The Burren Conservation Volunteers are an inspiring group of volunteers actively working towards the sustainable management of the Burren. On Saturday 17 November I was invited to give a workshop to the group and talk on how the volunteers could contribute to the work of the National Biodiversity Data Centre where I work. I mainly spoke on recording and entering records online but also of a number of schemes that we run including the Irish Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. A few of the monitoring scheme volunteers were in the room and we wandered off the topic and started discussing scrub removal and the Brown Hairstreak.
None of us had ever searched for Brown Hairstreak eggs and were inspired to hurry outside and start searching! The workshop was set in a small village called Carran which is set smack bang in the middle of the Burren. The Burren is the hotspot in Ireland for butterflies as well as lots of other wildlife. Species abundant in this area include Wood White, Dingy Skipper, Small Blue, Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Dark Green Fritillary and Brown Hairstreak. Pearl-bordered Fritillary has been recorded at the back of the building we were in and Brown Hairstreaks were certain to be nearby. One group drove to the Burren National Park and the rest of us pottered out the back in some limestone pavement and scrub. It did feel like searching for a needle in a haystack and we quickly gave up after a number of hail showers had dwindled our enthusiasm!
The other group were more successful and came back with a photograph of what they believed to be an egg. It was in the right habitat, in a site well known for Brown Hairstreak, and looked like the photographs but we were still a little uncertain.
The next day I headed out despite heavy rain to another site well known for Brown Hairstreak. Jesmond Harding who wrote 'Discovering Irish Butterflies and their Habitats' had recommended this site to me. In full rain gear, I tramped through mud and cow dung along a 'green road' and investigated every blackthorn bush along the way. I was about to question my sanity when I spotted a 'sparkling' egg nestled in the fork of two branches. I was surprised at how obvious they are once you get your eye in. Some more searching and I found two eggs side by side. I was thrilled. I tried to take some photos with my iphone but it wasn't behaving. In fairness, the rain was pelting down and it would have been difficult to take a photograph with any camera. The results of my soggy efforts are some blurry photos!
At this stage the rain was coming in through my raingear and I decided it was time to get back to the car. As I drove southwards home and dried out a little, I decided to take a detour to Dromore Woods Nature Reserve which is another Brown Hairstreak hotspot. Jesmond had assured me that eggs were easily found on the 'castle walk'. I donned a new set of raingear and headed out into the rain again. Despite my efforts, I didn't find any eggs at this site. In better weather, though, I might have been a little more dedicated!
The outcome of the weekend trip is that a number of us are now on the search for eggs and know what to look for and where to look.