Going Wild in Laois: Derryounce Lake

Going Wild in Laois: Derryounce Lake

Discovering Butterflies and Bees around Derryounce Lake.

I was visiting my sister and Nephew the kids were full of energy. As the day was so warm we decided to take a walk to Derryounce Lake. This is an amazing walk and I need no encouragement to pay a visit. A quick drive brought us to the car park by the bog railway line. Hats, sun cream and water were packed and we headed off to discover. My Nephew, Adam does this walk most weeks and lots discovering the insects and especially dragonflies.

Fortunately there is succession of wildflowers throughout the year and this provides a continuous source of nectar and pollen for insects. Greater rosebay willow herb grows in the damper parts of the walk and it has showy tall spikes of pinky/purple flowers. It can reach over a metre at the height of summer and the caterpillars of the elephant hawkmoth feeds on this plant.

It is not long before we meet our first insects. Nature uses colour to communicate and some colours are universal between the human and natural world. The bright black and amber caterpillars of the Cinnabar moth are feeding on ragwort. They colours are a warning to predators that they are unpleasant to eat.

We also find a buff tailed bumblebee on the flowers of wild carrot. This is a distance cousin of our cultivated carrot and if you pull up the plant you will find a carrot. Gorse grows in the drier parts of the walk and is excellent for wildlife. Birds nest in its tangle of branches and the funnel spiders built their webs between the spines.

Silver Washed Fritillary

Butterflies are the real stars of day and we find eight species on then walk. Along the shaded paths speckled woods rest on the leaves of brambles. Their caterpillars feed on various grasses and it can be on the wing well into October.

The Green veined white is one of the commonest butterflies in along the wet grasses by the edge of the paths.

Brimstone butterflies are not very common in Ireland and this is because their food plant Alder buckthorn is equally scarce. I have not seen one before and what a place to record it for the first time.

Creeping thistle and knapweed are common wildflowers that are not welcome in most gardens by they are two of the best summer flowers for pollinators. We find a red tailed and common carder bumblebee sipping nectar on their flowers. We are using the pocket guides produced by the national biodiversity centre and they are child friendly as well.

Adam loves dragonflies ad there are quite a few out on the walk. Large and small pools provide these aerial predators will good habitat. A large hawker dragonfly flies around us to investigate but soon disappears.

Peacock Butterfly

Another butterfly appear. The Peacock butterfly has four large false eyes on its wings. If a predator tries to eat it, it flashes its wings startling the bird and giving the butterfly a fighting chance of getting away.

The last stretch before the lake is bordered by woodland. Birch is very good for birds who will come to eat their autumn seeds. Herb robert and bramble form a good understory and support wild creatures.

We hear the alarm calls of a Robin and wren and although they are know more associated with manmade gardens and parks they are originally woodland species.

We reach the Lake and are not alone. A family are there already enjoying a swim. The lake has a fine beach and the kids have great fun playing. We walk around the edge of the lake following a rough track. While development does need to take place keeping the natural character of a walk is essential.

The soil is dark and peaty and supports lots of interesting flowers. Eyebright and milkwort have dainty white and blue flowers respectively. Red clover is excellent for bees and St Johnswort has be used to treat depression in people.

Meadow brown are grassland species and they have large orange patches on their wings.

It shares this habitat with a wildflower called yellow rattle. This is a semi parasitotic plant that feeds on the roots of grasses.

Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar

Common blue is a stunning butterfly of grassland where its food plant bird’s foot trefoil grows. I have seen hundreds over the years but I am always surprised by the flash of vivid blue.


Where the water seeps into the land we find a quartet of damp loving plants. Angelica is the tallest and its white umbel flowers are magnet for insects. Dozens of wasps and hoverflies are feeding on the flowers. Bog cotton has fluffy white flower heads and can turn parts of the bog white in the summer

Water mint has a divine scent and we crush the leaves between our fingers for the ids to try. It lingers for hours and even on the car journey home we get the faint whiff of mint. Water avens has dropping pinky/orange creamy flowers.

A pair of hooded crows are out foraging at keep a wary eye and distance from us. Adam finds a frog hopping along the edge of the lake and there are peacock butterflies with every step. We cross over a small footbridge and take the short way back to the beach. You can walk around the entire lake by little legs and time are against us.

A large queen buff tailed bumblebee is out and we also see a male and female blackbird. The soft mud would have plenty of worms for these woodland birds.

The kids get a few minuet playtime on the beach and I do a quick bit of plant and insect hunting. Knapweed is very dramatic when flowering in mass and a migrant Painted lady butterfly is feeding on the flowers. Some years this butterfly who life begins in Africa and if the weather and generations are good it will reach Ireland.

All your Portarlington News courtesy of Con Murphy Photography

Surprises always come in nature and a Silver washed fritillary gets me really excited but my sister is just not impressed. This species can be found along woodland rides and bogs.

I like Ringlet butterflies and they even fly during wet weather.  They are plain brown and can look very dark but have a row of rings on its wings.

We sit down for a drink before heading back to the car and broad leaved plantain is growing beneath our feet.

It is great to have a local guide with local knowledge and we take a different track back. A Dunnock is singing and we see more Green veined whites, painted ladies and common blue butterflies.

Back at the car at the car it is time to say goodbye after one of the best butterfly afternoons of my life. As I put on my seat belt I see a very unusual insect on the on the inside of the car. A bug container later and I looking into the large green eyes of a celery fly a species I have never come across before.

Another fabulous day discovering and exploring the wildlife along the Derryounce bog Trail.

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