Big thank you from

Butterflies turn up in the most unexpected places

by Paul Cormacain

LUCKILY the local Butterfly Conservation people are providing information on butterfly sightings on a regular basis.

It is nicer to see butterflies than to read about them, but if there are not too many about then it is better to read about them than not to read about them.

Having said that, I have to report that I saw butterflies no later than yesterday, but they kept their distance and I was unable to positively identify them.

I think I saw a meadow brown and a red admiral but only think. But even with ignorance of identify, these flying insects gave me pleasure. I look forward to seeing more of them.

Looking back over the butterfly reports I see the first record of a dingy skipper was in Fermanagh, near Derrygonnelly, at the beginning of June. A total of eight of these inconspicuous insects showed up and this could have well represented all the sightings in northern Ireland.

This skipper is the only one found in Ireland and the few that live north of the border are protected by law. They are somewhat more numerous south of the border but you would have to go to England, Wales or the south of Scotland to see many of them. They are declining.

They live in European countries, holding their own in most places, but declining in several countries.

The range extends eastwards through Europe, the Middle East, then Asia, and right through to China.

So internationally they seem quite common but only eight were sighted in Northern Ireland. There were more reports of sightings when Ian Rippey travelled further south than Fermanagh. The monarch butterfly is a north American insect which flies on a long migration southwards every Fall, and is capable of flying from Canada to Mexico.

Some years it ends up in Ireland and gets great praise because of its huge trans-Atlantic flight. Even if it is only blown over by a gale.

One such butterfly turned up in County Cork in June. So the theorists started to conjecture that the American monarch does not migrate till the Fall, ergo, it was not an American monarch.

Then some bright lepidopterist pointed out that monarchs also lived in Spain and on the Canary Islands and occasionally these creatures turn up in south England and Wales.

So the Cork monarch came from a Spanish-speaking spot.

Painted ladies turned up regularly. One was at the north coast, then three in south Down, followed by two sighted near Garrison.

By mid-June Ian Rippey was reporting that a total of 10 painted ladies had been seen in Donegall, despite it being so far north.

Then a report of another painted lady was received from Dublin. A few other butterflies were sighted further south, but it looked like a lean year for them.

Southern Europe and northern Africa are home to painted ladies, and they thrive there, breeding in large numbers.

They are also to be found in the Middle East and central Asia, and they all seem to have the delightful habit of invading Europe in a colourful display.

More end up in England each year than do in Wales, Ireland or Scotland.

Peak time here tends to be in late summer or autumn, because the earlier migrants breed and produce a brood, and other visitors arrive from the deep south.

In spite of this, I can only find reference to a few isolated sightings, and one sighting of ten butterflies in south Down.

This is not the sort of record of a great butterfly year. My own personal experience this year has been very dismal for butterfly sightings.

Even folk who are out anti about on the butterfly trail very frequently did not seem to have brilliant sightings, so we can only hope that the weather next year will allow us a host of butterflies.

Coming Events

Sunday 20 October - Colin Glen Forest Park, if you are old enough you can go for a Dinosaur Walk, 2pm. More from 9061 4115

Monday 28 October - Lisburn RSPB will hear about Walking the Irish coast, with David Boyd, in Friends' Meeting House, Magheralave Road, at 7.30

Thursday 31 October - Birdwatch Morning at Castle Espie, starting 10.30, contact 9187 4146

Saturday 2 November; Sunday 3 November - Join the crowds going go Castle Espie, make a bird feeder- there, make a bird cake, then take home to your garden, details 9187 4146

Saturday 16 November-  Tree Planting in Colin Glen Forest Park, a part of the scheme to make our country one of the more afforested, rather than one of the least afforested, lands. Phone 9061 4115, turn up at 11am.

Ulster Star