This year we had very mild conditions up until early November, when it turned colder than usual and pretty much stayed that way until the Winter Solstice, which is the beginning of the astronomical winter. We then had a week of unseasonably warm weather which came to a sudden end with a cold front arriving after dark on Christmas Day. But that one warm week has had an amazing effect, as it has caused the sudden, and unexpectedly early growth of daffodils in many places –
And it’s worth remembering these are not ‘early daffodils’ but a variety which appears at regular, normal times of year. In the photo you can clearly see a flowerbud. However, since the warm week we have had some very cold weather, with sunny days of only 1 degree Celsius, and plenty of snow on the hills and mountains. These cold conditions have caused lots of lovely bird species to enter gardens, desperate for food, such as this beautifully coloured Blue Tit –
There are also plenty of Starlings –
However, the most numerous ones are House Sparrows, and they are roosting in low bushes and in the mornings you can see them bathing in puddles, regardless of the temperatures. It’s a great time of year to see birds –
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:
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.
And here’s the same one from another angle…
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:
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?
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.
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:
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):
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:
Incredibly, yes. Yesterday (December 28) I found quite a few daffodil leaves had already burst through the soil, something which I’ve never seen before so early in Wicklow. These are not special early-flowering daffodils either, just regular ones that appear every year in the same place. Usually they would be very early if the appeared like this by the second week of January.
Last year was a much warmer December and they still didn’t put in an appearance so early. It’s fascinating to consider what the trigger mechanism for this growth is, but it’s definitely not temperature. Perhaps after millions of years of evolution these bulbs are hard-wired to recognise subtle changes in conditions that suit their growth, of which we are almost entirely ignorant. But they are not alone – I’ve heard reports of wild Primroses blooming in fields in Wexford since late November, and here are still more Buebells rising above the ground early –
Probably most incredible of all are the wild Lords-and-Ladies arum lilies, the leaves of which can be seen well above ground in many places, still furled like fleshy green flags. However, I haven’t spotted my old reliables yet – Early Crocuses, which my own studies suggest are the most accurate indicators of the arrival of spring. There is still a lot we have to learn about the natural world, but one thing is for certain, the temperature outside tonight is – 1 degree Celsius and there’s a strong frost which has made lawns crunchy under foot.