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Green hairstreak – #15 Butterfly Challenge

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Green hairstreak is a delightful tiny green butterfly of peatland edge (Photograph taken on 25 May 2016)

The green hairstreak is probably responsible for stimulating my interest in butterflies. Back in 1990, when I worked as a Park Ranger at Connemara National Park, I was dipping into a book about butterflies of the ‘British Isles’. Despite its name, it was almost exclusively about butterflies of Britain, except for a comment by the author (I forget who it was) that the green hairstreak was nowhere more plentiful than on the roadside near Kylemore in Connemara. This comment intrigued me, for if the truth be told, before then I had probably never heard of a green hairstreak, let alone seen one.  I read that green hairstreak were to be found at the edge of bogs, on gorse bushes, in May and June. As it was the right time of the year, off I went in search of my prey.

At first, I failed to see these beauties for I didn’t really know what to look for. I think I was expecting a much more conspicuous creature. It was only when I finally glimpsed something tiny and flighty, that I ‘got my eye in’ and entered the wonderful butterfly world that heretofore was hidden from my eyes. As I searched I saw more and more of these tiny, delightful iridescent green butterflies, living their lives quietly among the gorse and heather of the Connemara hills, on the doorstep of the National Park where I worked. From that day on, butterflies have held a fascination for me.

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Rhododendron is now very much part of the green hairstreak’s territory in Connemara

Green hairstreak is a very localised butterfly in Kilkenny; I know of only two sites where it can be found and even at those sites it is difficult to find. In May, I had an opportunity to once again visit Connemara National Park, and photograph this species.  I pulled into a track, and sure enough, no more than 10 metres from the car, I spotted my first green hairstreak. Perched proudly on a Rhododendron leaf surveying its territory, just waiting for me to take its picture.

What surprised me greatly by my visit back to Connemara was how much of a foothold non-native plants now have in the area around the National Park. Back in the early 1990s Rhododendron was confined to some small patches of hillside, but now it has taken a firm hold in the countryside. But it was the expansion of the Gunnera, the giant rhubarb that was introduced to Irish gardens as an ornamental plant sometime before the Second World War, that really shocked me.  I don’t remember Gunnera  growing here in the 1990s but today, it has infested roadsides and hillsides of Connemara, and is everywhere.

It seems like the task of the National Park to retain tracts of land of high nature value, is full of challenges. When I worked there hungry sheep were the bane of our lives, now it looks like it is the turn of invasive species. If only addressing the problem of invasive plants was as easy as tackling the problem of overgrazing.

Speckled wood #1, Dingy skipper #2, Wall brown #3, Common blue #4, Holly blue #5, Small blue #6, Meadow brown #7, Ringlet #8, Wood white #9, Cryptic wood white #10, Orange-tip #11, Green-veined white #12, Large white #13, Small white #14 & Green hairstreak #15.

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Rhododendron and Gunnera as now as much part of the Connemara landscape as Gorse and Heather.