Biodiversity Week!

You probably don’t realise it with all of the big news stories, referendum issues, etc. but this is Ireland’s National Biodiversity Week, and here is a little celebration of the biodiversity you will see in Wicklow right now, in no particular order:

   This is my first proper photo of a Red Kite (Milvus milvus), a large and very beautiful bird-of-prey which mostly feeds on carrion, and can often be seen soaring above the roads of Wicklow on the watch out for roadkill. It is a huge bird, and has only been back in Ireland for about a decade having been reintroduced, with the first released in Wicklow. They have since thrived.

Wicklow loves its cherry trees, and in spring they are everywhere blooming. Here’s a handsome double-flower cherry. Most are now gone out of bloom but you might still find some stragglers.

After the mass blooming of dandelion flowers seed-eating birds come into their element, with beauties such as the Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) and Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) coming into gardens to feed on them. The bird in the photo is a male Bullfinch.

Butterfly numbers have been steadily climbing in May, and these dainty creatures can be found almost everywhere. The one in the photo is easily identified as it is the only Irish species with eye-spots, the Peacock butterfly (Inachis io).

Apple trees doe very well in Ireland, and Wicklow has no shortage of them. Here is one with immense blooms. Once fertilised by a pollen-covered bee or hover fly, each flower will gradually develop into an apple, but it will take a few months. And here’s a close-up of the beautiful blossoms.

Here (below) is one of the best of all the pollinators and in 2018 it seems to be enjoying a population explosion in Wicklow – the Chocolate Mining Bee (Andrena scotica), which doesn’t mine chocolate, but is chocolate-coloured. It is often confused with the Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) but has no pollen sacs on its hind legs, and no sting. The one in the photo is collecting pollen from a potentilla flower.

May is the time of the Maybugs – large, clumsy beetles best known as Cockchafer (Melolontha melolontha), which emerge from pupa having spent a year or two under ground as large white grubs feeling on the roots of dandelions. They appear in May and June and fly about at night, and are attracted to lights. You will see them now almost every night until the end of June.

And, of course, there are also moths to be seen:

   Many moths, like the one above, are attracted to window lights at night. This handsome species is the Small Phoenix (Ecliptopera silaceata), which is quite common in Wicklow, and which appears as two different generation of moths. This one belongs to the first, and in late summer a second generation of moths will appear.

On leaves all around gardens in Wicklow little green eggs appear. Some belong to moths, some to butterflies, some to true bugs and some to beetles. These eggs (above) belong to the Green Shieldbug (Palomena prasina).

Finally, to end my little showcase, here is a very beautiful game bird, the Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus). These birds used to very much belong to the countryside, but in recent years they have begun coming to live in gardens, and can even be found in the centre of Dublin city, especially in universities with trees and green areas, such as Trinity College. However, in Wicklow they are in much larger numbers.

 

 

Dandelion Explosion!

This year we have had a very cold spring, and most plants and wildflowers are way behind their normal growth levels, but yet again the humble and resilient Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) has saved the day.

Dandelions can flower all year, but in April they absolutely explode into blooming and our environment and our food depends on the fact that the massive amounts of pollen produced by the dandelion blooming sustain vital pollinating insects at a time that would otherwise be a crisis for them, and then result in a crisis for us. In fact, I believe we should have a dandelion festival every year to celebrate this most important of all spring wildflowers. This is my video dedicated to the dandelion:

Above is one of our rarest pollinators, the Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva) and this species also depends heavily on the dandelion for pollen, especially as this bee emerges in late March and flies mostly in April, and to a lesser degree in May, before dying off by early June and not being seen again until the following spring.

However, big bumblebees depend on them too, like this huge Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris).  Let’s celebrate the dandelions.  They deserve it.

Butterflies at Last

It has been the most protracted cold spring in living memory, and as a result butterflies have been extremely slow to appear, as they need 15° Celsius in which to fly, and it was much less than that up until last week. In fact, we had daytime temperatures as low as 6° Celsius! But this week temperatures leaped up to what would be normal for this time of year, and even above that, and suddenly butterflies and spring moths were appearing as if by magic. Here is one which I was very surprised to see, the Comma (Polygonia c-album):

Most surprising of all has been the numbers of Peacock butterflies (Inachis io) which have appeared in only the last three days. They are big and bold wine red butterflies with dramatic eye-spots:

Here’s a male Orange-tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines) which had hatched out from a chrysalis,perched on some garden netting and waiting for its wings to expand and stiffen. This one is a male, as you can tell from the orange tips visible at the top of its fore-wings:

The butterflies of spring are here, but that’s not all – so too are the moths…

 

An Adventure in the Garden of Ireland