Tag Archives: Spring

The Undergrowth Comes Alive

The sunlight, and longer days are warming the valleys of Wicklow. The smaller wildlife, on which all others depend, are starting to steal the show. While strolling in a garden or along a village lane you might see a scarlet-coloured fluttering object drop from the sky and out of sight. It might appear a little later, but if not, look on the low-growing foliage for the beautiful and aptly-named Ruby Tiger moth (Phragmatobia fuliginosa), which emerges from its pupal coccoons in April and May, to take to the sky. This species employs bright colouring to warn of distasteful toxins in its body.

Ruby Tiger Moth lying low in a meadow. Beneath the forewings is a searing red underwing only usually discernible when the moth is in flight.

At the other end of the colour spectrum is the Holly Blue butterfly (Celastrina argiolus), a stunning little spring butterfly that loves to bask on wide hedgerow leaves. This butterfly likes woodland glades and narrow laneways, aswell as gardens.

Holly Blue butterfly - you can tell this one is female by the narrow black margins on the outer edges of the forewings: males have much thicker markings, effectively black patches.

If you are very lucky you might even be fortunate enough to see a mating pair. Mating is a quiet and symmetrical affair. The lovers rest, joined by their abdomens, but facing in completely opposite directions. They only move to angle their wings in the sun.

A mating pair of Holly Blues. Behind them is a dangerous-looking, but harmless and extremely handsome Syrphus hoverfly.

However, the sunlit leaves are not necessarily safe places. Predatory invertebrates brazenly wait, motionless in the undergrowth, for unwitting visitors to arrive to provide them with lunch. Crab spiders wait on the leaves, and will soon be hiding among the blossoms.

Flower Crab Spider (Misumena vatia), waiting for prey. Crab Spiders get their names from their habit of grasping prey with their two long pairs of forelegs, while balancing on their two shorter pairs of hind legs, as this one was doing.

However, many small creatures are fortunate enough not to hide on leaves. Your best chance of seeing the Early Thorn moth (Selenia dentaria) is now in April, usually perched on timber door or window frames, and garden sheds. The first generation male, pictured, is perfectly coloured to match dark timber, and dry leaves in the hedgerows.

A male Early Thorn moth perched on a door frame.

The Naturalists

Today I had the great honour of meeting Ireland’s most famous naturalist, Éamonn De Buitléar, and he kindly agreed to pose for a photograph. He is a famous wildlife documentary film-maker (and author) but always preferred to be behind the camera instead of in front of it, although he is a charismatic presenter. De Buitléar has contributed to many documentaries besides his own, including images of migrating eels to David Attenborough’s The Trials of Life TV series. His most recent TV series, A Life in the Wild, is one of the most beautifully filmed and interesting documentaries I have ever seen, and is also a quirky biography filled with his globe-trotting adventures.

Éamonn De Buitléar when I met him today.
Cover of DVD series A Life in the Wild

 

I also met Angus Tyner, one of Ireland’s foremost moth experts, and the “go-to guy” most government scientists ask for advice on moths. He is a devoted specialist when it comes to moths, but also has a general interest in wildlife and a terrific knowledge. Today he was championing moths and other wildlife as part of the Newcastle Expo. The moths in the photo were caught with a light trap last night. Early Thorn and Hebrew Character moths, among others, can be seen here. Angus runs a number of websites and a major moth-recording website at www.mothsireland.com

From the undergrowth up

When autumn arrives it starts at the top and works down: the leaves fall off the trees, the undergrowth loses its shelter and dies back and in some species it even retreats underground. The shelter of the leaves, and plants goes and the earth is largely exposed to the atmosphere, causing it to cool. In spring the opoosite situation arises. Spring starts from the ground and works up. As the light increases a race among the plants begins. The first undergrowth plants to begin growing are ivy and Dog Violets. The violets grow very low to the ground, but rely on insects to pollinate them, so have to start flowering very early, usually in February.

Common Dog Violets (Viola riviniana) are beautiful little flowers appearing in early spring.

Soon after the violets appear the densely-growing leaves of Lesser Celandine appear, followed by a sea of luminous yellow flowers. Lesser Celandine is in the buttercup family. This plant flowers from now into the summer, and smothers the violets, although the usually continue growing alongside quite happily.

Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus vicaria)

Lesser Celandine is a very important plant because it provides a lot of nectar for insects, and is one of their main food flowers before the shrubs and trees begin to flower. Dog Violets and Lesser Celandine are normally found in wooded areas or along hedgerows and thrive before the leaves appear in the canopies.

In more open land, such as meadows and fields, Primroses begin to flower. They are another extremely common wildflower species in Wicklow. They often flower beneath layers of snow, so are not good indicators of warm weather, but certainly are most numerous in the warmer weather of March.

Primrose (Primula vulgaris)

However, for most people the quintessential symbol of spring is the daffodil. Although daffodils are found everywhere growing wild along roadsides in Wicklow, they are not a native species to Ireland. With the exception of crocuses and violets, the blooms of the Wicklow spring are predominantly yellow, like the spring sun.

 

Daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) growing in the outskirts of a Wicklow village.