Tag Archives: Coccinella septempunctata

St. Patrick’s Day and the start of true Spring

Because the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Greystones yesterday was so spectacular, and large, and blessed by sunny weather, I opted to upload that video on its own, and devote a second video to my annual St. Patrick’s Day nature walk. This year’s was far less dramatic, but far more beautiful, although the weather did get interesting later in the day, with showers of freezing rain and hailstones. So here is the video, but read on after it too:

Whereas last year it snowed the day after St. Patrick’s Day, today something more welcome occurred – I found my first Tawny Mining Bee of the season, and it was a female, the earliest female of this species I’ve ever found. She appears at the end of the video too, but here’s a close-up shot of this very beautiful bee:

St. Patrick’s Day is traditionally held on the anniversary of St. Patrick’s death. However, in ancient times 17th March was a very important feast day, that of the god of fertility, Bacchus, aka Dionysius, marking the arrival of true Spring. Because astronomical spring in Ireland also marks the arrival of warmer spring weather. This coming Wednesday, 20th March, is the Equinox. At 9.58 in the evening the earth is exactly halfway on it’s journey around the Sun, and day and night are of equal length and the Sun rises directly in the east and sets directly in the west. From that day on, until the Summer Solstice in June, the days get progressively longer than the nights. Exciting.

 

Butterfly Spring

While it is quite possible to see a hibernating butterfly emerge on a rare sunny day in the depths of winter, it doesn’t usually happen, and I don’t ever really feel like a spring has begun until I see a butterfly. I saw my first this year only three days ago, on Friday, the very first day of March. As is the case almost every year, it was a Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae), and it was perched in a sheltered area, on the iron grey branch of an old apple tree:

This Small Tortoiseshell almost certainly emerged from its chrysalis late last summer, or in the early autumn. However, it was in pretty good nick so it might have gone into hibernation very soon after hatching, as it bears none of the injuries butterflies get after a few days on the wing. Well, mostly. There are some patches of colour missing.

On Wednesday I saw another spring moth, the Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria), which likes to perch under lighted windows. It is a lovely species, although drab in colour, and it flies from now until the end of May, or thereabouts:

   If you look closely, although you don’t have to look too closely, you will see the familiar bright scarlet or orange of our most common ladybird species, the Seven-spot Ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata), which is beloved of children and adults alike. At the moment they are basking in sunlight, and with so few aphids around (their favourite food) at this time of year they depend heavily on the pollen of spring plants:

   I’m glad to say there are lots more spring wildflowers about now. One of the most important of all is the Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna), which is very beautiful and very important as a source of pollen for spring insects, although many of them eat the pollen rather than carry it to other flowers:

However, spring will not be properly and reliably here until the Spring Equinox, which this year occurs on 20th March, at the precise time of 9.58 pm in the evening. Right now, as I write this, we have torrential rain, and snow brought in by ex-Hurricane Freya. Fortunately our ground temperatures are nicely above average and will keep any snow from sticking.

At the End of February

Today is the last day of February and the weather is a bit stormy right now, but considerably milder than it has been. However, we had daytime temperatures briefly climb up to 16 degrees Celsius two days ago, and stay at 12 degrees Celsius through the following night, which led to a wonderful surprise the following morning – frogspawn.

A beautiful blob of crystal jelly frogspawn. A good sign of an established spring, but we can't rule out heavy frosts just yet.
A beautiful blob of crystal jelly frogspawn. A good sign of an established spring, but we can’t rule out heavy frosts just yet.

There have been some other signs of warmer sunnier weather, although much less spectacular than frogspawn. Namely, 7-spot Ladybirds and Green Shieldbugs sunbathing on plants on warmer afternoons.

The 7-spot is the most common and recognisable of our ladybird species. In early spring these predatory beetles sunbathe and feed on the pollen of early flowers. Later it will be insects.
The 7-spot is the most common and recognisable of our ladybird species. In early spring these predatory beetles sunbathe and feed on the pollen of early flowers. Later it will be eating small insects.
Green Shieldbugs are probably the most common species in Wicklow, and they can be found all year. In winter they often turn brown to blend in with brown leaves. However, in gardens they often can remain green due to evergreen bushes and trees of many varieties. They are very sociable insects and feed on plant sap.
Green Shieldbugs are probably the most common species in Wicklow, and they can be found all year. In winter they often turn brown to blend in with brown leaves. However, in gardens they often can remain green due to evergreen bushes and trees of many varieties. They are very sociable insects and feed on plant sap.

Wild primroses (Primula vulgaris) have also begun to bloom all over Wicklow. You can see them along hedgerows, usually on exposed banks at the bottom of trees. They really stand out at this time of year.

Primroses won't usually open fully until they are satisfied with the weather. This one is in a somewhat shady area and unwilling to completely unfurl.
Primroses won’t usually open fully until they are satisfied with the weather. This one is in a somewhat shady area and unwilling to completely unfurl.

But probably the most important flower of all to bloom in spring is also the most overlooked and least appreciated – the dandelion. Dandelions produce a massive amount of pollen and are very important to insects. They are especially popular with Honey Bees. Here is one of the first I’ve seen this year.

One of our most important wild flowers, the dandelion. They seem almost as bright as the sun.
One of our most important wild flowers, the dandelion. They seem almost as bright as the sun.

Finally, here’s something much less obvious to look for. The drab little bird below is a Chaffinch, and you might think it’s a female, but if you look closely you will see it is tinged at the edges with the the bright colours of an adult male. This little bird is a young male and in the next few months will wear the sky blue and salmon pink of an adult. He might even breed this year. It’s highly likely. He has a lot of living ahead of him.

A young male chaffinch currently living the solitary existence of a bachelor, but soon he will have bredding colours and a chance of finding a mate.
A young male chaffinch currently living the solitary existence of a bachelor, but soon he will have breeding colours and a chance of finding a mate.