All posts by Samuel Connolly

Butterfly Spring

While it is quite possible to see a hibernating butterfly emerge on a rare sunny day in the depths of winter, it doesn’t usually happen, and I don’t ever really feel like a spring has begun until I see a butterfly. I saw my first this year only three days ago, on Friday, the very first day of March. As is the case almost every year, it was a Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae), and it was perched in a sheltered area, on the iron grey branch of an old apple tree:

This Small Tortoiseshell almost certainly emerged from its chrysalis late last summer, or in the early autumn. However, it was in pretty good nick so it might have gone into hibernation very soon after hatching, as it bears none of the injuries butterflies get after a few days on the wing. Well, mostly. There are some patches of colour missing.

On Wednesday I saw another spring moth, the Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria), which likes to perch under lighted windows. It is a lovely species, although drab in colour, and it flies from now until the end of May, or thereabouts:

   If you look closely, although you don’t have to look too closely, you will see the familiar bright scarlet or orange of our most common ladybird species, the Seven-spot Ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata), which is beloved of children and adults alike. At the moment they are basking in sunlight, and with so few aphids around (their favourite food) at this time of year they depend heavily on the pollen of spring plants:

   I’m glad to say there are lots more spring wildflowers about now. One of the most important of all is the Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna), which is very beautiful and very important as a source of pollen for spring insects, although many of them eat the pollen rather than carry it to other flowers:

However, spring will not be properly and reliably here until the Spring Equinox, which this year occurs on 20th March, at the precise time of 9.58 pm in the evening. Right now, as I write this, we have torrential rain, and snow brought in by ex-Hurricane Freya. Fortunately our ground temperatures are nicely above average and will keep any snow from sticking.

Super Moon and the First Moths of Spring

In the previous bulletin I mentioned that many flowers are now blooming and these will sustain insects, and now we have incontrovertible evidence, as the first true spring moths have appeared. Keep an eye out for this small medium moth, the Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi) which comes to windows, which I saw two days ago:

This one was tucking its head under the net window curtain which keeps unwanted insects out of my house, by which I mean, mostly, mosquitoes.

Yesterday the same window was visited by the physically more impressive,  butterfly-like Early Thorn (Selena dentaria), which is almost a permanent spring fixture on this blog. It’s wings really resemble dry leaves:

This sudden abundance of insects seems to have occurred since the full moon early last week, which was also a super moon, being far closer to earth than usual, and exerting much greater influence on the waters of this world.

Anyhow, I have had a few adventures in this early part of the spring, and some of these can only be appreciated when seen in motion, so it’s a good thing I took video. Here is a celebration of spring, featuring scenes from both Wicklow and Dublin, with daffodils, crocuses, mallard ducks, tufted ducks, a black-headed gull just getting its black head (for mating season) and some spectacular lapwings, aka green plover or peewits, on the bog near the Kilcoole Breaches; and a big handsome Irish Hare galloping along by the railway tracks in the Kilcoole nature reserve. There are finches too: the goldfinch and siskin on a bird-feeder and a magnificent male bullfinch feeding on buds in a hedgerow. And let’s not forget two crows, rooks to be exact, for a final scene:

Springing

The plants are certainly springing up now and Spring is very much in evidence even though it won’t be properly Spring until the Equinox occurs in five weeks’ time. Temperatures have been low for the past few weeks, but there’s only been a few nights of heavy frost. Soil temperatures are way up on last year and that is the deciding factor for Springtime. Here, for example, are Alexanders, not only above ground, but already blooming in a hedgerow:

When there are flowers to feed on, then there will be insects to feed on them.

Incredibly, there are already a small few Red Currants blooming in hedgerows. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any quite so early:

However, among the animal kingdom there is still the sense it is winter, and down on the wetlands along the coast of Wicklow you can see wintering Black-tailed Godwits:

   But probably more striking are the huge flocks of Lapwing, aka Green Plover or Peewit (the latter due to it’s “pee-wit” call). These beautiful birds are as striking in flight as they are on the ground, having enormous wings for their size. The green on their backs and wings shimmers in the sunlight:

We’re entering the most exciting time of year, and the cherry blossoms are already on the trees.

However, for me the most exciting sight, so far, has been a tiny Early Violet, as small as the nail on a pinky finger, newly blooming and with two tiny insects inside the flower, a Greenfly Aphid and a minute Thrip. Can you see them? When the insects appear spring has really begun:

Keep your eyes peeled, because you never know what you might see next.