Summer in Ireland means long days, with sunny periods (sometimes quite lengthy ones) interspersed with showers and longer bouts of rain. Temperatures begin to rise in early summer, and the Irish countryside comes alive with a kaleidoscope of colourful wildflowers and the industrious hum of pollinating insects.
It’s a fantastic time of year… and there’s no better way to enjoy it than to get out and search for some of Ireland’s amazing wildlife.
Average Summer Temperatures: 10°C-21°C (max c. 3o°C)
Average Summer Rainfall: c. 60-80mm / month
Average Summer Sunshine: 4-7 hours /day
The weather in Ireland in summer varies quite a bit — but temperatures tend to be reasonably warm and pleasant. although the days can still get chilly, particularly early in the morning and late in the evening if there’s a brisk wind. There is always a chance of an unseasonable shower or two wherever you are.
Clothing & Gear Tips
In summer you can typically get away with lighter clothing, and possibly less layers, as the weather is generally warmer. Cool breezes still spring up regularly though, especially around the coast or on higher ground, so it’s always a good idea to pack a lightweight wind-proof shell. If it’s also waterproof, so much the better, as showers can still be heavy and prolonged even in mid-summer.
On the footwear front choose something appropriate to the terrain you plan to walk on. Comfortable, supportive, waterproof footwear is always a good idea. I almost always have a pair of wellington boots in the car as a fail-safe.
TOP TIP: Always check the weather forecast before you head out (try www.met.ie for Irish weather updates — or check out the excellent AccuWeather app online or on iOS or Android on your smartphone for up-to-the-minute forecasts) and dress appropriately.
One of the most indispensable pieces of equipment for wildlife watching is a good pair of binoculars. They help you get good views of wildlife without disturbing it, and without scaring off more elusive animals. They can also help you to identify birds, animals and even inaccessible wildflowers at distance.
While not essential, a spotting scope is invaluable in those situations where binoculars simply don’t have the “reach” you need. They are excellent for scanning from the coast for passing seabirds, whales and dolphins and other marine wildlife, and they can help with the identification and enjoyment of distant birds and animals anywhere where getting physically closer to your subject simply isn’t possible.
TOP TIP: Always carry a pair of binoculars with you if possible — wildlife is unpredictable, and wildlife viewing opportunities can present themselves in the oddest of places.
I have personally tested and am happy to recommend all of the binoculars listed below for birding and general wildlife observation:
What to look for in June
Marine / coastal wildlife
As an island nation marine and coastal wildlife is always going to feature prominently in any Irish list… here are a few of the things to look out for around our coasts during June.
Ireland’s breeding seabird colonies are full of activity during the summer months. With the breeding season advancing many birds will be feeding chicks now, and you’ll see the parent birds coming and going with supplies of fish for their hungry brood.
Look out for puffins, razorbills, gannets, guillemots, fulmars and kittawakes nesting on cliffs and offshore islands.
Some key sites are The Skelligs off Co. Kerry, The Cliffs of Moher in Co. Clare, the Saltees off Co. Wexford and Rathlin Island off Co. Antrim, all of which offer great views of nesting seabirds. If you keep your eyes and ears open you’ll find lots of smaller colonies dotted around the cliffs and islands all around the Irish coastline.
TOP TIP: Please follow the Seabird Colony Code of Conduct outlined by the Irish Wildlife Trust and Birdwatch Ireland whenever you visit a seabird nesting colony.
Terns are elegant migrant seabirds that return to Irish shores each year to breed — often travelling huge distances in the process. Sandwich terns, common terns, arctic terns, little terns and roseate terns all nest around the Irish coast, and in the case of common and Arctic terns, also on small islands on inland lakes.
In June terns pairs are usually on eggs or, later in the month, actively feeding young, and colonies are very busy places. Visiting a tern colony can be a very noisy and memorable wildlife experience… but do take care and only watch from a reasonable distance outside the colony itself… terns are ground nesting birds, and are susceptible to both disturbance and damage to eggs and young.
Breeding colonies of common terns, arctic terns and sandwich terns can be found at various locations around the Irish coast. The breeding colony of roseate terns on Rockabill Island, Co. Dublin is the largest in Europe with 1,200 pairs, but Rockabill is off limits to visitors, so the best chance of seeing these birds during the breeding season is to visit Lady’s Island, near Rosslare, in County Wexford or the small colony on Maiden Rock, Dalkey, Co. Dublin.
The dminuitive little tern is one of Ireland’s rarest breeding seabirds. The largest colony is on the shingle beach at Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow, and consists of some 50-60 pairs. It is monitored constantly by Birdwatch Ireland wardens during the breeding season to protect the colony from intruders and predators. The Kilcoole Little Tern Colony blog has regular updates on the fortunes of Ireland’s most diminutive tern species.
Basking sharks are present around Irish coasts right through the summer months, but activity peaks in June and July — see our special feature for details on how and where to watch basking sharks in Ireland.
If you find yourself near the coast, or out on a boat on a calm, clear day during the summer it’s definitely worth looking out for sharks feeding offshore.
Whales and Dolphins
Minke whales — the smallest of our baleen whale species — are the main whale species to look out for in summer, with a slim chance of spotting early fin whales blowing far off-shore from the east or south coasts later in the season (typically from mid- to late-August, although they are sometimes seen as early as mid July). If you’re very lucky you may even spot a humpback (they are unpredictable, and have been recorded in Irish waters during every month of the year).
TOP TIP: Look out for whales and other cetaceans surfacing beneath clouds of diving seabirds.
Keep an eye out for common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins and the occasional Risso’s dolphin, and don’t forget that killer whales can turn up around Irish coasts at any time of year (two were spotted off Mizen Head in West Cork, and again off the coast of Co. Kerry in early June 2013).
Breeding birds are busy feeding young, and many young birds will be fledging during the course of the summer. Some species may rear a second brood, and some, like the Stonechat, will even try for a third if they get an early enough start in spring.
Look out for a steady stream of young birds leaving their nests as summer progresses. You can often pinpoint fledglings by listening for their incessant begging calls, which tend to reach a crescendo when the parent arrives with food — and look for movement.
If you’re a keen photographer June can be a great time of year to get photos of adults and young fledglings. It’s illegal to photograph nesting birds in Ireland without a license from the National Parks and Wildlife Service, but once the young leave the nest you’re free to photograph them as often as you like. It’s often easier to get close to fledglings than to wary adults.
Top Tip: Please resist the temptation to “help” a fledgling that looks like it has been abandoned — nine times out of ten it is fine, and mum and/or dad are waiting in the wings to take care of it. If it’s in danger place it carefully in cover and retreat to a safe distance to see if the parents return.
NB: If you’re convinced a fledgling or young animal needs assistance you’ll find details of how to take care of it and who to contact on the Irish Wildlife Matters website.
Woodland birds can be difficult to spot at this time of year, as trees are fully leaved and the canopy often impenetrable. Patience, a keen ear and a sharp eye for movement will usually reveal their presence, and learning to identify birds by their call and song can be a real benefit.
Mammals are always difficult to see, and you’re much more likely to see mammal tracks and signs than the animals themselves. That said mid-summer can be a good time for chance mammal encounters. With young to feed, and daylight extending well into the night, the necessity to find food for weaning youngsters can drive normally elusive crepuscular and nocturnal species out before it gets fully dark.
Foxes are the obvious example. It’s not unusual to see adult foxes out foraging during the day during the summer. Fox cubs are also venturing out more, and exploring further from their den with their boisterous antics, so it’s always worth looking out for activity near scrub and other cover if you have foxes in your area.
Other mammals are also very active at this time of year, so keep your eyes peeled for squirrels, hedgehogs, stoats, pine martens, rabbits, hares and badgers.
Dawn and dusk are the best times to look for mammals… although chance encounters can happen at any time of the day (the stoat in the photograph, for example, was hunting amidst the sand dunes at lunchtime on a sunny summer’s day — proving once again that, when it comes to wildlife, there really are no hard and fast rules).
Longer evenings also make summer the best time of year to see bats on the wing.
It’s a real delight to watch the acrobatic antics of bats as they wheel overhead hunting small flying insects. For me it’s one of the wildlife highlights of summer. We have 10 species of bat in Ireland (you’ll need a bat detector and experience to ID them in the field), but by far the most common, and the species you’re most likely to see, are the common pipistrelle and soprano pipistrelle.
Top Tip: A bat detector, like the Elekon Bat Scanner reviewed here, will allow you to hear the bat’s echolocation calls, and with practice and experience will help you identify some of the more common bat species you see and hear.
Reptiles and Amphibians
Look out for common lizards, Ireland’s only native land reptile… basking in sunny locations during the summer. Lizards are often easier to spot and approach in the cool of the morning, before they get themselves up to full “operating temperature” by basking.
On the amphibian front it’s always possible to encounter young frogs and smooth newts that have completed their metamorphosis and are making their way out of the ponds and ditches into surrounding vegetation. Adult frogs can be found in any damp or boggy location… often some distance from the nearest standing water. Although they are quite happy away from water, adult amphibians always need a damp retreat where they can take refuge from the heat and the drying effects of the sun.
Insects and other invertebrates
Warmer weather and lots of flowers in bloom means there’s an explosion of insect activity in summer.
Bees and hoverflies are busy collecting nectar from flowering plants and shrubs, filling the air with an incessant hum — (check out the guide to bee and hoverfly species on the “Pollinators” section of the National Biodiversity Data Centre website).
On fine days clouds of flying insects fill the air — including midges and other biting insects — which in turn provide food for many other animals — particularly birds like swallows, house martins, sand martins and swifts.
Dragonflies and Damselflies
Arguably Irleand’s most exciting group of insects, Ireland’s dragonflies and damselflies are on the wing in June, July and August — with a few species even lingering into early autumn.
Dragonflies in particular are spectacular to watch as they engage in territorial dogfights over pools and ponds, or hawk smaller insects on the wing. The more delicate damselflies are smaller and trickier to spot, but are exquisitely intricate and well worth a closer look. Look out for their dancing flight over or near bodies of water and wet ground, or perhaps at rest, wings folded, on a rush or blade of grass.
This chart of dragonfly and damselfly flight times courtesy of the Dragonfly Ireland website shows which species are on the wing in June (click for larger image):
For more information on Irish dragonflies and damselflies visit the Dragonfly Ireland website, and for an idea of what’s being seen around the country right now check out their page on Facebook. You can record your dragonfly and damselfly sightings with the National Biodiversity Data Centre using this online record submission form.
Top tip: by recording the species you see vie the the National Biodiversity Data Centre website you contribute to the body of knowledge that helps inform the conservation of Ireland’s biodiversity
Butterflies and Moths
Summer is the season for butterflies, including one of Ireland’s most striking — the stunning marsh fritillary (Ireland’s only protected butterfly species) which is on the wing in early summer.
Others species to look out for include the “whites” (small white, large white and green veined white), the blues (common blue, holly blue and small blue), peacock, speckled wood, green hairstreak. small heath, wall brown, meadow brown and small copper.
Summer is also peak season for moths. Day flying moths like the stunning garden tiger moth and the black and crimson cinabarr moth are on the wing, and you’ll notice many moths fluttering around windows and outdoor lights with numbers peaking in late June and July, then dropping off again through August.
If you own a moth trap, or know someone who has one, summer is the time to dust them off and see what’s about near you (NB. moth traps do not harm the moths, they simply collect them for ID and release the following morning, and are a vital tool for surveying moth biodiversity).
Even shining a bright light on a white wall or old sheet will attract a good number of moths on a fine night, and can be a fascinating exercise — although with darkness only properly falling at around 11pm in mid-summer it can often mean a late night.
However you attract moths you will need a good moth field guide to identify what you find. We have some 1,400 species of moth in Ireland, compared to just 34 species of butterfly — so ID can be challenging — but the variety of our moth species is truly fascinating. You’ll find example of just some of Ireland’s moth species over on the Irish Moths Website.
Wild flowers are a real highlight of summer in Ireland. Hedgerows and meadows are a riot of colour as a host of blooms spring forth to attract armies of pollinating insects, with the flowers changing as the season progresses.
Honeysuckle and elder light up the hedgerows, along with wild dog rose, hedge bindweed and other climbers and flowering shrubs. Meadows are awash with buttercups and clovers, oxeye daisies nod along verges and marshy areas are resplendent with yellow irises. Ireland’s exquisite orchid species… including the amazing bee orchid… flower during the summer month, and its well worth taking an extra bit of time exploring suitable habitat for some of them.
“Ireland’s Wild Orchids” (review coming soon) is a great little field guide to the orchids of Ireland.
You’ll find a list of many Irish wildflowers and details of when they bloom on the Wildflowers of Ireland website.
Don’t forget to give us your hints and tips on other wildlife to look out for during the summer — and share some of your favourite wildlife locations in the comments below, and keep us posted on all your wildlife adventures over on the Ireland’s Wildlife page on Facebook.