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Events Report 2013

Lullybeg February 9th

Butterfly Conservation Ireland members took part in the removal of dense scrub on grassland rich in two plants that are vital to the rare Marsh Fritillary, Purple Moor-grass and Devil’s-bit Scabious. The scrub was cut and uprooted. We managed to get all the target area cleared. The grassland will be monitored to assess the butterfly’s response to increased habitat availability. The weather conditions were calm and mild which made for a pleasant and enjoyable meeting. It was great to catch up with everyone’s news.
We did manage to see some lepidoptera when plume moths were found on the vegetation. In the next few months we hope to see many more butterflies and moths here.

Fahee North February 16th

Saturday February 16th saw a great day’s work on Fahee North, County Clare by 23 volunteers from Butterfly Conservation Ireland and Burrenbeo Trust Volunteers. Hazel scrub was cut to open up grassland and wood edge habitat to sunlight. Using mainly loppers and hand saws an enormous effort was put in between 10am and 3:30pm. Fortunately we had mild dry conditions throughout the day. The chance to catch up on everyone’s news was a great part of the day as was the delicious home baking provided by Mary and Kate.

The focus of the work was to create clearings to allow sunlight to reach larval food plants, especially Common Dog Violet and Devil’s-bit Scabious. The Hazel left uncut provides the shelter required by scrubland/woodland butterflies such as the Pearl-bordered Fritillary.

Before carrying out scrub cutting, the Blackthorn plants at the southern extremity of the site were carefully searched, and soon six Brown Hairstreak ova were located. Everyone enjoyed admiring the beautifully intricate patterning that adorns these snow white eggs, likened by one of the volunteers to that on a sea urchin. The discovery of the Brown Hairstreak brings the number of butterfly species seen on the site to 25.

The results of the management will be checked on Sunday June 2nd when we will have an outing on the site.

Thanks to all the volunteers for their hard toil.

Fahee North June 2nd

Sunday June 2nd was a day of two weather halves; a sunny butterfly-filled morning and a dull, cool afternoon lacking in Lepidoptera. Thirty-eight people attended the event and all admired the Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Marsh Fritillary that were obtained earlier in anticipation of the cooler afternoon. When released the Marsh Fritillary showed no effort to move but the Pearl-bordered Fritillary swiftly disappeared in the scrub. The event became an outdoor talk on account of the weather but visitors were advised that a visit to Fahee on the next warm sunny day would be rewarding. Two days later the sun shone and did so for most of the summer!

Portrane June 8th

This event, led by John Lovatt, was held in glorious sunshine with a light easterly breeze and temperatures of 22 degrees Celsius. The event was attended by five people but certainly deserved a higher number as the numbers of rarities seen was spectacular.
On Portrane dunes we counted one Large White, one Cryptic Wood White, one Small White, 83 Common Blues, 136 Small Blues (including two mating pairs), 8 Wall Browns and 40 Small Heaths. One of the Wall Browns landed on the back of my hand and settled for photographs!

Portrane Salt Marsh, located at the northern end of Portrane Burrow yielded one Large White, five Common Blues, one Small Blue, 27 Small Heaths, one Speckled Wood, ( nearby path)and one Cinnabar Moth . Portrane is an outstanding site for butterflies but one that is under threat from erosion. It looks as if some sand dunes are forming at the northern end of the site which will compensate, but not fully, for losses of dune habitat that have occurred especially from 2007. (Total Lepidoptera seen: 299)

Moth Night/AGM June 14th

The moth night was held this year at Lullymore Heritage Park. The Robinsons traps were set in woodland clearings near open cutaway bog. Unfortunately temperatures were low and a sharp easterly wind added to the discouragement for all wanting to see our night-time Lepidoptera. We repaired to the indoor venue and watched a slideshow presentation on Poland’s butterflies and a lively discussion of the role of agriculture in the fortunes of butterfly numbers followed. We returned early the following morning to find some moths, especially Ermines and some micro moths expertly identified by moth expert Philip Strickland. We look forward to getting mild muggy nights for moth seeking in 2014.

Timahoe Bog July 20th

The sweltering heat of this July was slightly relieved by a cooling breeze which rendered the BCI visit to Timahoe Bog pleasant as well as interesting for the group. We were joined by Ian Rippey from Butterfly Conservation Northern Ireland and by several visitors. The butterfly most desired by many was the Small Skipper and we soon found a male waving its way through the grasses, flying in its characteristic jinking, dodging manner, glinting gold in the heat. We later saw a female step deftly down a Yorkshire Fog stalk, settle and pump eggs into the gap between the stalk and sheath. Cameras clicked as the butterfly’s activities were recorded. Several more skippers were seen and antennae club undersides inspected to confirm these butterflies as Small Skippers.
Skippers were found over a kilometre of ground. The familiar species, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Green-veined White, Small Heath and Small Tortoiseshell were sighted, along with Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell larvae.
Of great interest too was the site’s moth species. Lesser Cream Wave was identified by Ian Rippey. Later a Northern Eggar was netted together with its pursuer, a hawker dragonfly. A Grass Emerald was also found and a late, heavily spotted Large Heath netted on the raised bog remnant and a Bordered Grey added to the list. A Red Sword-grass larva found elsewhere was released and a Beautiful Yellow Underwing caterpillar found on Bell Heather, a plant found on drier areas of bogs.
A final highlight was the sighting of the remarkably elusive Red-tipped Clearwing, a moth that would probably be seen once or never in a lifetime were it not for pheromone lures. Fortunately, Ian had some and deployed these on bramble bathed in sunshine. Almost instant results followed, a fabulous finale to a visit made memorable too by the great company of the fifteen who braved the mid-afternoon heat.

Heritage Week, Lullybeg, August 25th

A large gathering of people ranging in age from 17 months to somewhat older enjoyed a pleasant afternoon learning about the beautiful butterflies on the Crabtree River Reserve at Lullybeg, County Kildare. Conditions were calm and mild with air temperatures of 18 degrees Celsius which allowed the butterflies to be active but not especially conspicuous.

Brimstones were in short supply given the absence of sunshine, as were other white family butterflies but Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshells were readily observable as they gorged on the bluish-purple button shaped Devil’s-bit Scabious flowers. Other butterflies seen were Common Blue, Speckled Wood and a male Silver-washed Fritillary perched with wings outstretched as he attempted to absorb heat.

The breeding area of the threatened Marsh Fritillary butterfly was walked, carefully, to avoid treading on the caterpillar nests. Two nests were examined, and a temperature reading taken inside one revealed a temperature of 21 Celsius, higher than the temperature of the surrounding air (ambient temperature). This higher temperature found within the nest is important for the development of the larvae who need to stay together to create the required temperature levels. At a different nest the journey taken by the larvae as the group ate their way through two nearby plants was observed and these were found, all together, on a third plant, demonstrating the larvae’s ability to maintain their gregarious habit. The management needed to maintain the habitat in suitable condition was described by showing the specific conditions the Marsh Fritillary larvae require for their development.

Finally, we walked along the track at the northern edge of the site which is bordered by a line of flowering Devil’s-bit Scabious that lies along the edge of scrub and mature mixed woodland where we observed a number of Peacocks and a Silver-washed Fritillary, a butterfly that is expanding its distribution by moving into woodland on cutaway bogs throughout Kildare and Offaly. The butterfly was netted and shown to be a male and was soon released, and sought the top of the tree canopy, while our group sought our cars, and the second half of the Mayo vs. Tyrone game.
Thanks to all who came; we thoroughly enjoyed your company.

Fahee North October 26th

A very stormy Saturday saw Butterfly Conservation Ireland’s on-going conservation work on a special site at Fahee North, just south of St. Fiachtnan’s Well, in the Burren, County Clare. This work is carried out in conjunction with the Burrenbeo Trust volunteers. The local farmer and landowner, Hugh Robson, described the challenges faced by the organic farmer in farming according to organic principles. Hugh’s talk provided a fascinating insight to the challenges involved in maintaining his cattle in the limestone hills; keeping the animals fed without adding nutrients to the soil, supplying the animals with water and battling against scrub makes for a constant battle. Hugh provides organic beef to family-owned Dublin restaurants and having observed the beautiful landscape the animals thrive in, it is easy to feel approval of the results.

Next we had a talk from Rory O’ Shaughnessy, local stone mason about the Burren’s stone walls in preparation for rebuilding a section of the site’s wall that had toppled from pressure of scrub encroachment and other factors. It should be noted that stone walls are important features for butterflies; many species use these as basking points, as territorial boundaries/flight paths and as breeding areas (some butterflies lay their eggs at the base of stone walls, probably because of the warmer micro-climate created by the heat that these walls radiate).

We then divided in two groups, one to repair stonework, the other to control scrub. Some of us cut the scrub while others carried the cut material to the site boundary. Soon a large sheltered clearing was created which should prove attractive to Ireland’s most range limited butterfly, the Pearl-bordered Fritillary. The open heathy grassland on the site has also been cared for; following consultation with Ann Mullen of the Burren Farming for Life Programme some light horse grazing was organised. This had the effect of maintaining the undulating grassland structure vital for many species that need the warm spots for breeding. In advance of the grazing, all 17 Marsh Fritillary webs (up from 6 nests in 2012 following two cold wet summers) were marked and protected from disturbance.

Unfortunately the fierce downpour and gale brought about an early closure and we adjourned to the Burren Perfumery where hot sweet tea and chocolate cake never tasted so good! A big thanks to everyone who braved the terrible conditions to participate in this important conservation initiative.

Lullybeg Management November 3rd

Saturday saw sharp north-west gales carrying occasional downpours but the work went ahead. Good progress was made. Scrub consisting of birch and willow in the chief Marsh Fritillary breeding area was cut back. In an adjacent area, a u-shaped clearing made in south facing scrub was planted with Purging (Common) Buckthorn saplings to provide for the Brimstone butterfly. Close by, a number of Alder Buckthorn saplings, most likely the progeny of two larger Alder Buckthorns planted about five years ago, were found. Scrub around these was cut back. These habitat enhancement measures should continue to benefit the Brimstone and Waved Carpet, a very rare species that likes coppiced birch and willow. Later, birch saplings growing in profusion in an open area in another part of the reserve were removed to ensure the flowers remain unshaded.
A special thanks to those who participated in this vital work on behalf of Lullybeg’s beautiful moths and butterflies.