Tag Archives: botany

Spring Flowers in Winter Weather

We’ve been having some decent cold nights and frosty mornings in Wicklow, which is usually a good sign for a stable springtime. We are in the middle of another cold spell as I write this. Here is what some properly frosty grass looks like:

The frosts have meant clear skies and sunny but chilly mornings, but the newly blooming Snowdrops look great in the sunlight:

For me the flowers that are usually the most reliable indicators of the arrival of spring are Crocuses, and I’m glad to say I’ve found one with flowers on the verge of a full bloom:

They look bigger in the photo than they actually are in real life. On the other hand, the Daffodils are every bit as large as you expect. And in the last two days I’ve found some with their flowers opened and ready for business. If there are any early hoverflies about, they now have good amounts of pollen to feed on:

However, despite the cold conditions there are still berries to be seen on some trees. I found these impressive ones on a Hawthorn tree. Why are the birds not eating them?

However, probably the best indicators of warming temperatures are the Lords-and-Ladies, also known as Cuckoo-Pint or Arum, which have fleshy leaves and are slightly less hardy than other spring wildflowers. Their leaves rise from the ground and unfurl usually only when spring is well in place. Admittedly these ones which I photographed were in a sheltered area with a sunny aspect:

David Bellamy

Sadly a few weeks ago, shortly before Christmas, Professor David Bellamy died. Although few people born after 1990 can have much (if any) idea who he was, in the 1980s he was probably more famous than David Attenborough, and even Gerald Durrell, as a naturalist,  scientist and conservationist. He was an important botanist and a major conservationist in the United Kingdom and in the Republic of Ireland, and probably the very first to highlight the importance of, and danger to, Irish bogs. He even boasted of having spent his honeymoon on an Irish bog! He had a considerable output in terms of his writing and TV presenting. Here is the cover of one of this excellent books in my own collection, dating from 1986:

    David Bellamy was always passionate and extremely eloquent and he was also very easily lampooned and became a favourite of impressionists, especially because he had a slight lisp and an almost operatic method of presentation, with lots of Italian style gesturing. Fortunately he was possessed of a great sense of humour and wit. He was a joy to watch, and never boring.

However, despite all of these qualities he fell into disfavour with the greater environmental movement as it became more and more homogenised, and eventually, as it is today, dominated less by scientists and more by those involved in politics and social movements – and even by many who deliberately give the appearance of being environmentalists but are actually doing so as an attempt to control and divert public opinion.

Bellamy’s cardinal sin was that he disagreed that carbon emissions could be causing global warming to the degree of severity we seem to be experiencing, as the production of carbon dioxide (which plants feed on) should technically lead to an even greater production of oxygen, as carbon dioxide leads to greater plant growth. For every part carbon dioxide a plant takes in, it produces even more oxygen.

Whether you agree with this opinion or not (he goes to great lengths to explain it in his autobiography – A Natural Life (Arrow Books, 2002) it was a carefully considered opinion.  He felt global warming as we are currently seeing it was due to solar cycles, and we are currently in one of great solar activity. Bellamy felt the greatest threat to the environment was the incredible rate of human population growth which has accelerated decade by decade. This causes direct destruction to the environment. The more people there are the more people will suffer at the mercy of weather and environment, especially with fewer resources.

Whatever the truth is, there is no doubt he suffered a degree of character assassination and his ability to communicate his ideas and opinions was severely curtailed for his viewpoint. It could be said he was practically silenced because of this dissenting opinion, which does not reflect well on the greater environmental movement as it exists today, which has become less like science and more like a dogmatic religion often driven by so-called ‘political activists’, some of whom are highly suspicious characters with equally suspicious motivations.

It is well worth reading what Prof. David Bellamy wrote, even if you don’t agree with his opinions. It is a shame his death, and more importantly, his life, has lately been so ignored when he had once been a deserving superstar of both academia and nature documentaries.

Early Autumn

Autumn began properly last Monday, 23 September, with the Autumn Equinox. This year there is a superabundance of berries of all kinds – most spectacularly those roaring red ones of the Rowan or Mountain Ash tree, and blackberries, the fruit of the Bramble, one of most common and important wild plants. And let’s not forget the seasonal orchard fruit on which civilisation still somewhat depends, such as cooking apples:

However, according to tradition you should not eat blackberries after the feast of Michelmas, which is today, because legend has it the Devil spits on the blackberries! Well, whatever about the Devil, rodents of all sizes have certainly been up in the hedges eating them recently, and many blackberries have gone mouldy on the bush, so there’s probably a  lot of sense to this tradition. However, this year many blackberries are yet to ripen:

   There are certainly lots of moulds and fungi about. Some are drab, and some spectacular. Here is the Common Inkcap, which often appears on damp lawns in September:

Some fungus looks remarkable, such as the Bird’s Nest Fungus  which is named because each flower head looks like a nest with eggs in it, albeit an extremely stylised nest. I think they look like cupcake cake papers:

Although the days are now shorter than the nights, and temperatures are getting progressively lower, it’s one of the very best times of year to see butterflies because in order to feed they often enter gardens where flowers are still blooming, and where there are warm shelters and sun traps. This year has been a bumper one for the Comma butterfly in particular. Commas can easily be identified by their ragged wings. This one was perched on a white sheet, which really highlights the strange ragged appearance of the wings:

The Comma below is sitting on a Butterfly Bush. Some of these bushes are still flowering… but not for very much longer.

The most common butterfly at this time of year is the Speckled Wood, and it will usually be the last seen in Autumn. They are not known to hibernate but it wouldn’t surprise me if they are eventually discovered to do this:

At this time of year, due to the lower temperatures, the butterflies move more slowly and take the time to perch and open their wings in order to warm up. Butterflies can only fly when the temperature reaches 15°C, so basking becomes very important. Many species are known to hibernate. In Ireland Small Tortoiseshells can be seen entering houses, sheds and other buildings to hibernate in autumn and they can often be spotted flying on mild sunny days even in November:

Another species which hibernates, and only recently proven to do so, is the Red Admiral, which is a very bold and striking butterfly, and it will land on people too if they provide a place to rest in the sunshine:

And there is another species which shares these tendencies, although it seems this one also migrates – the Peacock butterfly:

Some butterflies actively migrate, such as the Painted Lady. It will fly south with the swallows and house martins. Thousands of them  filled the skies of Wicklow this year:

 

Some moth species also  migrate – mostly famously the Silver-Y. While it has been a great year for the Painted Lady it has been a disappointing one for the Silver-Y, but there are some about, flying in both day and night, and sometimes resting by windows at night:

There are still one or two Barn Swallows about, but mostly individual stragglers, older birds more experienced in the vagaries of intercontinental travel. Here’s one I saw flying south a couple of days ago:

Whilst most creatures breed in springtime, spiders mostly prefer autumn. And some spider relationships are quite complex – the male  Segmented Orb-weaver has to impress the female with a gift and she will only select him as her mate if the gift-wrapped gift is satisfactory. This one seems to have been successful and to have moved in with a female:

Slugs and snails also breed at this time of year, but they also mate in spring and all the way through when weather permits – here are two impressive Yellow Slugs, mating:

Slugs are hermaphrodites – each one is both male and female. However, in order to ensure genetic health they must mate – they must share their genes with others. The male in each slug mates with the female in the other. However, not all molluscs are hermaphrodites – cuttlefish, squid and octopuses have male and females – gender is a biological fact and a necessity.

Sadly, some of springs babies have not survived the year. Here is something which was recently drawn to my attention by the warden on the East Coast Nature Reserve  – a young Otter, presumably hit by a car on the Sea Road:

For those creatures that stay and winter in Wicklow there is ample opportunity to plan for next year – here are three Jackdaws inspecting chimney pots for suitable nesting sites – these could be siblings hanging about last year’s nest, but are probably last year’s breeding pair and one of their children. Many birds, including Jackdaws, serve apprenticeships with their parents, choosing nest sites, building nests and helping to get food for the young: