Tag Archives: bee

Make a Meadow

Last year I made a meadow in my garden with a lot of help from my brother, and the results were spectacular as all sorts of insects were drawn in to feed and collect pollen, and hunt. It’s worth considering doing, and here is a video I made of it, with some nice music from Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers:

Among the flowers are phacelia, buckwheat, poppies, marigolds, anthirrhinum, stock and buddleia bushes. Among the insects in this video are Buff-tailed Bumblebee, Red-tailed Bumblebee, White-tailed Bumblebee, Carder Bee, Honey Bee, Greenbottle fly, Large White butterflies, Green-veined White butterflies and a Common Blue butterfly.

And there is also a species of solitary wasp not often seen in Ireland near the end of the video.

An all too Spring-like Winter… so far

Unfortunately the first post of this new year must be a sad one – I have just learned that one of Wicklow’s best known naturalists, Stan Moore, passed away on the last day of 2016 after an illness. Stan wrote the column Nature’s Corner in the North Wicklow Times for many years. He had an all-encompassing interest in nature, was a brilliant artist and produced lovely oil paintings, photographs and videos of the natural world. The first time I met him he came to my house with an illustration of a fish he had found, and needed to look at some of my books to positively identify it as it was a strange one. A few years later I recorded him being interviewed by a journalist for a programme which was aired by the Greystones Community Radio Project, and if I can dig that out I’ll put it on the blog. Sadly I did not take up photography until later, so I have no photo of the naturalist. Rest in Peace Stan!

This January is very different to last year – instead of the incredible wet weather caused when Ireland was struck full force by last year’s severe El Nino event  we have had long dry spells, and some of them have been quite balmy. This had apparently caused the vegetation to get very self-assured, and as early as the 9th of December I saw my first daffodil leaves breaking the surface of the soil, and now many of them are well above ground and soon to bloom:

Daffodil with flower stalk rising in the centre.
Daffodil with flower stalk rising in the centre.

And if that wasn’t enough the pennant-like leaves of Arum Lilies have begun to unfurl:

The leaves of Arum Lily, also known as Cuckoo-pint and Lord's-and-Ladies.
The leaves of Arum Lily, also known as Cuckoo-pint and Lord’s-and-Ladies.

And today I spotted dozens of Alexanders which had broken through the ground and come up all leafy along a roadside verge – Alexanders normally don’t appear until February at the earliest:

32193439185_c03ec74e9d_z   However, most surprising of all is an Elder tree which has sprung fresh green leaves all along the ends of its topmost branches:

Fresh elder leaves glowing in the winter sunlight.
Fresh elder leaves glowing in the winter sunlight.

So the question is, are we getting an extremely early spring? Can the plants predict, or are they just reacting to the immediate circumstances. The short answer to that question is that I don’t know. Last year’s freak wet weather, followed by this year’s very dry weather could have thrown the natural world off-kilter, but plants have had millions of years to evolve an ability to predict and behave accordingly, so perhaps the smart money should be on an early spring. But I have seen all of these plants struck by sudden cold spells before, and killed, and the only plants I have seen in my garden which never appear until the winter has finished its work are a certain group of wild (feral) Early Crocuses. Until I see them I’m not convinced the weather is definitely on the up. However, in the meantime the amount of wildlife to be seen is growing. A few days ago I spotted a male Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata) on a wall by a window light. It was actually more brownish than it appears in the photo, but the camera flash had a strange effect on the colouration:

The Winter Moth is quite small, about thumbnail size.
The Winter Moth is quite small, about thumbnail size.

There are also caterpillars of spring and summer moths to be found at this time of year, most having hatched from their eggs in late autumn. They eat and sleep all winter. Here is a handsome green Angle Shades caterpillar, and two smaller Large Yellow Underwing moths, all of which will get much larger before becoming moths:

All of these caterpillars can be found on and under lawns in winter.
All of these caterpillars can be found on and under lawns in winter.

Because the nights are so long keeping birds asleep, and there are few other invertebrate predators around in winter, slugs can be often seen in huge numbers on warm dark winter nights. Some of them can be very handsome. Here, for example, is a medium-sized species known as the Dusky Slug (Arion subfuscus):

A Dusky Slug grazing on mould and moss on a piece of ceramic.
A Dusky Slug grazing on mould and moss on a piece of ceramic.

And this distinctive species is a relatively recent arrival, the Budapest Keeled Slug (Tandonia budapestensis), which was first identified in the British Isles in the 1920s, probably carried in on plants:

Keeled Slugs get their name from the raised line on their backs, which is like the keel of an upturned boat. Its is very distinctive on the Budapest Keeled Slug.
Keeled Slugs get their name from the raised line on their backs, which is like the keel of an upturned boat. Its is very distinctive on the Budapest Keeled Slug.

Slugs might not be to your taste, but if not then there are still quite a few bumblebees to be seen feeding on winter-flowering garden plants such as Mahonia and Vinca. Here is one I saw today, with noticeably full pollen sacs on its legs, a Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris):

A bumblebee feeding on Vinca difformis today. This plant is sometimes known as Star-of-Bethlehem due to its habit of flowering in winter, bit it blooms sporadically throughout the year.
A bumblebee feeding on Vinca difformis today. This plant is sometimes known as Star-of-Bethlehem due to its habit of flowering in winter, bit it blooms sporadically throughout the year.

Only time will tell how this winter pans out, so in the meantime Happy New year!

Some wildlife from Buckroney Nature Reserve

A Common Blue butterfly perched on young bracken.
A male Common Blue butterfly perched on young bracken.

Buckroney is unusual in that it is exclusively a sand dune nature reserve, and for this reason has very unique wildlife. The Common Blue (Polydommatus icarus) is a small but colourful butterfly, and the males will attack any flying insect entering their territory if it looks like it might be a rival butterfly. They will pretty much have a go at anything, even a bit of tissue waved at them. Like the one in the photo they like to perch on tall stems so they can survey the land.

Dunes have uniqe plants too, such as the beautiful low-growing and extremely spiky Burnet Rose (Rosa pimpinellifolia), which usually has cream yellow blooms but in places has pink or reddish, probably due to chemicals in the certain areas.

A thicket of Burnet Roses. Beautiful plants which also provide important nesting areas for some bird species.
A thicket of Burnet Roses. Beautiful plants which also provide important nesting sites for some bird species.

In many areas the sand is exposed, and this keeps the temperatures high in the dunes. Grasses tend to grow thinly, and in some places you find peculiar-looking ball-like objects. These strange things are actually a species of puffball fungus. In this case it is the Brown Puffball (Bovista nigrescens).

The Brown Puffball doesn't look all that brown, yet. But soon it will. It's about the same size as a cricket ball.
The Brown Puffball doesn’t look all that brown, yet. But soon it will. It’s about the same size as a cricket ball.

But for me the most interesting find on the dunes was a collection of about forty little mounds of sand with holes in their tops making them seem like volcanoes. I knew they had to belong to bees, but when a bee did show up it was tiny, but it entered the little mound. This species, which was new to me, is one of the Lasioglossum bees, which are a type of Sweat Bee. In the tropics they cause great annoyance by drinking sweat from people’s skins – but at least they don’t bite! However, in Ireland they are not a problem at all.

A tiny female Sweat Bee perched on her nest mound. She stocks her nest with pollen for a larva to feed on over the summer, autumn and winter months, until it emerges as an adult next spring.
A tiny female Sweat Bee perched on her nest mound. She stocks her nest with pollen for a larva to feed on over the summer, autumn and winter months, until it emerges as an adult next spring.