Tag Archive: wildlife

A Butterfly in December

Some butterflies, such as the Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Comma, Brimstone and Red Admiral, hibernate as adults over the winter. Others, such as the Small White, don’t. Pity no-one told this one.

Small White, Highfield Drive, 28 Nov 2012

Well that was smart

Two Wednesdays ago, my mum found this fellow fluttering about in our back entrance hall.  He was pristine, with the scale fringe on his wings unspoilt, so he had obviously just emerged from his chrysalis and finished drying his wings. In the wild, Small White butterflies (Pieris rapae) hibernate in the chrysalis stage, suspended from a hard vertical surface.

Evidently, a caterpillar from my garden must have found its way indoors and pupated, but when the expected winter didn’t materialise, gone ahead with metamorphosis and emerged when it did, in late November.

Or, it escaped from a broccoli from Tesco.

Either way, it’s doing quite well in our back window, with sugary fluid to drink and an occasional period under an incandescent lamp to warm it up. It’s now 11 days old.

Small White, Highfield Drive, 28 Nov 2012

Here’s looking at you

Small White, Highfield Drive, 01 Dec 2012

Opening his wings to bask under the lamp. The fact that he has one black spot on each forewing shows he’s a he – the female has two.

Small White, Highfield Drive, 08 Dec 2012

Still going strong

Small White, Highfield Drive, 08 Dec 2012

His “butterfly house” – a windowsill covered with a net curtain, oriented to catch the afternoon sun. You can see him basking under the lamp.

You can find out more about this butterfly at the UK Butterflies site:



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