This year we have had a very cold spring, and most plants and wildflowers are way behind their normal growth levels, but yet again the humble and resilient Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)has saved the day.
Dandelions can flower all year, but in April they absolutely explode into blooming and our environment and our food depends on the fact that the massive amounts of pollen produced by the dandelion blooming sustain vital pollinating insects at a time that would otherwise be a crisis for them, and then result in a crisis for us. In fact, I believe we should have a dandelion festival every year to celebrate this most important of all spring wildflowers. This is my video dedicated to the dandelion:
Above is one of our rarest pollinators, the Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva) and this species also depends heavily on the dandelion for pollen, especially as this bee emerges in late March and flies mostly in April, and to a lesser degree in May, before dying off by early June and not being seen again until the following spring.
However, big bumblebees depend on them too, like this huge Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris). Let’s celebrate the dandelions. They deserve it.
Winter has been very long and drawn out, but at last the weather seems to be improving and very gradually warming up. Late last night I was delighted to find two spring moths on a wall by a window. The first is the old reliable still lacking a common name, Diurnea fagella:
Slightly more impressive than this drab but variable moth was the stockier, and more handsomely marked Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi):
This medium-sized (small medium) moth had a small chunk taken out of its left forewing, which was very possibly due to a nip from a bird’s beak. The recent more consistent temperatures have caused spring flowers to bloom in a big way, and the annual mass flowering of dandelions is now beginning. Dandelions are extremely important for pollinators, and many other insects, as are the Lesser Celandine flowers. You can see one here being attended to by a Honey Bee (Apis mellifera).
However, today I saw something which really lifted my spirits, my first butterfly of the year, a Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae):
And I even made a video about it, and it’s not as bad as it first seems:
It’s after midnight now, but here are the photos I promised in the last instalment. Firstly, I saw my first hover fly of the year and it was one of our most common and recognisable species, Syrphus ribesii.
Feeding on the flowers of the same shrub (a Viburnum) was a Honey Bee (Apis mellifera), the first I’ve seen this spring. Clearly the rise in temperatures matters to bees as much as hover flies.
A short time later I spotted my second hover fly, a Drone Fly (Eristalis tenax). Drone Flies are large, harmless flies that mimic Honey Bees, which have stings. In spring people often think they are looking at thousands of Honey Bees on the flowers but there are in fact very few bees and a huge number of loud, boisterous Drone Flies. Like all hover flies, and bees, they are important pollinators of plants.
Finally, although it’s not an insect and I saw it the previous day, here is another creature exhibiting spring behaviour – a female Blackbird collecting dried grass to line her nest.