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Posted by Jes

Events Report 2014

Crabtree (Lullybeg) Reserve Scrub Clearing Day, Saturday 22nd February.

Today nine hardy members braved a withering wind to prepare the reserve for the butterfly and moth flight season. Areas of the transect route were considerably opened up by cutting back hard on briars and willow. This area is favoured by two species-the Wall Brown (Irish Red List status is Endangered) and Dingy Skipper (Irish Red List status is Near Threatened)-that are especially fond of warm, sunny open areas with patches of bare, broken ground and scattered but well developed grassland vegetation. A more open area consisting chiefly of rush, fen mosses, Purple Moor-grass and Devil’s-bit Scabious was cleared of birch saplings to increase the area’s attractiveness to the Marsh Fritillary (Irish Red List status Vulnerable). Marsh Fritillary larval nests were also examined but the absence of direct sunlight and the persistent wind meant that the caterpillars were inactive. By the time we were leaving at about 4:30 the larvae had retreated underneath the vegetation while we retreated to the comfort of our vehicles knowing we made a vital contribution to the ongoing management of the reserve. Thanks are due to everyone who helped out, particularly our youngest member, who even brought her own wheelbarrow to collect the scrub and who worked really hard, even though it was cold and windy.

Talk in Royal Marine Hotel, Dun Laoghaire, at 8pm, on Ireland’s Butterflies in conjunction with South Dublin BirdWatch Ireland Branch, Tuesday 1st April.

This event was attended by around 100 people and lasted about 2 ½ hours. A slide show illustrating all the Irish species and the larval host plants together with a description of each butterfly, its habitat, status and behaviour was followed by a question and answer session. It was an enjoyable evening topped off with a more informal chat in the hotel bar. Thanks are due to Wyn Beere who helped to organise the event.

Burren Walk, Saturday 24th May.

The joint BCI/ Burrenbeo Trust walk saw windy damp conditions although most of the walk route is protected from the elements by the shelter afforded by the terrain. Well attended despite the weather, we showed a number of moths obtained the previous night. A great deal of marvelling at Nut Tree Tussock, Dark Brocade, Brimstone moth, Broken-barred Carpet and Common Marbled Carpet followed with comments on the intricate patterning on these moths, a fitting metaphor for the complexity of moths.
Several areas along the Clooncoose Green Road of considerable butterfly interest were shown and the butterfly importance described with particular interest in a rather special area where an enormous Dark Green Fritillary communal roost is found in July.

Lullybeg Walk, Saturday 31st May.

This outing took place in the glorious weather we typically associate with the start of Junior and Leaving Certificate exams. Exams are tough and demanding and Lullybeg’s Marsh Fritillaries must pass many stern tests if they are to one day take flight. Today we saw some of the successes from the class of 2013-2014. Fresh, beautifully marked fritillaries who survived spiders, beetles, parasites and all the dangers the environment launches at them showed their colours today. We observed Marsh Fritillaries the moment we stepped onto the site. Cameras recorded the event as some individual butterflies settled just long enough to focus and click. The Marsh Fritillaries we saw were in mint condition and many had that slightly damp, silky glow seen on some newly emerged butterflies, especially members of the family Nymphalidae. A whole new set of obstacles await the butterfly on emergence. Crab Spiders lurk on inviting, innocent looking flowers. Spider webs account for other Marsh Fritillaries and we managed to rescue one before the resident arachnid pounced and enjoyed seeing the butterfly recover his composure and resume its activities.

Soon we switched to the range of other lepidoptera available. With Philip Strickland on hand we were able to identify the various macro and micro moths. Lots of Burnet Companions, Mother Shiptons (named after a famous English prophetess, Ursula Southill, 1488-1561), Latticed Heaths and the odd Common Heath moth added to the confusion as we tried to separate these from the Dingy Skipper which is very difficult when all are fluttering about together. At least the wood white is easily identified with its dreamy, peaceful, flopping flight a soothing balm on a hot day. A very special moth and quite rare too, is the Narrow-bordered Bee Hawkmoth which we saw, netted, studied and released. It makes a disconcerting bumble bee buzz when trapped and is a very convincing bee mimic. We also remarked on the numbers of Brimstone of both sexes which appeared very energetic for such aged insects. Common Blues, Small Coppers, Small Heaths and a tatty Peacock were recorded together with Orange-tips (the males always look freshly painted), both adults and eggs. My own favourite on today’s outing was the Small Purple-barred, a small macro moth that comes in three basic colour forms. One has a vivid purple bar, the other a brown bar but there’s an intermediate form has an ambiguous brownish-purple bar. The moth was seen in good numbers and so was the larval food plant, Common Milkwort. The Cinnabar moth was seen with the jet black and crimson combination that betokens its toxic deterrent. Having fed as a larva on the poisonous Common Ragwort, no bird will touch it in either its larval or adult incarnation.

Our day was done but we checked on the Devil’s-bit Scabious plant that a Marsh Fritillary was laying on earlier. Success was confirmed when the leaf was turned over. We will have Marsh Fritillary butterflies next year (weather, parasites and predators permitting!).

Visit to Portrane Burrow, Saturday 7th June.

The day was gloomy until about 15 minutes into the walk. The sun shone and the butterflies appeared. The main target species was the Small Blue which vanishes the moment the sunshine fades but there was enough sunshine to see good numbers. Most of the east facing habitat has been eroded away, victim of the storms since 2007. The north facing dunes (the south side of the estuary) are still intact and the vegetation here is still developing; it looks like some sand is being deposited in this area and new habitat is arising. However, driven by our concern at the loss of habitat and population losses of one of our endangered butterflies we translocated some specimens to a coastal location some miles north; this area contains no Small Blues but has extensive habitat. Happily some of the females released began to lay eggs immediately. Grid references of the release site were taken. More specimens were added to the new site one week later. The release site will be checked in 2015.

AGM/Moth Night, Friday 27th June.

The AGM was held in beautiful surroundings at Lullymore Heritage Park, Lullymore, County Kildare. Following the formal part of the AGM, required under the Companies Acts, we enjoyed a slide show featuring common and notable moths we then went outside to inspect the three Robinsons Light traps we set up earlier. Conditions were suitable for many moth species and a good range of species was apparent. Some great views and photographs were obtained and the stars of the show were the Large Emerald, Lilac Beauty and Buff Ermine although the most significant find in rarity terms was a Waved Carpet in perfect condition and a Bilberry Pug, usually found in the west of Ireland. The habitat consists mainly of Downy Birch and Scots Pine woodland with the shrub layer consisting of Bilberry, bramble and bracken. The wood adjoins cutaway with a lot of bare peat, ponds and scrub. The range of species was impressive although the species count of 140 would be raised if there was herb rich grassland close by. A lovely and interesting way to spend an evening but we felt a little sorry for a Lapwing which continued its worried mewing late into the night, perhaps as a result of our nocturnal activities.

Visit to Timahoe Bog on Saturday 19th July, Visit to Lullymore/Lullybeg on Sunday

20th July.

This joint Butterfly Conservation Ireland/Butterfly Conservation Northern Ireland event, led by Michael Jacob took places in fine but not particularly sunny weather. A group from the Northern Ireland branch of Butterfly Conservation UK which included a number of Lepidoptera experts were keen to see the famous Kildare Small Skipper site and were not disappointed by the results. Over 100 Small Skippers were found on the grassland. A range species were found and a particular highlight was a sighting of an Emperor dragonfly near flooded cutaway. On the following day a significant find was made when 15 Essex Skippers were identified. Good photographs of the antennae confirmed the identity of the butterfly. Brimstones were not seen; the overcast conditions do not tempt this butterfly to become active. Everyone who attended got so much satisfaction from the species seen and the company met and a truly memorable experience was had.

Crabtree Reserve Exceeds Expectation, Sunday 31st August.

Butterfly Conservation Ireland held our Heritage Week event today on our reserve at Lullybeg. A keen-eyed search party familiarised with the appearance of the larval nest of the Marsh Fritillary by Chairman Michael Jacob who showed a nest near an area frequented by the adult butterflies last June embarked on a careful search of the key breeding areas. The number found of larval nests found, thirty-six, exceeded all expectations especially as the terrible weather conditions of 2011 and 2012 reduced the population to a mere two nests. The nests found today were distributed over quite a wide area but there are also parts of the site where strong concentrations were noted. Today’s finding of thirty-six nests is a reward for all the hard work which maintained and enhanced the habitat and great credit goes to our members and supporters. To see such a dramatic recovery is heartening and we continue to learn more about the exacting needs of this highly specialised endangered butterfly.
The weather remained benign and a number of species showed themselves, including Brimstone, Small and Green-veined White, Common Blue, Small Copper, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Red Admiral (several), Speckled Wood and Wall Brown. A larva, possibly Lime-speck Pug was found feeding on a Devil’s-bit Scabious flower, its thin, wiry form conspicuous on the bloom. Our youngest member, Hazel, had the sharpest eye; she located a magnificent Emperor moth caterpillar, its lovely apple-green blending superbly with the vegetation. It had clouded over at this point but we continued to see good butterfly numbers especially on flowers bordering the conifer plantation. A Small Copper rather faded but with still clear markings was netted and examined; it proved a male. The occasional very jaded Meadow Brown was disturbed from its resting place but this served to remind us that summer is over and that the big priority of most of the butterflies we saw was feeding to build up fat for the long winter or, in the Red Admiral’s case, a long journey southwards.
A most enjoyable day with pleasant company and conversation combined with the evidence that our work has paid off rendered our Heritage Week event a real pleasure.

Scrub control at Fahee North, Co. Clare, Saturday 6th September.

Top butterfly sites such as the Fahee North site in the Burren need attention due to the highly invasive Hazel scrub. We worked from 10am until 4:30pm and great progress was made in controlling Hazel-dominated scrub in the centre of the site. As always the company was wonderful as was the sense of satisfaction from the size of the scrub piles at the end.

Scrub Clearing on Crabtree Reserve, Lullybeg, Co. Kildare, Saturday 8th November.

Vertical downpours, lead-coloured skies and sheets of water on the roads added to a grim journey to Lullybeg Reserve today. Almost immediately on arrival the rain ceased, skies cleared and the sun shone. We set about our task of uprooting saplings, cutting and uprooting scrub. Dense tussocks of Moor-grass were also tackled; while very important on a Marsh Fritillary breeding area the plant eliminates flora when it becomes rank. The objective is to ensure the maintenance of a plagioclimax vegetation (an area of habitat that is prevented from developing further by human intervention) of flower rich grassland. Good progress was made in connecting two breeding areas divided by a line of birch and willow scrub. Saplings and dense Moor-grass tussocks were removed from a very important area of grassland. The activity also disturbed the substrate and sward; this “damage” is extremely useful in creating openings for new flowers to germinate and basking spots for insects, especially for some species that fly in spring. A very special thanks to those who took part, especially as conditions beforehand were so inclement.