Tag Archives: amphibian

In the Wake of Hurricane Ophelia

Wicklow had a very lucky escape when Ophelia struck Ireland yesterday. All across the county there were trees down, and almost everybody lost their electricity at some point. However, three people lost their lives directly due to the storm and my thoughts are definitely with their families, and considering how many people are trapped in rural areas of Ireland without electricity, water and possibly with no means of communication, then this death toll could very easily rise. So, if you are in one of those areas and happen to read this on your mobile phone, do check on people in your area. Elderly or disabled people in particular might not be able to draw attention to their predicament. And beware of broken trees and powerlines.

As Hurricane Ophelia began to move towards Ireland late last week and over the weekend the weather became both very overcast and unseasonably warm. On Friday night temperatures were 17 or 18 degrees Celsius (65 or 66 degrees Fahrenheit), depending on where you were. These night-time temperatures would be far more normal in a balmier Irish summer, but were very much out of place and unpleasant in mid-October. On Saturday night misty drizzle began and extended into Sunday, and as a result frogs could be found hopping along footpaths or outside the doors of houses, just like this camera-shy one I came across:

A beautifully camouflaged European Common Frog – Rana temporaria

Met Eireann, the meteorological service (weather forecasters) for Ireland had predicted that the structure of Hurricane Ophelia would change before it struck Ireland. It had been a Catergory 2 hurricane when it began moving north from the coast of West Africa, but nobody expected it to increase to a Category 3 hurricane (there are only five categories) or remain that for so long. It was only about 500 kilometres south of Ireland when it finally began to change shape and turn into a sub-tropical cyclone, but it had lost none of its energy as it struck the island. Just before this happened there was a sudden and mysterious abundance of moths coming to windows. Only a few hours before the winds arrived I saw this beautiful Angle-Shades (Phlogophora meticulosa) perched on the wall by the back door light:


I had expected there to be a sudden rush of large House Spiders towards the house just prior to the storm, and during, but this never occurred and it seems the spider season has already come to an end this year. Some people will undoubtedly be happy to hear that. It’s possible that the frogs and birds consumed many of these spiders . There were birds hiding from the storm in sheds and outhouses, and even disused chimneys. Most small birds will eat spiders, and frogs certainly take them if they come across any.

With all of our incredible technology it is very easy to forget how fragile we are. We take electricity for granted, and not having any for any length of time is a shock to the system, especially in darker times of the year. To makes matters worse, many parts of Ireland require electricity to pump tap water and sewage systems, yet don’t have generators available to back up these systems. When a storm like Ophelia occurs we get an unpleasant reminder that mankind does not rule the natural world, but is itself ruled by nature.

Fortunately today was dry and sunny almost everywhere, and it was so calm that it was hard to imagine how dangerous things were yesterday. In fact, I was astonished to see a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) butterfly flying about in the warm sunlight this afternoon, even though it was only 14 degrees Celsius in the shade. I managed to get a decent photo as it sunbathed on ivy.

And there was a very beautiful sunset tonight, but it is now much colder than it was before the tropical air of the hurricane came our way, and tonight we are to have proper October temperatures, or maybe even temperatures more like December. Many trees still have their leaves. Many, of course, don’t. Without their shelter winter will probably come early this year.


Progenies of a Warm Summer

This year Wicklow was blessed by a very warm spring and summer. August has brought some heavy rain belts, most recently the remains of Hurricane Bertha, which passed across the island overnight, but all in all it has been a very good year. The most unusual thing I came across this year was a nest of Norwegian Wasps (Dolichovespula norvegica) which nested in a buddleia bush in my own garden. These wasps and the similar Tree Wasp look like the Common Wasp but make their nests only in trees and shrubs. It was my first time seeing them and they are considered a relatively new arrival in Ireland.  They can only be positively identified by the markings on their faces… and that isn’t easy to do but a camera makes it easier.

The nest of the Norwegian Wasps wound around the bracnhes of a butterfly bush, with some wasps perched on the outside.
The nest of the Norwegian Wasps wound around the bracnhes of a butterfly bush, with some wasps perched on the outside.

They soon got used to my approach, although were still in the habit of buzzing strangers who came near the gate. But in the last few weeks the wasp population has crashed across all species. Instead of wasps there are near identical hoverflies feeding on fallen fruit. But the butterflies are doing exceptionally well this year. Especially this beauty, the Small Tortoiseshell, which can be seen wherever there are butterfly bushes and warm walls and fences to bask on.

One of the most beautiful of our native butterflies, the Small Tortoiseshell is also long-lived and hibernates through the winter.This one pictured is feeding on mustard nectar.
One of the most beautiful of our native butterflies, the Small Tortoiseshell is also long-lived and hibernates through the winter.This one pictured is feeding on mustard nectar.

However, the damp conditions certainly suit some creatures, most especially frogs. We have only three species of amphibians on the entire island of Ireland, so far known – one species of frog, one toad and a newt. The European Common Frog (Rana temporaria) is thriving in Wicklow and with a little effort (and sometimes none at all) can be found in meadows, hedgerows, marshes and woods. It must be remembered that all amphibians in Ireland are protected species because their role in the ecosystem is so important. They are an essential pest-control.

A handsome specimen of Common Frog which was hunting for insects in a woodland.
A handsome specimen of Common Frog which was hunting for insects in a woodland.

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.