The Brent Geese have arrived in Wicklow. This part of Ireland is one of the very best places to see them, and many come from their summer grounds on the Arctic tundra, especially Greenland and Iceland. Here you can see them flying south against the distant Wicklow Head.
Ireland has escaped the extreme wintery conditions that have struck the rest of Europe, including the island of Great Britain, but soil temperatures are still below normal for this time of year and so far the crocuses in my garden, the most accurate gauge of the arrival of spring, have not risen and flowered, although other people have reported finding crocuses. However, there have been some nice surprises due to the Siberian system that struck Europe, and a few days ago I photographed a peculiar warbler in my garden. Not being a warbler expert by any means I showed a series of photos (taken through a foggy window) to Dick Coombes of Birdwatch Ireland, and it seems that the mystery warbler is, in fact, a Siberian Chiffchaff, a subspecies of the Chiffchaff warbler that arrives in Ireland for the summer.
Yes, it’s hard to imagine, but we really are having a balmy January in Wicklow. It’s dry, semi-cloudy, bright and sunny (or moonlit if after dark) and the days are getting noticeably longer, although they are not long by any stretch of the imagination. But it feels wonderful, there’s something very positive and spring-like in the air. And the plants and animals are feeling it too.
Just to show how warm it is, there are slugs to be found, glistening beautifully as they attempt to raid cat food from bowls or just cruising along exploring. Even a hint of frost will cause these creatures to hide, but this year they are very happy with the conditions.
Under the eaves of house and sheds you can find spiders, mostly the usual suspects: Zygiella x-notata (the so-called Missing-section Orb-weaver), and the much larger Steatoda nobilis False Widow. However, there is a beautiful and extremely exotic-looking spider you might also find, another species of orb-weaver (building the classic spider-web design), Araneus marmoreus, one of the most variable species of spider, no two specimens having the exaqct same markings. The one in the photo is a common variety in Wicklow, having a remarkable gold stripe down its back.