August Zenith

Usually the most reliable summer month, but August in Wicklow is greatly affected by the climatic behaviour of the Caribbean. This August was largely stable, but there were intermittent rainy spells. However, these rainy spells chased away fears of drought and provided the vital humidity required by the high summer bloom.

Otter
Otter

Water levels were good and reliable in the streams and rivers, and in early August there were Otters venturing to fish at night within villages. Ireland is one of the last places where the European Otter (Lutra lutra) is thriving and remains relatively unafraid of people. The otter in the photo was photographed outside the Castle Inn in the very centre of Newcastle village. The otter was clearly visible swimming back and forth beneath the carpark lights for half-an-hour. Sadly conditions were slightly too dark for an insufficiently prepared camera. Wildlife photography generally happens with only a moment's notice.

The success of otters in Wicklow is directly due to the remarkably pristine water conditions throughout most of the area, supporting an impressive number of Brown Trout (Salmo trutta). This fish species can only survive in the least polluted water and is therefore considered an important bio-indicator of water quality.

At this time of year the foliage of Wicklow is at its yearly maximum. There are also the most flowers in bloom to support the insect populations. The most impressive blooms at this time of the year come from three introduced plants that have become naturalised since the early 20th century: fuchsias (Fuchsia magellanica), montbretias (Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora) and buddleia bushes (Buddleia davidii).

Small Tortoiseshells
Small Tortoiseshells On Buddleia
Otter
Small Tortoiseshell Caterpillars on Nettle Plant

The buddleia is particularly important for August insects due to the thousands of flowers each bush produces. In August this year there was a population explosion of Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) butterflies. Hundreds of them covered each bush, feeding on the rich nectar of the flowerheads.

Silver Y Feeding On Buddleia
Silver Y Feeding On Buddleia

There were almost as many Silver Y moths (Autographa gamma) as Small Tortoiseshells. Whereas the Small Tortoiseshells emerged from pupal stages, the Silver Y moths arrived in huge numbers as migrants from Southern Europe and North Africa, as they do every year. Silver Ys are named for the marking on each forewing that looks like small silver "y", as can be seen from the photo.

Red Admiral on Buddleia
Red Admiral on Buddleia
Red Admiral Caterpillar on Nettle Plant
Red Admiral Caterpillar on Nettle Plant
Painted Lady
Painted Lady

These moths are not the only migrant insects that arrive in Wicklow in August. They were preceded by Red Admiral butterflies (Vanessa atalanta), and the less common Painted Lady (Cynthia cardui). In 2009 there was a mass migration of thousands of Painted Lady butterflies, which arrived in late spring in small swarms. This year there were very few to be found, and they appeared at their more usual arrival time.

However, although Irish winters have returned to more normal temperatures in the last two years, there is still the possibility some migrant species might successfully breed in Ireland. Red Admirals certainly to produce caterpillars, which feed on Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica). If they pupate and survive the winter they will be true Irish Red Admirals.

Nettles are among the most important natural foodplants to be found in Wicklow. By August they are growing vigorously, but already supporting small armies of Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars, which eventually go their individual ways, pupating for two weeks before turning into butterflies. They will then hibernate for the winter.

Small Copper
Small Copper
Male Common Blue
Male Common Blue
Meadow Brown
Meadow Brown

In August Meadow Browns can be found feeding on the hedgerow's bramble blossoms, huge Large Whites are mating or feeding on buddleia or attending to the fields of yellow-flowered oilseed rape, fiery Small Coppers and tiny shimmering Common Blue butterflies flutter across bright meadows, occasionally stoppin to rest and impress the casual observer.

Butterflies and moths are spectacular but attention is gradually stolen from them by the appearance of Common Darter dragonflies (Sypetrum striolatum) which perch on every available fencepost and pathway and then launch sudden attacks on smaller insects that fly past. They are easily Wicklow's most common dragonfly species.

Common Darter Female
Female Common Darter

But they must be careful too. By mid-August the Swifts have already gone, and the House Martins and Sand Martins are feeding up in preparation for their long migrations, while the swallows dominate the skies. And then there is the arrival of a much larger dragonfly, the Migrant or Autumn Hawker (Aeshna mixta). These powerful dragonflies zoom across the Wicklow skies on virtually unceasing patrols in pursuit of prey. Unlike the darters which catch prey by ambush, these mighty dragonflies outfly their prey.

Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon

High above their aerial circuses there are even mightier predators free to view by any person who takes the trouble to lift their head to look into the bright skies. This year's generation of bird-of-prey are busily learning their trade, but are not yet smart enough to stay out of human sight.

Sparrowhawks clumsily bumble about in the trees and Peregrine Falcons hover above towns and villages, surveying the landscape. They can be seen on a daily basis in late August with a minimum of effort, and are often easily identified with the naked eye, as they fly quite low.