Tag Archive: butterflies

After releasing the Hebrew Character and spending the morning on some very worthwhile physics revision, and after soup, cheese, wheaten and a quarter of a mars bar…

… I went to Glencairn Park.

Those who’ve been following my gallavantings for a while will be somewhat familiar with Glencairn Park by name. I posted a few photos recently that hopefully gave a sense of the place. But I thought I’d do a bit of writing as well.

First, to break up the text, an artistically-messed-up photo of a lesser celandine flower, photographed there.



At the very western edge of Belfast where housing estates abruptly meet steep muddy fields, Glencairn Park is an area of mixed woodland, recreational grassland and grazing meadows which has provided me with some nice wildlife moments over the past few years (since I got the courage to go there alone. Muddy tracks leading to bottlecap-littered areas hint at the nighttime goings-on, and quash any desire I have to go dusking there!)

I squeezed through the overgrown galvanised access gate into the central grazing meadow. “Well, what have you got for me this time?” Last year, the meadow introduced me to such characters as Grapholita jungiella and Glyphipterix thrasonella. Today, nothing much seemed to be happening – just not enough sun yet. I picked out blackcaps and a chiffchaff from the auditory fauna for the first time this year as I descended down into Forth River’s valley, into an area pockmarked with deep hoof-sized holes from far muddier days.

I followed the cattle tracks into an area I hadn’t previously explored – an open bit of ground with swathes of bramble flattened from the winter’s heavy snows.

And there, powerfully fluttering through the air and alighting on a bare bine-stem, was my first butterfly of the year.


Well, there’s a first. And a very nice surprise indeed. For the past three years since I turned into a lepidopterist my first butterfly of the year has always been a Small Tortoiseshell. But a Peacock! Does this tell of a different type of year to come?

Patrick Barkham, in The Butterfly Isles, anticipating his first butterfly of the year in 2009, writes about the characters of the Moomin world of Tove Jansson, discussing the significance of the first butterfly of the year. A black or brown butterfly is sad. A yellow butterfly foretells a happy summer, while a white butterfly heralds a quiet summer. But a golden butterfly is the best of all!

The Small Tort probably goes under “golden”. And, not that I make it my business to read into signs, indeed I’ve had three great summers, even if they left me a bit burnt out.

But a crimson red butterfly? What can that mean? 🙂

It has probably something to do with the gigajassive adventure of going to uni. I just hope its black-brown underside isn’t significant…

The beautifully, cryptically patterned underside of the splendid Peacock.

Turning around and poising its wings, it settled to bask in the intermittent sun.


Up close and beautiful

Then, as I was creeping up with the camera, it was up again – chasing off another Rhopaloceran, smaller and flashing orange as it retreated into the treetops, only to sneak in around the corner a few seconds later to take advantage of some lesser celandine nectar. Well Luke Hewitt Iz, a Small Tortoiseshell.

The smiling butterfly

As the sun went in for the last time, the butterflies disappeared and I explored for a while. The bumblebee population seems to be thriving, which is very encouraging. I spotted Bombus lucorum, terrestris, lapidarius, pratorum and pascuorum, all foraging on a pink-flowering shrub which looked a bit non-native but is certainly welcomed by these members of the ecological community.

Ah, spring.

Sallow catkins, on a tree broken by the winter's snows but still alive

Sallow catkins, on a tree broken down by the winter’s snows but still alive

Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell get the year list off the ground

And the bees get their list too!
2013 BEES: 5


How to Catch a Grayling

Frollicking with one of Northern Ireland’s most entertaining butterflies, in good old Murlough NNR! Do turn the quality up (gear symbol on toolbar).

This is what happened when I decided to stand for two minutes on a Grayling butterfly’s territory. We had fun.


Common Blue (female); Kinnegar Bay; 16 Jul 2012

A female Common Blue enjoying a nice drink from a birds-foot trefoil flower.

Small Tortoiseshell; Kinnegar Bay; 16 Jul 2012

The charismatic Small Tort.

Beautiful Golden Y; Springmartin; 17 Jul 2012

And finally, one from last night’s moth trap: a Beautiful Golden Y.


Micropterix aruncella, Glencairn Park, 21 May 2012

Micropterix aruncella, Glencairn Park, 21 May

This week has been blessed with heavenly weather across the UK. To wind down after my AS Chemistry practical exam on Monday, I took to Glencairn Park where warm and mostly cloudy conditions made ideal dayflying-micro-spotting conditions. I bagged no less than four new species for my list [NFM]: Micropterix calthella, Micropterix aruncella, Psychoides filicivora and the Nettle-tap Anthophila fabriciana.

Cryptic Wood White, Cinnabar and Ancylis badiana showed up too, all [NFY]! (“New For my Year list” for anyone unfamiliar with mothing terminology.)

Psychoides filicivora [NFG] (New For Garden) showed up again as I was putting the 25W Blacklight trap out in the garden last night. It sat on a rosemary plant for a photo shoot but didn’t come to the trap when it went on. Probably for the best – the dew on the trap is pretty dangerous for micros and flies, they tend to get stuck to the lid and perish!


Some light fog rolled in overnight but the morning revealed:

Ancylis badiana : 1
Silver-ground Carpet : 1

and a couple of unidentifiable micros (one too fast, the other too bedraggled)

Common Pug : 1 [NFY]
Spectacle : 1 [NFY] Not a Dark Spec! What????
Silver-ground Carpet : 2
Mompha subbistrigella : 1 [NFY]
Grey Pine Carpet : 1 [NFY][NFG][NFM] 
Common Marbled Carpet : 1

All in all my best catch so far this year!

Grey Pine Carpet, trapped in garden 22-23 May 2012

Grey Pine Carpet, with a sticky-up bottom

Grey Pine Carpet  and too many micro-moths to list again make it:
2012 MOTHS: 24

Cryptic Wood White boosts the butterfly total to:


Hillsborough Forest Lake

Hillsborough Forest Lake

Our family took a trip to the County Down village of Hillsborough today, taking advantage of the sunny weather. Nobody told the northerly breeze it was supposed to be a nice day, but despite its best efforts the wind couldn’t suppress a few butterflies – a Small Tort fluttered vigorously past as we started a brisk walk through the trees around the lake.

American Skunk-Cabbage (Lysichiton americanus), Hillsborough Forest Lake, 12 Apr 2012

American Skunk-Cabbage (Lysichiton americanus). Apparently it smells pretty bad close up.

A patch of bright yellow American Skunk-cabbage flowers by the lake caught our attention as the path made a bend. But further out I saw what I thought was a duck sitting on its nest. The bird had a red-brown head. Wigeon maybe? Pochard?

Nesting Great Crested Grebe, Hillsborough Forest Lake, 12 Apr 2012

The mystery 'duck'

But as I squinted through the binoculars the mystery duck raised and turned its head to reveal the unmistakable, unforgettable face of a –

“Great Crested Grebe!” I gasped.

(At this point I will have to enlist the halp of Jack, one of my contacts on Flickr and a much better photographer than I am…)

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) © Purple Centipede~Jack on Flickr

I’ve never seen this bird before – and I wasn’t expecting to see it any time soon! Moreover, I wouldn’t have dreamed of finding one sitting on its nest!

We completed our circuit of the lake, and after returning to the toilets at the Fort where we had earlier discovered Jackdaws nesting in a tree on the lawn…

Nesting Jackdaws, Hillsborough Fort, 12 Apr 2012


…we had lunch in town. I renewed my love of sundried tomatoes, revived my hate of burnt red onion marmalade, and had the worst milkshake I have ever had at a cafe in town which shall remain nameless.

We dandered down Main Street to look for an entrance to the other lake in the town. A foray into the play park was unsuccessful in finding a gate (the lake was probably in the private grounds of Hillsborough Castle) but very successful in another way. A pale blue shape fluttered in the sunshine and landed on a fresh chestnut leaf lobe – my first Holly Blue of the year. It opened its wings to bask, showing the broad black borders that identified it as a female.

Holly Blue female, Hillsborough, 12 Apr 2012

Hiya Celastrina!

And then we returned home for dinner and wallpaper stripping. 🙂

2012 BIRDS
Great Crested Grebe takes my year list to 80
and my British life list to 114

Holly Blue takes my year list to


Orange-tip male, Glencairn Park, 10 Apr 2012


As I walked up the road through Glencairn Park this morning, I agonised about the cool breeze; braced myself for disappointment; tried to convince myself that I could still have a nice walk without butterflies…

No need to worry. The Orange-tip was braver than I was. It fluttered down the lane towards me, felt the wind then settled on a nettle. Kneeling down, ignoring the stings of the nettles, I said hello.

Orange-tip male, Glencairn Park, 10 Apr 2012

Bracing himself against the wind...

Orange-tip male, Glencairn Park, 10 Apr 2012


Orange-tip brings my year list to…


Quel an!

With GCSEs… work experience… butterfly outings… birds… it really has been an important year for me. But most significantly it’s been a year for making contacts with other nature enthusiasts. I’m very thankful to them for giving me such a warm welcome. (And for teaching me a thing or two!)

I have enjoyed the natural world so much this year. I suppose it’s been a year where I’ve gradually turned into a birdwatcher on top of being a lepidopterist! I’ve begun to report my bird sightings and make lists of the species of seen, and so I can safely say that my Northern Irish bird total for 2011 comes to 101 species – including lots of new faces.

Well, I say faces. There was one bird that I never actually saw – a trill and a wheeze from somewhere behind a hedge was enough to inform me of the presence of a Yellowhammer. It has been a minor dream of mine to hear it sing its “littlebitofbreadandnocheeeeeeeeeeeeeeese” song – a dream fulfilled in an appropriate way: my only auditory bird discovery.

Some encounters were more spectacular. I shall never forget seeing that short-eared owl lifting off a fencepost in front of me. Or finding that sparrowhawk relieving a pigeon of its feathers.

28 Oct 2011 Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawk breakfast

Or seeing whooper swans in July.

Or watching vultures soar around the Shenandoah Valley.

I saw my rarest-ever bird, Wilson’s Phalarope: one young wader blown off course into Belfast Lough.

18 Aug 2011 Black-headed Gull, Wilson's Phalarope and Knot

The beautiful white one in the middle.

And my ID skills are growing – I can now tell shags from cormorants (the shag has a steep forehead).

27 Dec 2011 Shags at the Lagan Weir

Shags at the Lagan Weir - not as rare as I had thought!

Another thing I’ll never forget is standing by a waterfall watching Purple Hairstreak butterflies chase each other around the oak trees. The second-rarest butterfly in Northern Ireland, yet so apparently invulnerable and free in their fifty-foot homes.

But whoops, I wax lyrical, and I’d better stop before someone throws up (like myself). The proudest moment of my year, second only to getting my GCSE results (!) was witnessing a caterpillar that I had protected through the winter turn into a lovely little female micromoth one sunny afternoon, and then find a dashing suitor that very night. This was Diurnea fagella. (For the benefit of anyone who knows Latin, a more appropriate name might be Nocturna mali, but never mind.)

To me, she’s Flipper.

To him, she’s well fit like.

26 Mar 2011 Diurnea fagella pair in cop

True love. The female on the left, male on the right.

My first butterfly sighting of the year was surprising in nature but not at all surprising in identity…

16 Mar 2011 Small Tortoiseshell - at school!

Dozy but very much alive, a Small Tort on the bathroom windowledge at school.

And then there was America! Amazing weather and amazing wildlife… including the brilliant Juniper Hairstreak…

25 Apr 2011 Juniper Hairstreak

Juniper Hairstreak on juniper at the lake near the hotel.

Back home I spent another summer catching moths in my back garden and in Murlough with my modified-badminton-racket-net, turning up some beautiful semi-rarities (Small Elephant Hawk; Narrow Bordered Bee Hawk) but also some beautiful unrarities like this pristinish Yellow Shell.

30 May 2011 Yellow Shell

A common but beautiful Yellow Shell brightens up a dark evening.

And of course the glorious daytimes brought such delights as Silver-washed Fritillaries, Graylings galore and my first ever Wall Browns.

17 Aug 2011 Wall Brown female

The rarest of them all.

All in all, Northern Ireland showed me 24 butterflies and 104 moths this year.

But there was one incredibly special moment that didn’t involve butterflies, birds, OR moths…

28 Sep 2011 Common Darter dragonfly

Greetings from the Ood ...onata

If I needed any encouragement to accept a challenge to a 2012 dragonfly race, this was it – a Common Darter dragonfly landing on my hand. I have a feeling I’ll be seeing a lot more of the Odonata in 2012!

Blogging all my experiences this year has been a joy, and I hope you’ve loved MMXI as much as I have.

Happy New Year!!!

Samuel Millar