Butterfly Season Report
The summer temperatures during 2012 were an improvement on the cold summer of 2011 but much of 2012 saw dull weather and heavy rain with serious flooding in Cork in late June. There were two spells of spectacular sunshine and high temperatures; the first was in March, the second was in late May peaking on May 25th when it was so hot the butterflies disappeared until the evening. A wet summer followed with a sustained dry spell not arriving until after August 9th. A September followed that gave some clement conditions which continued into early to mid-October. It seems that the wet summer here was in evidence on the continent too with reports of heavy rain in Germany. How did our butterflies fare in 2012?
The first species recorded was the Peacock [05/01] followed by the Small Tortoiseshell [08/01] and Speckled Wood [06/02]. These records are unusually early and do not reflect the general emergence in 2012 of these butterflies. The first record of a Red Admiral was 01/03, a more typical early date. The Red Admiral has been found in its adult state in every month of the year and there is evidence to show a year round breeding presence of the species which is chiefly a migrant to Ireland. The Comma was first recorded on 10/03 from Wexford, its main Irish station. The Brimstone was first recorded in Mayo on 22/03, a little later than in previous years [Lullybeg’s first Brimstones were seen in that week] while the Orange-tip’s first appearance was also notified as 22/03, in Tipperary. The first Painted Lady record was on 25/03, from the Saltee Islands, off the Wexford coast. The Green Hairstreak [Cork, 26/03], Green-veined White [Donegal, 27/03], Small White [Carlow, 29/03] completes the first sightings for March.
April’s first species record had to wait until the 19/04 when the Wall was seen on Howth Head, a great location for this endangered butterfly. The cliff walk is a favourite spot for it but it always remains a few feet ahead of the walker. The Large White was found on 22/04 on the Raven, County Wexford. The lack of other “firsts” for April gives a clear idea of the poor weather that month.
May was more exciting. Pearl-bordered Fritillary east of Lough Bunny [01/05], Wood White [02/05, found in the Burren], Dingy Skipper from Donegal [04/05], Small Heath [06/05], from Limerick and Cryptic Wood White from Donegal were all recorded in the first week in May. The Marsh Fritillary on 25/05, in the dunes on Bull Island completes the list of first recorded butterflies of these six early summer species.
The Large Heath [04/06] in Kildare, the Meadow Brown in Kerry [06/06], the Dark Green Fritillary on the Wicklow coast on 16/06 and the Ringlet in Wexford on 17/06 are the June “firsts.”
July also a was a wet month and this delayed the emergence of the Small Skipper which was first recorded on 11/07 and the Essex Skipper which was first recorded on 20/07.The Grayling was recorded on 02/07 in Donegal. Garryland Wood, Galway yielded the first records of Silver-washed Fritillary on 05/07. The first record of the second Wood White generation was on 06/07 from Attyslany Wood, in Clare, close to County Galway. The Hedge Brown was found at the Raven on 18/07 but its numbers there were low throughout July. The tree-top butterfly, the Purple Hairstreak was seen on 21/07 in Wicklow. The last butterfly species to emerge in 2012 was the Brown Hairstreak, first found on 04/08 in the Burren, later than usual for the butterfly.
It should be noted that many early butterfly records come from well known sites that are often butterfly hot spots, especially coastal locations typically in the south-east and south. Thirteen of the 2012 first records are from the south-east and south. Others are from areas with a favourable local climate and high quality habitats, such as the Burren [five records]. Some come from areas such as Donegal where regular recording is done by dedicated individuals; four of 2012’s first records are from the north-west. These areas account for 22 of the first records for butterflies in 2012. There is much to be learned from regular checking of the same areas over a number of years but these places do not necessarily produce the earliest butterflies.
In 2012 butterflies which were less numerous were the Small and Large Whites, the Green-veined White, Common Blue and Red Admiral. The Brown Hairstreak had a poor season, continuing the trend seen in 2011. The Holly Blue and Common Blue did not appear in high numbers although the latter did well in 2011. The Small Copper had a reasonable year but did not approach the phenomenal build up seen in the second brood in 2010. The Marsh Fritillary did poorly again in many areas, but with some exceptions on dry, coastal sites. The Painted Lady and Clouded Yellow hardly featured. The Hedge Brown did not appear to have a good year, and the Wall’s numbers remain low.
The species that thrived were mainly the nymphalids, especially the Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell. Reports of large numbers of the Small Tortoiseshell came from various parts of Ireland, from suburban gardens in Longford to sand dunes in Wexford. It is interesting that the two nettle feeders did well because the numbers seen in the spring were low, probably due partly to the poor conditions during the autumn of 2011. The Pearl-bordered Fritillary performed well with really good numbers found during late May in the central Burren. The Dark Green Fritillary also thrived in its favoured locations. The Grayling appeared to do well. After the Small Tortoiseshell, the Meadow Brown and Ringlet were possibly the most successful.
I thank everyone who recorded butterflies during 2012 and to the Dublin Naturalists’ Field Club which runs the “butterflyireland” website.
Jesmond Harding 2013.