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Wildlife Newsletter for the Township of Dalkey
September 2015 - Michael Ryan

Hummingbird Hawk Moth
Photo: M.Ryan

 Thankfully, after a long cold and wet recess in July, summer returned again in August and on a few days the temperature was almost at the seasonal average. In the cold days of July it was only in sheltered warm spots there was any discernible butterfly activity. On one of the milder mornings in mid- July the bottom level of Dalkey Quarry had dozens of Ringlet butterflies flitting around the long grasses which are the foodplant for their larvae.
According to the excellent website,, Ringlets have a short flying season from late June to early August so these were in the middle of their flying season and looking very smart. The following week the same area of the quarry had families of feeding Willow Warblers moving among the vegetation.
  These birds were probably on the move from their breeding area gradually building themselves up for their migration to Africa. We’d had lots in the garden as well and I was quite upset to find one dead, having evidently crashed into the living room window. Willow warblers are almost identical to Chiffchaffs, another common summer migrant, and although their songs are very different the other features that differentiate them can be very variable in individuals. The primary feathers of willow warblers are a couple of millimetres longer then chiffchaffs because they have a longer migration distance but you’d be hard put to tell that unless you had the bird in your hand.
  Since I did have this unfortunate little creature in my hand I got in touch with a friend who is far more knowledgeable then me and is also compiling a report on birds killed through collisions with windows. He brought a formidable book which goes into exceptional detail on identifying not only species but ages and sex of birds. The book is a handbook for bird ringers who may have trapped the birds in mist nets and who will record all the bird’s details before ringing and releasing them and referring to it we were able to see the diagnostic identification of the narrowing margin along the edge of the bird’s primary feathers. Although fairly certain already as to what it was, we were able to confirm it was a willow warbler, probably a juvenile by it’s very yellow breast. It was in the quarry again, but higher up on the next level, a few weeks later on a very warm sunny morning in early August that we saw one of our highlights of the summer. On the path through the quarry towards the car park there’s a spectacular clump of very deep purple buddleia bushes. It is believed butterflies sense of colour makes darker flowers more attractive to them, possibly because they produce more nectar and these bushes are always worth checking out. On subsequent days we had Red Admiral, Peacock, Painted Lady and Ringlet butterflies feeding on the same bush as well as loads of bumble bees, honey bees and hoverflies but what got us excited this morning wasn’t any of those. A whirring blur of wings beside a buddleia flower signified a wonderful little visitor from Europe, a Hummingbird Hawk-Moth

  Instead of landing on the food plant they hover in front of it and send their long proboscis into the flower while beating their wings at a spectacular speed. They are often actually mistaken for hummingbirds and people ring up BirdWatch Ireland’s headquarters adamant they’ve seen a hummingbird. Although Hummingbirds are strictly New World species, confined to North and South America, and there is no record of any ever turning up in Europe, apparently some of the callers to BirdWatch get quite irate when told it’s a moth and refuse to believe it’s not a bird. Hummingbird Hawk-Moths are known to return to specific food plants at almost exactly the same time on subsequent days but they’re probably moths breeding in that locality and this one, being a migrant visitor, was probably on the move and may have kept going. I’d seen them before but not for many years and it was possibly a combination of warm weather and the right winds that brought it to our shores. Afew days afterwards, out of the gentle breeze, the Killiney Bay side of the hill was very still and humid and we wondered as we walked around the ‘Green Road’ might we see another particular insect, not as rare as the Hawk Moth but certainly not common.

Painted Lady Butterfly     Photo: M. Ryan
  On previous years, at almost the exact same spot, we’d seen what we initially thought was a Cricket but on reflection we decided was almost certainly a Common Field Grasshopper. It’s quite difficult to tell them apart but the Grasshoppers have much shorter antenna. This day the conditions were perfect but the part of the hill where we’d seen them before had been badly burnt leaving only a grass margin a few feet wide. Then my companion Lucy, whose hearing is as impressive as her eyesight, said she could hear a ‘churring’ sound then she spotted a grasshopper, moving across blackened ground under burnt gorse branches. A very impressive size, this individual was well camouflaged with beige body and brown striped rump. Individual grasshoppers can vary greatly in colour as we saw seconds later when she spotted another one a few feet away. This one was also crouched on blackened earth but this one stood out vividly since it was bright green. There were at least four individual grasshoppers, all within a few yards of where we’d seen them on previous years and we were particularly happy to see them because we’d actually forgotten about them when contemplating all the possible animal and insect casualties of the fire that had burnt for a week in June. When we reached home we saw another beneficiary of the warm spell flitting around the garden, two Holly Blue butterflies. Holly Blues lay their eggs on ivy and only some of them, in warmer parts of the country, have a second brood during the summer so I presume these individuals were second broods, enjoying the nice weather as much as we were.