Tag Archives: Angle Shades

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.

 

The End of Autumn

We’re now in the final days of true autumn, or if you prefer it, halfway through the Celtic winter. But even now there are leaf buds swelling on the trees in anticipation of the coming spring. Of course, the buds always form at this time of year, and earlier, slowly swelling over the winter months. But some interesting plants usually associated with spring have already become apparent – check out these primroses:

Primroses are known to break through the soil as early as November, but they do remind us that although it's very cold the spring is not all that far away. But we'll need to see them blooming first.
Primroses are known to break through the soil as early as November, but they do remind us that although it’s very cold the spring is not all that far away. But we’ll need to see them blooming first.

Wild primroses (Primula vulgaris) are extremely common in Wicklow, especially at the bases of hedgrows and field walls. They are often the earliest wild flowers to bloom, even if it is snowing they can be blooming beneath the drifts.

A lot of the time in autumn and winter we don’t notice the wildlife that’s around, not because there is none but because the nights are far longer than the days and it’s cold and the low sun makes seeing things much more difficult.

This Angle Shades caterpillar was walking along an insect-screen. They get much bigger than this as the winter moves along.
This Angle Shades caterpillar was walking along an insect-screen. They get much bigger than this as the winter moves along.

There are actually many caterpillars to be found over-wintering, usually curled up in leaf-litter or feeding close to the ground, especially look out for this one, the caterpllar of the Angles Shades moth which doesn’t pupate until springtime. The moth emerges in late spring or summer.

There’s only one week from today until the Winter Solstice, which occurs at 11.03 in the evening GMT (which is our local time), making the next day, Monday, the first day of true winter, and the sunrise the beginning of the ancient New Year.

Spring Blooms

Two days ago the first crocuses were discovered blooming in my garden. There are leaves out on shrubs too, and the daffodils now have flowerbuds. It is a rare early spring, overlapping with the winter.

Crocuses blooming already. An exciting development this week.
Crocuses blooming already. An exciting development this week.

Last year we had similar temperatures but the spring flowers were extremely slow to bloom, and it did turn very cold and snow on many occasions throughout February and March, and even early April. However, in the lowlands the snow didn’t stick because ground temperatures were far too warm, and it seems likely that even if the weather ss to turn cold in the next few weeks, that snow will not stick.

But there have been some other surprises too, despite the fact we’ve had plenty of frost this week. For example, last weekend I discovered a hoverfly flying about in the sunbeams.

 

Probably the most common species of hoverfly in Wicklow, Episyrphus balteatus is know to show up on sunny days at any time of year. It seems to be a hibernating species.
Probably the most common species of hoverfly in Wicklow, Episyrphus balteatus is know to show up on sunny days at any time of year. It seems to be a hibernating species.

There have also been some classic winter species. Here is a photo from three weeks ago, in the early New Year, when a male Winter Moth came to the light emanating from a rear window:

The Winter Moth, Operophtera brumata, is a drab-coloured species which is distinctive because it comes to light in the very depths of winter. The female has no wings at all, and walks on longish legs.
The Winter Moth, Operophtera brumata, is a drab-coloured species which is distinctive because it comes to light in the very depths of winter. The female has no wings at all, and walks on longish legs.

There have also been some bright green caterpillars around, and many people are windering what species they belong to, and why they are around in winter. Some caterpillars actually spend the winter between napping and eating, and begin to appear now in late winter/early spring when they will find good places to pupate, emerging as moths in late spring and early summer. There are a number of species which do this, but the most commonly seen are usually the caterpillars of the Angle Shades (Phlogophora meticulosa ).

The caterpillar of the Hebrew Character can be bright green to yellow, to cream and even a creamy-pink clour. It's a very beautiful caterpillar species and quite a distinctive moth too.
The caterpillar of the Angle Shades can be bright green to yellow, to cream and even a creamy-pink clour. It usually has a broken white or silvery line running down the centre of its back. It’s can be a very beautiful caterpillar species and quite a distinctive moth too.