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Butterflies are on the wing - summer must be here at last

by Paul Cormacain

IN the adult form the speckled wood appears three times each year. The first batch of this butterfly is on the wing during April, and these adults are from overwintering larvae.

These adults produce the second brood of the year, and this appears on the wing in June. Then in August and September a third brood appears, and the young of this brood overwinter, to re-emerge as adults in the following April.

I saw my first speckled wood of the year today.

Why have I not seen one sooner? it has to be the weather, for if it is raining, or very windy, or very cold, the butterfly stays hidden, sensible insect.

It seems that for all of this year so far it has been either cold, or wet, or windy, or sometimes all three.

The times for the flying butterfly are shown above, but these dates are in fact very flexible, and if conditions are good the creature may well be visible from March to October.

Other folk have been looking harder than myself for speckled woods, for Ian Rippey saw one near Aghalee on 3 June, and more on 9 June at Forkhill and near Strangford.

Other records for himself and others report a steady supply of speckled woods seen all over Northern Ireland, and also south of the border. The speckled wood is generally a butterfly of shady situations, and should be common in woodland edges and forest paths.

The easiest place to see one is near a hedge. It tends to flit from shady spots to sunshine, and then back again.

It possesses strong territorial instincts and will guard its patch as one would guard a home. No one! allowed in without permission.

This lovely flying insect is capable of attacking other butterflies who encroach on its property.

Can you imagine being attacked by a butterfly? But if one butterfly attacks another and shows it means business by actually making physical contact with the 'invader', the invader will get the message, and move on.

Since I started to write this article a few more speckled woods have appeared. 'This could mean that a) they are becoming more common, b) the weather is getting better, or c) my eyesight is becoming better.

So keep an eye open for these, and other butterflies, and perhaps you might like to keep records.

Then there was the very small, mainly blue, butterfly we saw the other day. It had to be a common blue. But hang on there a minute, it doesn't look like a common blue.

Out came the butterfly books. The creature looked like a silver-studded blue.

The silver-studded blue only occurs in the south of England, so I checked the most recent

Millenium Atlas of Butterflies in Britain and Ireland, and found this lovely creature has reached the north coast of Wales, with more possible sightings in the rest of England, and even two sightings in Scotland (pre 1970).

I have an aversion to picking the most exotic creature as a positive sighting. It is always safer and easier to assume that what you see is something common, even if it looks slightly different. So out came the books again, and this time I started off with the insect not being a silver-studded blue.

I must have perused at least six butterfly books, but had no local expert to hand. So I came to the conclusion that the sighting was of a blue form, female common blue. But it might have been a silver-studded blue!

While butterflies are wonderful to behold, are mainly bright and colourful, and gladden the heart, there are other creatures out there which can also gladden the heart.

Coming Events

Each Saturday and Sunday in August - Guided tours at Castle Espie, 2.30, details from 91874146

Each day in August - Pondamonium, which is about finding out about our water creatures, for example the creatures which feed the ducks at Castle Espie, who will tell you more if you phone 91874146.

Each Sunday in August - Boat trip from Maghary Country Park to Coney Island, 2pm, 3pm and 4pm. Phone Oxford Island on 38.32 2205.

Monday 19 to Friday 23 August - Children's Wildlife Summer School, Oxford Island, 2.30. Call 3832 2205.

Thursday 29 August - Birdwatch Morning at Castle Espie, at 10.30, details from 9187 4146

Bat night at Colin Glen Forest Park, 9pm, details from 9061 4115

Saturday 31 August - Butterfly search in east Antrim, at 10.30, on lookout for blue, copper, peacock, fritillary. Contact Butterfly

Ulster Star