We had a very cold and somewhat wet March, and April has been somewhat similar, bright and sunny but often windy and chilly at the very same time. However, a huge change is underway and spring is unfolding by the day and the hour. Only a few days ago I was delighted to see a queen Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum) sunbathing on some bare ground among the violets.
Particularly delightful is the sight of Tawny Mining Bees (Andrena fulva) on the wing. Usually males appear first, but this year I spotted a big furry female days before the first male. This is officially our rarest species of solitary bee, and as a result the National Biodiversity Data Centre are looking for recorded sightings from the public. Here is a link to the record sheet, which is easy to follow and make submissions on: http://records.biodiversityireland.ie/submit_records.php?fk=SolitaryBeesStandard&caching=cache
And here is a photo I got two days ago of a female Tawny Mining Bee:
And here is a photo of a male Tawny Mining Bee from the same day:
There is a similar but smaller species of mining bee also appearing right now, the Early Mining Bee (Andrena haemorrhoa). The males are very similar to the Tawny Mining Bee males, but much smaller and lack the white beard. The female is very beautiful, and here is a photo of a female from the same day as the Tawny Mining Bee photos:
Also buzzing around the lawn, feeding on dandelion flowerheads is a small and somewhat sinister-looking wasp. This is in fact yet another bee, but for the mining bees it is indeed sinister, as it’s a parasitic bee which lays its eggs in the nests of mining bees, its grubs killing and eating the mining bee grubs. This particular species of cuckoo bee is Panzer’s Nomada (Nomada panzeri):
But it hasn’t all been bees. Despite the cold some sunny days have warmed up sheltered areas enough for migrating butterfly species to begin flying about. So far I have only seen two butterfly species, and this one is the second, a Peacock (Inachis io):
Of all of our months, April brings with it the most spectacular changes to the Wicklow landscape, so I’ve decided to showcase the changes so nobody can be in any doubt. This April was very sunny, dry and warm with very few ‘April showers’, until these last few days. Firstly, in the towns, villages and gardens, we had the cherry trees blossoming.
Now, under cold breezes and rain of the last few days these blossoms are beginning to fall like snow flakes. However, some are only now starting to blossom properly. However, while the streets were and are lined with these beautiful trees the surrounding Wicklow hills steadily turned bright yellow as the jungles of Furze bushes also blossomed. Their flowers filled the mountain air with the scent of vanilla. They will continue to blossom for some time, and have another less-spectacular blossoming in the summer.
Meanwhile, along the laneways and roadways of the Wicklow countryside the fleshy Alexanders have grown tall and putting a subtle fragrance on the spring air which can only be found in springtime. These plants die off in June and should be treated with respect as they are so vital to pollinating insects so early in the year.
These plants grow on the roadside verges in front of the hedges, but in the hedges the wild Blackthorn trees have their white blossoms right now. They don’t really have a scent, but the blossoms are associated with ancient pagan fertility rites, and in recent times girls making their first Holy Communions would wear little tiaras of blackthorn blossom on their heads. The blossoms are very tough compared to cherry blossoms and don’t break easily.
Behind the hedgerows, in the fields, you have a good chance of seeing the great spring blooming of dandelions. These much-maligned wildflowers (not ‘weeds’) consitute entire eco-systems in their own right, and they are also edible and considered extremely good for cleansing the liver of impurities, which is why they should be eaten in moderation. They are the favourite flowers of many bee species, particularly the tiny Nomada cuckoo bees.
And then in the gardens the orchard trees are also blossoming. The Pear trees went first, as usual, and most have already lost the blossoms, which have been shorn from the trees by rain and dispersed by wind. But this is what they looked like at their height only just over a week ago –
Finally, in many of the older gardens and escaped into nearby hedgerows, you will find dense shrubs of Flowering Currant. Every spring they turn red due to their scented hanging blossoms. These flowers are loved by almost all species of bee and hoverfly, not to mention human beings.
And that’s just the blossoms and flowers making their presence felt in April. May will bring with it a whole area of blossoming trees and wild flowers . Every tree and flower has its moment in Wicklow.