Due to huge snows we had last week and over the weekend (and even now some places in Wicklow are still under snow), I had hoped this week I would be showing photos of exotic northern birds such as the Redwing, Fieldfare and the Bohemian Waxwing, but I didn’t see any whatsoever. You will find photos of Redwing and Waxwing in my photos from previous years but for now I will leave you with photos of the snow as it appeared here in eastern Wicklow on the weekend. Hopefully this represents the end of what has been a long and cold winter for us:
Only last week the weather was improving so much, and the spring flowers all blooming so brilliantly, that it seemed spring was truly here and here to stay. I even saw my first hoverfly, which was, unusually for our spring, a Drone Fly (Eristalis species):
But this week everything went crazy, with the arrival of the so-called “Beast from the East”, a fierce cold weather system bringing snow and freezing temperatures to all of Europe from Siberia. Just as I was winding down using the bird-feeders in my garden they suddenly became vitally important to birds in the cold weather, and were also getting the attention of many rodents, including one particularly handsome and determined Wood Mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus). Here it is climbing out of the leaf litter next to the tree holding the feeders, just at sunset:
One night I even managed to get a video of the mouse climbing on a peanut-feeder, a tiny creature with huge eyes and ears, and a long tail:
However, there were also some less welcome visitors, such as two young Brown Rats (Rattus norvegicus), which were not quite so cute, and a lot bigger than the mouse, but equally interesting in their cheekiness:
The cold weather inspired some incredible behaviour in some of the wildlife. Probably the most amazing thing I have seen in some years was a flock of desperate crows, Rooks (Corvus frugilegus) to be exact, who were managing to take food off the carefully-designed “crow proof” small bird feeders. One of them was even hovering like a hummingbird! Watch and be amazed:
The bad weather doesn’t end there though – tonight a huge rain storm from the Bay of Biscay, Storm Emma, collides with the Beast from the East and we have a Red Weather Warning, the highest level, only used once before and, ironically, only a few months ago when Hurricane Ophelia made for the island of Ireland. This time, it’s for snow drifts. Hopefully the wildlife will not suffer too much.
It has been a whole month-and-a-half since I wrote the last instalment of this blog. Why? Because Spring stopped. Yes, it seems incredible, but even though crocuses came up out of the ground it became too cold for them to unfurl, until last week when suddenly spring began properly. And here they are as you can still see them:
Although this winter just gone has been by no means our coldest, it was by far wettest. Normally, even in cold years there are some warm and sunny winter days, but not this year. It just didn’t happen. Almost everyday was consistently cloudy and almost every day up until a few weeks ago, there was rain. So temperatures never rose over 10 Celsius. The frogspawn which appeared early froze solid. The female Early Thorn moth very likely died without mating, having woken too early. Here is a male I photographed only yesterday, six weeks later in the spring:
Flowers are vital because so many small creatures depend on their pollen and nectar for food, and in turn so many larger creatures depend on those insects for food, and so on and so forth. It really has been a tough winter, but at last spring is doing what it should do. If you look carefully at trees and bushes around Wicklow which have managed to keep their foliage you will see Green Shieldbugs (Palomena prasina) sunbathing on them. In winter they turn brown to match brown foliage and dried leaves. Most of the year they are shiny green. Here’s one changing from brown to green, but some have already done so:
Because they are herbivorous sap-feeding insects shieldbugs can survive throughout the year on shrubs, but other insects need to eat small insects which only thrive when plants do, and pollen. Seven-spot Ladybirds in particular await spring blooms so they can feed on pollen, but at this time of the year they are mostly sunbathing, to warm themselves up after a period of partial hibernation:
At this time of year you will very likely see large queen bumblebees flying around, collecting pollen from flowers, but many people also tell me they see a lot of honeybees. However, in most cases what they are actually seeing are Drone Flies, large hoverflies which pupate over winter, having spent their young lives as aquatic maggots living in stagnant pools. However, we depend heavily on them to pollinate our flowering plants:
And, once you’ve got flies going about, it’s only a matter of time before you see spiders, which generally lie low in winter due to the lack of insect prey. Here is a handsome little one I spotted a couple of days ago, a young Nursery-web Spider (Pisaura mirabilis) which also likes to bask on sunny walls, only making a web during the breeding season. Now, hopefully, all will follow the normal course of the seasons, and get sunnier and warmer.