Whenever I see a white-coloured butterfly fly past, I ask myself a very simple question to help ID the fluttery fellow - ‘Is he wearing his stripy pyjamas?’
Don’t worry, I haven’t gone stir crazy in the heat! I picked up this very helpful tip (designed for kids but very useful for all Lepidoptera novices) from Catherine Bertrand at Butterfly Conservation when she was at our Portmore Lough reserve last weekend.
As well as getting outside and enjoying the lovely weather we’ve been having in past few days, I’ve also been feeling rather smug at now being able to tell the green veined whites (which have stripy wings) from the stripe-less small and large whites!
Photo credit Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
There are almost 60 different types of butterfly in the UK and around half of that number can be spotted in our gardens.
They range from the rather unassuming, like the brown ringlet, to the gloriously coloured like the common blue.
Photo credit Ron Surgenor
Of course, as well as being a delight to look at, butterflies play an important role in our ecosystems, including providing pollination and natural pest control.
They are also an important element of the food chain and are prey for birds, bats and other insectivorous animals.
Sadly, butterflies are under threat today from unprecedented environmental change. Their fragility makes them quick to react to change so their struggle to survive is a serious warning about our environment.
The good news is that there are small things we can all do to help give butterflies a home.
Try to plant plenty of different nectar plants that flower throughout spring, summer and autumn, in a sheltered, sunny spot.
You can also leave a 'wild area' of your lawn or plant some attractive wild plants, such as scabious and valerian. Don’t forget to include caterpillar food plants if you want butterflies to breed in your garden.
Some adult butterflies hibernate, so provide places for them to hide – like a hedge or ivy on a fence – and you may see early spring butterflies in your garden like this gorgeous peacock :)
Photo credit Grahame Madge (rspb-images.com)
Don't forget you can take part in Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count until 10 August – visit www.bigbutterflycount.org to download an ID sheet and get recording!
Last year, we welcomed more than 250 people to the grounds of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum for one night. We went searching for bats, learned about moths and butterflies, enjoyed some marshmallows round the campfire and looked to the stars from inside an inflatable indoor planetarium (yes, you read that right!).
This year, the Big Wild Campout is back, and bigger than ever. We're taking over the Ulster Folk Museum for two nights, Friday 8 and Saturday 9 August, and we'll be pitching up at the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh on Saturday 23 August. We'll have our friends at Cotswold Outdoor there, ready to help you put up your tent, as well as lead us in some bushcraft activities. Butterfly Conservation Northern Ireland will be there too, as will the Northern Ireland Bat Group. We also have some stargazing, story telling and torch-lit bug hunts to look forward to - how will we ever fit it all into one night?
Tickets for the Big Wild Campout are on sale now, and are selling fast, so get yours quick (click the image below for tickets)!
But if you're still in two minds, read the blog below from Sasha Barrett-Ferris, who came along last year with her parents as volunteers and campers.
Big Wild Campout
Back in August 2013 on a hot summer’s afternoon my family and I set up camp in a very unusual place – in the grounds of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. Help was readily available if you needed any from the team from Cotswold along with members of the RSPB (including me).
We quickly settled in and made our way around the site to look at all the activities that were on offer. There were exciting crafts in the schoolroom, a bat walk after dark, the indoor planetarium, moth collecting and cinema to name but a few. I particularly enjoyed the indoor planetarium experience.
Cooking was done outdoors in a lovely cobbled courtyard where later in the evening hot chocolate and folk music were available. We even had a large camp fire where we toasted marshmallows (perfect for that little pick me up).
It was an incredible experience in a unique setting which we all thoroughly enjoyed so much we are coming back for a second year.
We can't wait to see you all there!
Last week was National Insect Week, so today on the blog we’re celebrating the vital role played by the 24,000 different species of insects which make their homes in the UK.
The tagline for the Royal Entomological Society’s awareness week is ‘little things that run the world’ – a statement which is no exaggeration!
Insects, from butterflies to beetle to bees and everything in between, can be found in almost every habitat and are the most diverse and ecologically important group of animals found in our gardens, acting as important pollinators, pest controllers and a vital food source for birds and other wildlife.
You can provide all the right conditions for insects to feed, breed and shelter naturally in your garden.
Retain dead vegetation, leaf litter and log piles. They will be used as hibernating and breeding sites, particularly by ladybirds.
Plant nectar-rich flowers or simply let a patch of grass grow wild and avoid using pesticides.
If you’re feeling creative, you could also build a ‘bug hotel’ from natural materials - insects will love making their homes in the dark and damp nooks and crannies.
For more tips on how you can help insects in your garden, visit rspb.org.uk/homes.
If you want to learn more about our winged wonders then why not come along to the Big Butterfly Count at Portmore Lough on Saturday, 19 July?
Dozens of species of butterflies and moths can be seen on the reserve’s hay meadows during the summer.
You will be able to enjoy a tour of the reserve from 10.30am to 12.30pm with Catherine Bertrand from Butterfly Conservation Northern Ireland on hand to count and identify what you see!
The event costs £5 for adults/£3 for RSPB members and £2/£1 for children. Booking is essential by emailing email@example.com or calling 028 9049 1547.