog. ©J.Harding.

Admiral Autumn

August has drained into September. September so far refuses to redeem its predecessor, dribbling feebly on some days while squally showers and sharp bursts of sheeting rain dominate others along with murky skies and rapidly depreciating daylight. September has not shone but the scarlet and black Red Admiral is everywhere, and building its forces still. This most handsome migrant has been advancing since April and is now erupting, commandeering nectar supplies for the next phase of its campaign.

A breeder on the Stinging Nettle, it has been quietly about its business all summer and is now showing its colours. Over 80 were counted at Lullybeg today, almost all of them in picture-perfect in their regimental dress uniforms. While not intricately patterned and multi-coloured like the Peacock, the Red Admiral has a smart costume, arrestingly sharp in appearance. Most if not all of the Red Admirals I saw today will feed a few days more before heading south across the Irish Sea or St George’s Channel to invade, or seek refuge in warmer climes perhaps in the south of England or the continent. There some of our Red Admirals might settle to breed while others may push further southwards before finding the conditions suitable for their offspring.

The very southern fringes of Spain and France or even North Africa might be the ultimate destination of Ireland’s autumn admirals. There, during the warm, sunny conditions along with seasonal rain will allow for breeding into next spring when dry, hot conditions burn off nettles and return our admirals to us.

In recent times, though, some admirals, it seems, have decided against the hazardous overseas migration. This phenomenon was first noticed  in this part of the world near the south coast of England, around the year 2000. Some now remain in Ireland, but unlike the brave but misguided Barn Swallow in The Happy Prince,  some of these have survived. Clinging on in mild spots along sheltered coastal niches, Red Admirals have been found, breeding through the winter. Howth Head in North Dublin has seen this activity. Here the strategy has been for adults to breed in late autumn and early winter and for the immature stages to develop slowly in the cool conditions from mid-winter to late spring. The coastal sighting of Red Admirals elsewhere in Ireland and England late and early in the year hint at resilient breeders or stranded butterflies.

There is no doubt, though, that most of the admirals feeding  now will leave our shores. If the number of Red Admirals in our fields, woods and gardens are as high as those elsewhere in Northern Europe, there will surely be enormous numbers reaching  southern breeding grounds from early October. A candidate for Butterfly of the Year 2017?

Red Admiral, Lullybeg, Kildare.© J.Harding.