Tag Archives: Blackbird

True Spring – Equinoctial Full Moon

Although many spring flowers bloomed since St. Brigid’s Day today was the first day that actually felt like spring in every sense, and it coincided with the Equinoctial Full Moon, the Full Moon closest to the Equinox, which is one week from Wednesday, in case you didn’t know. And this morning I saw my first butterfly of the year basking in the bright sunlight:

A Small Tortoiseshell butterfly newly-emerged from hibernation. Those whoich hatch from chrysalises look far brighter, but this one has survived the winter in pretty good condition.

If the weather continues as good as this there will undoubtedly be more Small Tortoiseshells around soon. However, during the warmer nights more and more moth species are on the wing, including this handsome butterfly-sized Shoulder Stripe (Anticlea badiata) which is attracted to lights, which is why it has perched beneath a light.

A Shoulder Stripe perched beneath a porch light.

And here is a close-up of the same Shoulder Stripe showing the camouflage which matches the very common Turkeytail fungus which grows on rotting wood:

   The blooming flowers which grow more numerous as the days grow longer and warm the countryside are what sustain the butterflies, moths, bees and, of course, hoverflies. Now the daffodils are growing numerous there are more and more insects:

And here is one of the earliest appearing hoverfly species, Melanostoma scalare:

And now that there are so many insects about the birds are spending a lot of time hunting and preparing to breed, like this handsome male Blackbird searching for caterpillars, grubs and earthworms on a grassy verge:

   And despite the many frosts this winter, the bright conditions have meant that many wild flowers which would normally flower later in the year are already blooming, such as these two species of handsome Dead-nettles, which are not related to nettles but look almost identical, but lack a sting, first the White Dead-nettle (Lamium album):

and secondly the Red Dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum):

January, outgoing

So we’ve finally reached the end of a January which was slightly wetter than most Januarys, but much more typical than December was. However, all the heavy rain of December provoked a remarkable response from the plantlife of Wicklow. Here, for example, are two photos from the 4th January, and they are quite incredible because this one is a tuft of natural Bluebells:

Yes, genuine Bluebells in early January.
Yes, genuine Bluebells in early January.

And these are the leaves of the Arum Lily, also known as Lords-andLadies or Cuckoo Pint, Arum maculatum:

Borad fleshy leaves of the Arum Lily.
Borad fleshy leaves of the Arum Lily.

Both are spring plants, but usually they don’t begin to appear until much later in the year, in March or April. However, the weather became more cold towards mid-January, and their growth slowed. Birds began showing up in gardens looking for food, as usually happens in December, January and February. Here are a few which came to feeders in my garden:

A spectacular little Blue Tit, one of our more common species.
A spectacular little Blue Tit, one of our more common species.
A Blue Tit and a much larger Greenfinch at a peanut feeder.
A Blue Tit and a much larger Greenfinch at a peanut feeder.
Two male House Sparrows at a seed feeder. These birds have become very rare in some parts of Europe, but are an invasive species in North America. In Ireland they are perfectly at home and still doing well.
Two male House Sparrows at a seed feeder. These birds have become very rare in some parts of Europe, but are an invasive species in North America. In Ireland they are perfectly at home and still doing well.
A Robin. The European Robin is a species of Chat, whereas the American Robin is much larger and a species of Thrush. Our Robins are starting to make territorial calls and to fight - breeding season is coming.
A Robin. The European Robin is a species of Chat, whereas the American Robin is much larger and a species of Thrush. Our Robins are starting to make territorial calls and to fight – breeding season is coming.
A male Blackbird basking in the weak January sun. Blackbirds have begun to sing their territorial songs and squabbling over territories just like the Robins. This year breeding season will be early for them too.
A male Blackbird basking in the weak January sun. Blackbirds have begun to sing their territorial songs and squabbling over territories just like the Robins. This year breeding season will be early for them too.

It is definitely one of the best times of the year to birdwatch, because birds need the food we provide and the shelter or our gardens, but it is important to remember that when the weather improves that they will become lazier and more likely to be killed by both cats and Sparrowhawks if they keep attending the feeders, and they will lose some of their foraging skills. So it’s best to help them when they need help in winter, but don’t make them dependant on bird feeders.

This week spring has made a serious declaration of intent – here are three photographs I took in the last few days which prove spring has properly begun:

Proper, wild Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, blooming brightly right now.
Proper, wild Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, blooming brightly right now.
The first Crocus bloom I've spotted this year, but it was eaten by a slug yesterday, before it could open.
The first Crocus bloom I’ve spotted this year, but it was eaten by a slug yesterday, before it could open.

And finally, here is one of my favourite spring sights of all:

24584088241_3ff70c7479A female Early Thorn moth, usually appearing in mid-February, but this one seems happy enough to join the spring bandwagon. Keep an eye out for these moths when they come to windows at night. They are like a butterfly in size and pose. Absolutely beautiful. This Monday is 1 February, which means St. Brigid’s Day, the first day of the Celtic spring. This year spring wouldn’t even wait for the saint.

Spring Creatures Awaken

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.

This species has very bold patterns and to the casual observer looks like a wasp.
This species has very bold patterns and to the casual observer looks like a wasp.

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 Honey Bee hovering as it decides which flowers to collect pollen from.
A Honey Bee hovering as it decides which flowers to collect pollen from.

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.

Drone Flies have enormous eyes that meet in the middle. Bees have two large eyes at the sides of their heads and three tiny ocelli mounted on the tops of their heads between their eyes. You can easily see this is a fly. Also, bees usually fold their wings over their backs whereas flies like this one have them resting side-by-side.
Drone Flies have enormous eyes that meet in the middle. Bees have two large eyes at the sides of their heads and three tiny ocelli mounted on the tops of their heads between their eyes. You can easily see this one is a fly. Also, bees usually fold their wings over their backs whereas flies like this one, have them resting side-by-side.

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.

This Blackbird has found a lot of dried grass. Nest-building is busy work for birds in spring.
This Blackbird has found a lot of dried grass. Nest-building is busy work for birds in spring.