Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Sunflower (part two)

The Sunflower continues to attract butterflies. This Red Admiral is the third species I have seen nectaring after the Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock last week. A passing Speckled Wood didn't seem so interested. I have seen  this butterfly on the flower for three consecutive days, now.

Red Admiral on the Sunflower
Red Admirals have two generations each year. The first generation is migrant from France (or perhaps even further south) in springtime, and their offspring feed on nettles, emerging from late August to October and then heading south. In recent years, however, adults have been found overwintering in the south of Ireland (and England), So, as warming takes hold, we're seeing a transition from solely migrant to partially resident populations.

Phenology has also changed in some moths. Some species were described by their flying (or emerging) dates. So we have August Thorn, September Thorn, Winter Moth, November Moth, December Moth, etc. But in the couple of hundred years since they were named, weather patterns have changed, and their names are not so accurate nowadays. This August Thorn is a new species for my list, and can be separated from the September Thorn by the kink in the rear band of the forewing (arrowed).

August Thorn moth
This is a locally common moth, feeding on larger broad-leaved trees.

I suppose it's worth pointing out that the season for September Moth often starts earlier than the August Moth! Of course, it isn't just moths that are altering emergence and migration patterns. Birds like the Redstart and Fieldfare that used to arrive as winter visitors have become very scarce nowadays, since they stay in situ and overwinter further north. Flowering plants are also extending their flowering season. Have a look in plant books from a few decades ago, and their 'flowering seasons' will surprise you.

Friday, 2 October 2015


Our summer has been one long stream of anticyclones coming in over the Atlantic, bringing high winds and rain for almost four months. As a result, flying insects have been far less frequent than usual, with hedgerows and verges almost deserted for much of the year. Flowering plants don't seem to suffer quite as much, but perhaps the number of blossoms is down.

Late September and early October have seen the arrival of a high-pressure system that has 'stuck' in place over the UK and Ireland, bringing dry days and colder nights. The circulating wind has brought warm southerly air to Ireland, leading to an influx of European species to supplement the meagre numbers of locals. At one point last week I had 7 specimens of Silver Y moth in my greenhouse.

By a strange coincidence, this is the time of year for the second generation some of our native butterflies to emerge and prepare for hibernation. A large Sunflower which I grew this year has been very attractive to Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterflies:

Small Tortoiseshell

These will hibernate until March or April next year, when they will emerge to lay eggs, and the first 2016 generation will start. Both of these species use Nettles as their sole foodplant.

This is the first year for my new greenhouse and I tried different plants to see how they got on. I noticed after a while that pollination was largely being performed by a single male Episyrphus balteatus hoverfly:

Male Episyrphus balteatus
He was seen most days for perhaps 3 weeks, and made no attempt to escape through open vents or doors. Seems he was content to have a monopoly of the tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and melons.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Tattynure bioblitz

A return trip to one of my favourite locations. The land is being very sympathetically 'encouraged' for support of wildlife, and it's showing. The site is yielding either first Irish, first Northern Irish or scarce species in good numbers, and I always expect to find something new.

One particular area is very good for leaf miners. I found the micromoth Stigmella magdalenae, which is the second NI record, and the first since 1995:

Mine of the micromoth Stigmella magdalenae on Rowan

On the same tree I also found Stigmella nyrandriella:
Mine of Stigmella nyrandriella on Rowan

The main difference between these two species is the frass pattern: very narrow in magdalenae and more dispersed in nyrandriella.

Both new to my Species Index.

Some leaves on Bog Myrtle are very small, but I noticed mines on even the smallest leaves. It's Stigmella salicis, which mines Willows and Bog Myrtle:

Mine of Stigmella salicis on Bog Myrtle
I deliberately left my fingers in the shot for scale: the mine is around 15 mm. from left to right, and the adult moth is 4-6 mm. wingspan.

Also new to my  Species Index.

Another stunner is the parasitic fly Tachina grossa. This fly is one of the largest flies in Europe, and is larger than most queen bumblebees. These parasitise larger moth larvae: the host must be large enough to support multiple larvae of this huge insect.

The parasitoid fly Tachina grossa
Also new to my  Species Index.

I'm not quite sure if the epithet 'grossa' refers to its size or its appearance.

As an aside, I'll mention that the fungal season has well and truly started in Northern Ireland. We found several mature fungi in good condition.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

More from Murlough

Bioblitz at Murlough:

I had set people the task of bringing back any leaf galls that they found, and my workbench was soon loaded down with specimens.

The first specimen brought in was Aceria pseudoplatani made by a gall mite on Sycamore:

Aceria pseudoplatani on Sycamore
The gall is on the underside of the leaf, but is visible from the top as a yellow depression which makes it quite obvious. There is one previous record from Dublin last year. Murlough is also on the east coast, so I suspect it might just be newly colonising from the UK.

This Phanacis hypochoeridis (wasp) gall on Catsear was locally very common: I saw it in a couple of separate locations and almost every plant seemed to be galled. It's described as rare, so it must be very local. First Irish record was submitted last week after I identified the specimen! Each gall is a series of chambers, each one containing a yellow larva.
Phanacis hypochoeridis on Catsear 
New to my Species List
Bombus lapidarius - Red-tailed Bumblebee isn't rare, but I have never seen it on my patch. Here it is gathering pollen on a new flower for me: Restharrow

Bombus lapidarius on Restharrow

Both new to my Species list

This Yellow Shell moth flew over my shoulder and hid under a stile step. So this shot is taken with me lying on my back facing upwards at the underside of the step. Flash used. 
Yellow Shell moth
New to my Species List (which is badly in need of an update now!)

I'm getting lots of reports of the excellent hoverfly Volucella pellucens at the moment:

This was also taken at Murlough:

The hoverfly Volucella pellucens

This Cixiid landed on my recording sheet and I managed to get a couple of shots rattled off before it flew. It isn't the much more common Cixius nervosus, and seems to match Cixius cunicularius very closely.

Cixius cf. cuniculariu

Cixius cf. cunicularius
I can't find any previous records for this local species in Ireland.

I think my personal species tally for Murlogh was around 200, with 2-3 new records for NI and perhaps one new species for Ireland. I'm awaiting confirmation of id's before I report fully.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015


I participated in a coastal Bioblitz at Murlough in Northern Ireland at the weekend. This SSSI has a wonderful mix of coastal habitats as well as some woodland just inshore. There is also a patch of saltmarsh, which is a habitat type that I haven't encountered before and yielded many species that were new to me. Every step seemed to contain a plant, insect or some other invert that I didn't know existed.

The most obvious species in the saltmarsh were the plants, many of which were succulent (and tasted strongly of salt: I tasted them). We were lucky enough to find two Sea-Spurreys side by side: Greater Sea Spurrey:
Greater Sea-Spurrey - Spergularia media

And Lesser Sea-Spurrey:

Lesser Sea Spurrey - Spergularia marina

I have tried to crop the images so that the relative sizes of the flowers are maintained. Notice the thick, succulent leaves, especially on the Lesser.

Both new to my species list.

Also new is Lax-flowered Sea-lavender:

Lax-flowered Sea-lavender - Limonium humile
This is apparently quite scarce.

New to my Species List.

Sea Arrowgrass was growing just on the slightly dryer upper edges of the saltmarsh, almost under the trees:

Sea Arrowgrass - Triglochin maritima
Individual flowers are between 2 and 3 mm diameter.

Yet another new plant was Portland Spurge - Euphorbia portlandica:

Portland Spurge - Euphorbia portlandica
Identification was made mostly from the double horn-shape of the yellow petals.

New to my Species List.

Other plant species included Samphire and Sea Beet.

I'll add leaf-miners, galls and other inverts to the next post.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Butterfly day at Sheskinmore

The annual Donegal Butterfly Day was led by Bob Aldwell, co-author (with Frank Smyth) of "The butterflies of Donegal":

This excellent new book has species descriptions and images of all of the Donegal butterflies plus habitat descriptions. It also includes aberrations. It also includes several of my images.

The day started off dull and cold and the first hour yielded no butterflies, but I did find a Cinnabar moth:

Cinnabar moth
And a new gall on Blackthorn - Taphrina pruni:

Taphrina pruni on Blackthorn
This fungal gall infects the fruit, converting its growth pattern to maximise the area for spore dispersal.

New to my Species List.

There were also many specimens of Northern Marsh Orchid and the more scarce Early Marsh Orchid - Dactylorhiza incarnata, which appears in many colours:

Early Marsh Orchid
Just as we arrived at a known hot spot for butterflies, the clouds parted and we found ourselves surrounded by Marsh Fritillaries, Small Blues, Small Copper, Speckled Wood and Dingy Skippers. The Marsh Fritillary is under severe pressure in Europe due to extensive harvesting of peat bogs, and Ireland is really the last hope for this wonderful species:

Marsh Fritillary
This is a female currently in cop (you can just see the male at the bottom of the image).

Bioblitz workshop in Merlin Woods

On Tuesday, I ran a workshop on Bioblitzing in Merlin Woods, Galway. A dozen or so of us surveyed two areas of woodland and associated meadows, recording plants, insects, birds and lichens. The woodland is clearly ancient, and sits on limestone with areas of limestone pavement, leading to a wide biodiversity.

The workshop was arranged by the Friends of Merlin Woods, who are working very hard to reverse years of encroachment, and are preserving this wonderful resource for the future.

My personal list for the day reached around 200 species and this post shows some of the highlights.

I entrusted my net to two lads who were happy to chase down particular specimens on request, and we were able to photograph two specimens of the 4-spotted Chaser:

4-spotted Chaser

Since the woodland is on limestone and is a good deal further south than the area I usually survey, I had hoped to find species new to my list. One welcome addition is the Gorse Shieldbug. These are rather skittish and quickly run out of sight. You really need to wait until they think you're gone in order to get a decent shot:

Gorse Shieldbug. On Gorse.
New to my species list.

Oak trees are host to hundreds of species of insect and fungi, so are always worth a look. I spotted a new miner, which has now been identified and confirmed as the micromoth Acrocercops brongniardella which is rather scarce with just a handful of records in the country:
Mines of the micromoth Acrocercops brongniardella on oak
New to my species list.

At first I thought this was the common jumping spider Salticus scenicus, but when the images were blown up I realised that it was quite different. The dayglow yellow palps and striped legs leads us to Heliophana cupreus. About 6mm long.
The jumping Spider Heliophanus cupreus
New to my species list.

A dark area of woodland contained countless specimens of Birds-nest Orchid:

Birds Nest Orchid
New to my species list.

The woodland has some unusual trees, with interesting specimens cropping up in unexpected places. One Whitebeam had leaf galls which immediately attracted my attention, since the tree is scarce and galls are largely overlooked. It keys straight to the mite Eriophyes arianus, and I can find no previous records for Ireland.

Eriophyes arianus, top view

Eriophyes arianus, underside
New to my species list, and probably first Irish record.