Tag Archives: April

April Transformation

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.

A furry queen Carder Bee, which usually appears later in spring than the much larger Buff-tailed Bumblebee queens. This is very much the spring bumblebee.
A furry queen Carder Bee, which usually appears later in spring than the much larger Buff-tailed Bumblebee queens. This is very much the spring bumblebee.

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:

25689979503_90c1d788e2And here is a photo of a male Tawny Mining Bee from the same day:

The male Tawny Mining Bee has a distinctive white 'beard'.
The male Tawny Mining Bee has a distinctive white ‘beard’.

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:

A pretty female Early Mining Bee. She is much smaller then the female Tawny Mining Bee, and about the size of a male of that species.
A pretty female Early Mining Bee. She is much smaller then the female Tawny Mining Bee, and about the size of a male of that species.

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):

Panzer's Nomada
Panzer’s Nomada. There are many similar Nomada Bee species.

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):

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Flower Power in April

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.

A typical cherry tree in blossom against a bright blue sky.
A typical cherry tree in blossom against a bright blue sky.
Beautiful pink blossoms, but some cherry blossoms are white.
Beautiful pink blossoms, but some cherry blossoms are white.

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.

Furze or Gorse blooming bright yellow over the evergreen spiny leaves of this painful plant, much-loved by nesting birds.
Furze or Gorse blooming bright yellow over the evergreen spiny leaves of this painful plant, much-loved by nesting birds.The blossoms are very popular with bees, particularly Honey Bees.

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.

Spring just wouldn't be spring without these roadside umbellifers. When the Alexanders die off they will be replaced by the hairy rough-stemmed Hogweed.
Spring just wouldn’t be spring without these roadside umbellifers. When the Alexanders die off they will be replaced by the hairy rough-stemmed Hogweed. In this photo you can see another spring flower, the yellow-flowered Lesser Celandine, growing alongside.

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.

The Blackthorn is famous for its extremely strong black branches, which are still made into walking sticks, and were used in stick-fighting by Irish men up until the late 19th century (and currently being revived as a sport and martial art in some areas), but the blossom was actually considered sacred and magical to the ancient Irish, and was an especially potent religious emblem up until recent decades.
The Blackthorn is famous for its extremely strong black branches, which are still made into walking sticks, and were used in stick-fighting by Irish men up until the late 19th century (and currently being revived as a sport and martial art in some areas), but the blossom was actually considered sacred and magical to the ancient Irish, and was an especially potent religious emblem up until recent decades.

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.

A sea of Dandelions in a field, and in the hedgerow behind you can see a mighty white blossoming of Blackthorn.
A sea of Dandelions in a field, and in the hedgerow behind you can see a mighty white blossoming of Blackthorn.

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 –

Fresh pear blossoms in an orchard. Each blossom could potentially become an actual pear fruit, but in actuality only a small fraction do so because there are so few insects about capable of pollintaing these trees at this time of year.
Fresh pear blossoms in an orchard. Each blossom could potentially become an actual pear fruit, but in actuality only a small fraction do so because there are so few insects about capable of pollintaing these trees at this time of year. Pear blossom has a strange scent, almost like the fruit when it is cut, but more fragrant.
The height of the pear blossoming. Sadly these flowers last only a little over a week in even the most favourable conditions, as we had this April.
The height of the pear blossoming. Sadly these flowers last only a little over a week in even the most favourable conditions, as we had this April.

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.

Flowering Currant on a bright sunny day. This year they had an exceptional blossoming. Make sure to stop and smell them.
Flowering Currant on a bright sunny day. This year they had an exceptional blossoming. Make sure to stop and smell them.

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.