Tag Archives: daffodils

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!

The Vernal Equinox

At 4.30 GMT (Ireland is in the same timezone as Greenwich) this morning we reached the exact halfway point between the Winter Solstice just past, and the approaching Summer Solstice. Today the night and day were of equal length, which is where the term ‘equinox” derives, night and day being equal in length. We are now in the Great Northern Summer, when each day is longer than each night. And it was a lovely sunny day here in Wicklow too, a change from the cloudy days of the last week. And it does look like proper spring. Here are some of the delights I’ve encountered:

25239549894_7ba8a50e3fAbove is the amazing broad green on the way into Greystones from the south (Charlesland) side. Every year it is gold from the flowers of thousands of cultivated daffodils. You still have time to see this, but soon the flowers will begin to wilt, so don’t wait too long.

Yesterday I found two different moth species under the light by the back door, firstly the beautiful little Double-striped Pug (Gymnoscelis rufifasciata):

25617928750_3057233c0cAnd secondly, the slightly larger and longer Diurnea fagella, which badly needs a common name:

25285794564_6741eee9beTwo heralds of warmer weather. And now, with midnight approaching, I must go.

Spring – the perfect gift for Christmas

Last weekend one of my neighbours told me daffodils were coming up all over his garden and he showed be a photo of one actually blooming and asked me if I would like to see for myself and get some photos. Unfortunately, due to a whole week of rain it took me until this weekend to get around to it, but first I decided to check my own garden, where daffodils are usually much slower to rise – and here’s what I found:

Daffodil leaves rising from the ground in my garden earlier this week.
Daffodil leaves rising from the ground in my garden earlier this week.

I was amazed, and am more amazed because much more advanced ones are now visible all around my garden. However, my neighbour reliably informs me his daffodils rose three weeks ago. And yesterday he had one going out of bloom and one in full bloom.

My neighbour's fully blooming daffodil as seen yesterday afternoon.
My neighbour’s fully blooming daffodil as seen yesterday afternoon.

And here’s the same one from another angle…

23829419606_f9026c0144(1)In fact, daffodils are being reported from all across the island of Ireland, already in bloom. And there are not only daffodils, but snowdrops are also starting to bloom, although the ones my neighbour has in his garden are admittedly of a cultivated variety, and possibly tend to be earlier:

A beautiful very early flowering snowdrop, and almost beyond belief.
A beautiful very early flowering snowdrop, and almost beyond belief.

But there is a bigger mystery to this than there seems to be. For the past two weeks we have had extremely mild temperatures for December, and warm wind systems have been rising over Ireland from the Caribbean due to the Jet Stream being far to the north of the island, which is unusual. An extreme El Nino effect has occurred and is believed to be largely responsible for having affecting the weather systems in the Northern Hemisphere, particularly those emanating from the Caribbean. However, my neighbour tells me his daffodils rose while we we experiencing typically cold weather at the end of November. So what interests me is this – can the plants be somehow anticipating warm weather?

A Hebe (Veronica species) blooming right now. This plant normally only blooms in summer months.
A Hebe (Veronica species) blooming right now. This plant normally only blooms in summer months.

Last year we had early snowdrops and daffodils too, but not this early, and meteorologists concluded it was due to the extremely warm summer of 2014. However, we had a cold and mostly wet summer for 2015, so that cannot be the solution to this mystery. However, we have had an exceptionally wet November and December, so that could be a factor. In 2013 I recorded temperatures as high as 16 degrees Celsius (about 61 degrees Fahrenheit) in the December, but the snowdrops and daffodils didn’t show up until late January, and gradually through February. So it seems temperature and sunlight are not triggering this phenomenon, but rain-levels stil possibly are doing so. But will it mean a mild winter and mild spring? We’ll find out soon enough.

A cistus blooming earlier in the week.
A cistus blooming earlier in the week.

And since temperatures are mild, and flowers are producing food in the form of pollen and nectar, then you would expect to see insects – and you do. This week I found a hoverfly feeding on a cistus flower, something I have never seen before in December:

A hoverfly in December - all it needs is something to eat.
A hoverfly in December – all it needs is something to eat. This species seems to be Meliscaeva auricollis, which is a very early species, but not usually this early. However, it also seems to be a hibernating species, so may have simply been takiing advantage of a mid-winter snack.

And some creatures which are normally lying low and hiding in leaf litter, or beneath the soil feeding on roots of plants, can actually be seen walking about in broad daylight, such as this caterpillar, of the Large Yellow Underwing moth (Noctua pronuba):

 

I found this caterpillar walking along a footpath after a shower of light rain.
I found this caterpillar walking along a footpath after a shower of light rain.

And finally, here’s a sight I look out for every year, and don’t usually see until the end of February or early March – a cultivated pulmonaria in the garden here. Something is unusual is certainly happening:

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