Tag Archives: nature

Some strange burrows in the ground…

In Wicklow many people in the last week many people have been somewhat alarmed by the sight of strange holes in the their laws, on top of small volcano-like hills of earth. These hills vary from about three centimetres to 5 centimetres wide and about the same height.

Mysterious holes in the lawn, with mounds of soil around them, with a euro coin shown to give a sense of scale.

If you take the time to wait and calmly watch these little burrows you will eventually see the black furry heads of insects appear at the tops, and these insects will suddenly fly out of the holes, revealing ruby-red velvet-like bodies. These insects are Tawny Mining Bees, each a beautiful female. Although the holes (or mines) are currently appearing in clusters, due to breeding success in a remarkably warm and dry spring, the bees are actually solitary and only nest near each other due to convenient soil conditions.

The culprit, a beautiful female Tawny Mining Bee.

Speaking of bees, I was walking from Wicklow Town along the coast on Saturday afternoon and after three miles came across two biologists surveying bumblebees on the Murrough (the expanisve meadow that runs north from Wicklow along the coast). Aoife O’Rourke and Myles Newman are two PhD students from Trinity College, Dublin, and were carrying out a survey of bumblebees. They took my interruption of their work very kindly and we had an interesting chat. Aoife was telling me that there are actually about 80 known species of solitary bee in Ireland, and there is a lot of surveying still to do, which they were doing on behalf of the National Biodiversity Data Centre, located in Waterford. This institution is relatively new and is the first concerted effort in Ireland to unite all records of our natural heritage and make them available to the public. The Data Centre is looking for volunteer surveyors all across Ireland, and is studying a wide range of species and types of plant and animal. All records are welcome. I personally do an annual survey of butterflies for them from April until September. It’s great fun, and they provide plenty of support and training.

Biologists Myles Newman and Aoife O' Rourke surveying bees on the Murrough meadows on an unexpectedly blustery day this weekend.

We are having an incredible spring in Wicklow

It almost beggars belief that it is still only March, but it is sunny and warm and you couldn’t ask for a better summer than what we’re having now. Only a few days ago I was paying a visit to the East Coast Nature Reserve with my brother, Trevor, when he spotted a large male Viviparous Lizard (Lacerta vivipara). Officially there is only one indigenous species of reptile in Ireland, and this is it. They love sunny spaces, so the boardwalk in a nature reserve is perfect. Lizards can be approached with a camera, so long as you move slowly, and that’s what I did when taking this macro at 20cm distance. The usual length of a male is about 18-20cm from nose to tail-tip, but I have actually found one measuring 23cm long. Don’t move fast, because if you do you’ll scare them, and they are very, very fast when escaping.

The Viviparous Lizard, also known as European Common Lizard. Viviparous means "live-bearing", which is in reference to the fact that in northern climates the female lizard hatches her eggs in her womb and gives birth to live young, like a mammal does.

Butterflies are now already in abundance, and a few times I’ve had to rescue them from the windows of sheds and especially from a polytunnel. Especially interesting was a newly hatched out Speckled Wood, whose wings were still drying after having emerged from a crysalis.

Speckled Wood butterfly rescued from a polytunnel. This is usually our most common species of butterfly.

There are also dainty little Holly Blue butterflies to be seen. Sometimes they resemble petals from flowers, and appear to be falling on the wind, possibly a clever illusion to throw predators off the scent.

A male Holly Blue, which can be identified by the big black tips on his wings. This one is feeding on vinca. This is the first I saw in 2012.


The clear nights are still relatively cold, but warming day-by-day, and more and more moths are being enticed to the lights of windows. You stand a very good chance of finding a lovely fawn-coloured moth called the Common Quaker during March, and I managed to photograph one earlier in the week.

The Common Quaker, a handsome moth very common in march.

If you are in Wicklow then now is the time to get out there into the countryside, and if you’re thinking of visiting Ireland, then this is almost certainly the year to do it. Because so much is happening I’m going to be increasing my blogging rate. The tree blossoms are just about to burst into bloom…

Spring truly and at last

Despite the warm conditions of this winter many of the traditional aspects of spring were a bit slow in appearing, but now Wicklow is aglow with the bright yellow of tall daffodils and the shimmering dense clusters of the Lesser Celandine. Under the leafless canopies of trees sea of violets are blooming.

Beautiful tall daffodils are blooming all around Wicklow, and have been planted along roadsides. A wonderful spring spectacle.

Although there were reports of frogs spawning in various parts of Ireland before Christmas, I have only found frogspawn and frogs in breeding pools and ponds within the last two weeks on the landward or seaward side of the mountains. This is probably due to their experiences of the last few years, and the unexpected Siberian coldsnap that brought freezing temperatures across Europe and almost as far as Ireland. Frogspawn can freeze and die, and frogs sometimes get caught out, but tend for the most part to spawn in accordance with the general weather-pattern.

Common Frogs spawning in a muddy breeding pool in Tearmann Community Garden in Baltinglass, in west Wicklow.

The frogs in the above photograph are in amplexus which is when the male grasps the larger female around her waist and clings to her, so that he may fertilise her eggs as they enter the water. Fertilisation occurs outside of the female’s body.