Monthly Archives: October 2018

Adventures of a Busy Bee – The Marsh Fritillary Butterfly

Adventures of a Busy Bee – The Marsh Fritillary Butterfly

Adventures of a Busy Bee – The Marsh Fritillary Butterfly

Guest Blog by: Nicole Feenan

Hey guys its Nicole finally. Since my last post my placement group and I attended a training day at Portmore Lough on the Marsh Fritillary butterfly. This course was given by Rose Cremin, an Invertebrate Field officer with the Butterfly Conservation Trust. The purpose of this course was to educate us on the marsh frit butterfly, its life cycle and how to carry out larval web surveys correctly. On this course we had the opportunity to participate in a larval web survey at Montiagh’s Moss. This course was very useful and has led me to look more closely at the Marsh Fritillary Butterfly. The Marsh Fritillary butterfly is a threatened species across the UK and Europe and is the object to much of conservation effort. Once widespread across the Britain and Ireland the Marsh Fritillary Butterfly has severely declined over the 20th century. This species is highly volatile and requires an extensive habitat or habitat networks to ensure its long-term survival. This species is confined to the western side of both Britain and Ireland. As seen from the image below this butterfly has brightly patterned wings that span between 42 to 48 mm. The species of this butterfly found in Scotland and Ireland are much more heavily marked. The marsh fritillary spins conspicuous webs for their larvae which can be recorded easily in late summer. There are three main habitat types that the marsh fritillary can successful reproduce: damp grasslands that are dominated mainly by tussock forming grasses, chalk grasslands (on west or south-facing slopes in England) and shorter coastal grasslands (in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland). Their main foodplant is the Devils Bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis), the marsh fritillary butterfly will spin their conspicuous webs on the lower leaves of this plant. However, in a calcareous grassland, it will occasionally use either the FieldScabious (Knautia arvensis) or the Small Scabious (Scabiosa columbaria). Below is a diagram of the lifecycle of a marsh fritillary butterfly.

Figure 2- Diagram showing the lifecycle of a Marsh Fritillary Butterfly

A marsh fritillary butterfly will lay large batches of up to 350 eggs, these larvae are then spun into a protective web that will become conspicuous by the end of August. The larvae then overwinter in a small web close to the ground, usually in a dense grass tussock. In early spring the larvae will emerge. These larvae can be seen in clusters of up to 150 small black larvae when they bask in the weak sun. The larvae will then become solitary and dispense widely across the breeding habitat. Pupae form deep within grass tussocks or amongst dead leaves. The adult will then emerge in late May/early June.

In the weeks after the course we carried out a marsh fritillary larval web survey at Brackagh Moss with one of the experts from the course Stephen Craig. We were unsuccessful in finding any webs on this visit and have concluded that Brackagh Moss was not an ideal site for Marsh Fritillary despite previous sightings of it in one of the surrounding fields.


Blogs and Bugs – Sarah and the Giant Hogweed

Blogs and Bugs – Sarah and the Giant Hogweed

Sarah and the Giant Hogweed

Guest Blog by Sarah Galloway

Hi guys it still isn’t Nicole, its Sarah (as the title might suggest). Today I’m going to write about Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), no not that village in Harry Potter but an invasive plant. To be fair it would be handy if we had a magic spell to get rid of it.

Like I said it is an invasive species, it can grow to over 3 metres in height, which is the equivalent to two of me. It is a close relative to Cows Parsley, but they have thick bristly stems with purple blotches. It has white flowers in umbels, this means the flowers split into individual stems which forms the cluster of flowers.  Also, the leaves are jagged, lobed leaves in a rosette.

Giant Hogweed

The reason why people are so keen to eradicate this plant is because it can be very harmful to the touch. This is caused by the sap coming into contact with the skin, which results in severe burns in the presence of sunlight (a bit like Amy).  Chemicals in the sap can cause photodermatitis or photosensitivity, which is not when you don’t look good in photos, but it is when the skin becomes very sensitive to sunlight and may suffer blistering, pigmentation and long-lasting scars. Needless to say, this is one plant you don’t want to pick when out for a stroll.

When controlling Giant Hogweed always wear gloves, cover your arms and legs, and ideally wear a face mask when working on or near it. Cut plant debris, contaminated clothing and tools are potentially hazardous too. Wash any skin that comes in contact with the plant immediately. Ensure that contractors working on your land are aware of the risks and competent to deal with this weed. I strongly suggest consulting your local environmental authority about how best to deal with Giant Hogweed before removing it.

To end the moral of this blog is don’t jump into Giants Hogweed even when your friends tell you it’s not worth the tan lines.

Bogs & Blogs – Summer Birds Of Oxford Island

Bogs & Blogs – Summer Birds Of Oxford Island

Bogs & Blogs

Guest Blog by Amy Gallagher

Hi guys, sorry to disappoint but it still isn’t Nicole; it’s Amy. Today I thought I’d talk about 3 cool birds that spend their summers at Oxford Island. No, not myself, Nicole and Sarah but the Swallow, Swift and House Martin.

House Martins

As summer comes to an end, these birds are starting to migrate to hotter climates. A bit like myself they are quite partial to a holiday in the sun but probably don’t need to pack quite so much after sun for the trip.

Oxford Island is an impressive spot for bird watching, it is home to a great number of birds and waterfowl including some rare species like the Northern Lapwing and the Ring-necked Duck. But for the birds I’m taking about today, you do not need to visit the bird watching hides, simply take a walk around the Lough Neagh Discovery Centre in the summer months and you will see them nesting in the roof and flying overhead catching flying insects to feed to their young.

The Swallow is found in great numbers around Oxford Island from March onwards


before leaving for South Africa between September and October. Swallows are small birds with dark, Nesting Swallowsglossy-blue backs, red throats, pale underparts and long tail streamers. They are extremely agile in flight and spend most of their time on the wing.

Like any modern couple, both the male and female Swallow assume equal responsibility when it comes to building their home and feeding their young. They build a nest from mud and plant fibres against a beam or shelf in buildings or a ledge on cliffs. Existing nests are often refurbished. The newly-hatched young are fed by both parents, who catch insects on-the-wing and collect them in their throats before returning to the nest. Once fledged, the youngsters receive in-flight food from their parents.

Often confused with the Swallow, the Swift arrive at Oxford Island in the last week of


April or early May and stay only long enough to breed. Autumn migration to Africa begins in late July or early August. The onset of the migration is believed to be triggered by the lack of nutritious insects high in the air.  The Swift is a larger bird than the Swallow or House Martin and is plain sooty brown in colour, but in flight against the sky it appears black. It has long, scythe-like wings and a short, forked tail much smaller than that of the Swallows.

Just when I thought Swifts couldn’t get any cuter, I found out they mate for life, meeting up every spring at the same nesting site. So, if you see a pair of Swifts, you can rest easy knowing that true love does exist because they travelled thousands of miles just to see each other. They nest high up in the roof space under the eaves of old houses and churches where the birds are able to drop into the air from the nest entrance. The nest is built by both adults out of any material that can be gathered on the wing, including feathers, paper and straw. It is cemented together with saliva, and renovated and reused year after year.

Last but certainly not least is the House Martin. It can be seen in the British Isles from

House Martin

April to September however the species virtually disappears from our radar when they migrate as it is not known where in Africa House Martins winter, or how precisely they get there. House martins have glossy blue upperparts, similar to a swallow, but the white rump is distinctive. Their tail is also forked, but much shorter than a Swallows.

House martins usually build nests on outer walls of buildings under the eaves. They are colonial nesters, with an average group size of four to five nests, although large colonies with groups of tens or even hundreds of nests are sometimes reported. The nest is made of pellets of mud mixed with grass, lined with feathers and vegetable fibre.

House martins are frequently double brooded and three broods are not uncommon.

Nest of House Martins

This means that they produce more than one set of young each year. Fledged young from first broods often help their parents feed a second brood. They are short-lived, and most birds only breed for one year. Colonies are traditional and nests are usually occupied from one year to the next but rarely by the same birds. Males often return to the colony they fledged from or close by, while females tend to settle several kilometres away.

So, if you keep your eyes to the skies you might just get to see one of these 3 cool birds beginning their long migration, on the hunt for warmer climates. Once again, I mean the Swallows, Swifts and House Martins; us students can’t afford it, we spent all our money at freshers!