Big thank you from

Was this bee buzzing about a little too early

by Paul Cormacain

IT was great to see the second bee of the year. This happened on 12 March, and the poor creature must have had a horrible shock, for the next morning it was freezing hard and the temperature remained below freezing point till late morning.

On the 12th itself, you may remember, the sun shone all day, and it was so warm that I was working in the garden in a short-sleeved shirt.

The bee was a carderbee, or brown bee as we used to call them. She was a queen, and had spent the winter in hibernation, had come out of hibernation that day.

Because of the weather she thought it was time to set up home, lay some eggs, and start a family. I hope she survived the cold weather, but I feel that premature exits from hibernation are sometimes followed by a return to hibernation. I hope she returned.

Just as welcome as the bees was the first butterfly of the year. This was on 17 March.

The sun was shining, there had been no rain for days, and if you did not know any better you would have thought it was the beginning of summer.

The butterfly was a small tortoiseshell, one of our most common species, delightfully coloured at any time, but looking even better in the sunshine of the 17th. I suppose the first butterfly of the year always looks better.

As one may turn up at a place near you, here is a description that may help you identify it if you are not already familiar with this creature.

The wings of the small tortoiseshell are scalloped at the edges with a large conical projection on each wing. The basic colour is a tawny orange-reddish. The wing margins are broad, and black in colour. There is a row of blue spots, usually three on the forewing and seven on the hindwing.

A very colourful butterfly, so far! Along the front margin there is a series of rectangular marks, the first one tawny, then black, then yellowish cream, black, yellowish cream, black, white, black. Such colour.

Towards the centre of the hind margin is an oblong, black mark, with a small patch of yellow, and two small blacks spots in the centre of the orangetawny area. The basal half of the hindwing is black, :covered with long fine hairs. Could you now identify this glorious creature?

The underside of the small tortoiseshell is similarly patterned. The base colour is yellowish-brown, and the black marking on the top surface are replaced by dark brown. But the two small spots on the forewing are absent from the underside.

Last autumn this butterfly would have looked for somewhere safe to hide out for the winter, and could well have hidden himself in your house or mine. There he hibernated for the winter, and one book I have says he would re-appear in mid-March.

This timing probably refers to the south of England rather than the north of Ireland, for I think a small tortoiseshell on the 17th March is rather unique.

Apart from some smaller Atlantic and Mediterranean islands, the small tortoiseshell is to be found all over Europe.

If you have sedum, or buddleia, or aster, in your garden, you are more liable to attract this colourful butterfly. We have the sedum and buddleia in ours, but they are as yet showing absolutely no traces of flowers. They always flower, but never this early in the year.

So keep your eyes open for bees and butterflies. If you would like to record your butterfly sightings t h e Butterfly Conservation folk would love to hear from you. Like myself, you may already have seen your first vision of beauty this year, but in any case start recording now.

What is needed is time, place, type of butterfly sighted, number of butterflies, anything out of the ordinary. Keep up the good work, and keep the records going till the last butterfly disappears in the autumn. And good luck with your records.

Coming Events

Until Monday 31 March - St Patrick's Day Trail at Castle Espie, phone 9187 4146 for more details

Monday 24 March - At the monthly Lisburn RSPB meeting, Maurice McNeely will pose the question, Why Ring Birds? This will be at Friends' Meeting House at 7.30. Details 4062 6125

Thursday 27 March - Birdwatch Morning at at Castle Espie, 11.30, more from 9187 4146

Saturday 29 March - Trip to Coney Island to watch the herons at 10.30. Details from Lough Neagh Discovery Centre, on 3832 2205

Sunday 30 March - Treat your mother to a gentle walk at Oxford Island, admire flowers and other wildlife, then treat her to Sunday Lunch, details 3832 2205

Monday 28 April - Lisburn RSPB is holding its AGM, and Ian Forsythe will talk about Leisler bats in Europe, with particular reference to Lisburn. Time 7.30. Details - 4062 6125

9 May - Preliminary notice of Bat Night at Bog Meadows.

Ulster Star