The daffodil bud from my last bulletin has only opened now, but crocuses have risen above ground, and I have also found the fleshy leaves of tulips! However, these flowers all appeared last year around this time, or even a little later, and we still got some very heavy snow and cold conditions later in the year, in March.
Before things got too interesting this spring I wanted to do something about False Widow spiders. According to this January’s issue of the BBC Wildlife Magazine there is a wave of terror in England, particularly around London, caused by the presence of these venomous spiders. And, more worryingly, pesticides are being used in an ad hoc way to placate public fear, and pesticides are far more dangerous than any False Widows. Two species of False Widow spider are venomous and can bite people, but they are not aggressive, and to prove this I have made a video in which I handle a good size Noble False Widow spider, with no ill-effects. Here is that video:
Last year we had quite a mild December, and a good cold January, with the first daffodils blooming by the end of January – and then a brutally cold spring with plenty of snow and ice. What does this year have in store for us?
Friday night, (the 21st December) was the Winter Solstice. It occurred at exactly 10.23 pm, so the following morning (Saturday 22nd) was in fact the closest to the event. This marks the start of Astronomical Winter, which in many cases is the true winter, although in Ireland 1st December is usually considered the first day of winter by meteorologists.
Incredibly, yesterday I found daffodils were not only up, but some had flower buds! How long will it take for them to bloom? We’ll have to wait and see, but this December is certainly a little bit warm:
Incredibly, I also found Primroses in full bloom! It is extremely early for them, although they are often earlier bloomers than others:
We are now in deep Autumn and, although the Met service will declare the first day of December the start of Winter, usually winter does not take effect until after the Winter Solstice. For the first time in many weeks I spotted a butterfly basking in the sun, albeit on an unseasonably warm day. It was a Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae), a species which hibernates:
With any luck this one will also be basking in the sunlight of next spring. I observed it for quite a while and watched as it finally entered an old wooden nest box. Hopefully it will vacate the premises before any spring breeding birds move in and eat it.
While butterflies more properly belong to the warmer months there are moth species which only appear in autumn. One very handsome species which you might see, and which will soon be finished for the year is the Feathered Thorn (Colotois pennaria) – the male has antennae that resemble feathers:
In August I was in the Herbert Park in Dublin when I spotted a family of birds which are common in Wicklow, but almost impossible to see here because they are so shy and the ponds and lakes they inhabit are often on private land. These birds are Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) and, incredibly I saw young chicks and was able to record them over a period of months as they grew to full size – here is the video I made about them and I hope you enjoy it: