Tag Archives: Europe

Beautiful blossoms = beautiful insects

This year we have had a very cold April. In the last few days, including today, there have been bright sunny periods marred by a cold wind from the north bringing hailstones, and even some goose-feather snow briefly. However, the trees have still managed to blossom albeit many are later than usual. Pear trees are especially handsome this year:

26419561356_3a0e32fa20Bees have been the first beneficiaries of this bounty of pollen, but ladybirds also depend on it.

The Chocolate Mining Bee, Andrena scotica. Sadly the 'chocolate' refers to its colour. A bee that mined chocolate would already be a household name.
The Chocolate Mining Bee, Andrena scotica. Sadly the ‘chocolate’ refers to its colour. A bee that mined actuall chocolate would already be a household name.

The beautiful Tawny Mining Bees are already disappearing, their time is up for the year and we will have to wait until next spring to see them again, such is life in the natural world. However, there are many, many species of bee, and some have yet to appear. For anyone with an interest in bees I have to bring to your attention a completely fantastic and ground-breaking book published shortly before last Christmas:

26640477732_1dffc7010cThe author, Steven Falk, is the ‘go-to-guy’ when it comes to the identification of many insect species in Europe, and in the past he has painstakingly illustrated his own books, but in this case has collaborated with the distinguised artist Richard Lewington and many photographers to produce a massive tome about every known bee species in the British Isles (the British Isles is the geographical term for the islands of Great Britain, Ireland and the Isle of Man, and the tens of thousands of smaller islands found in their archipelago and should not be confused with the political term United Kingdom, which refers to the lands of England, Wales and Scotland on the island of Great Britain, and six north-eastern counties of the 32 counties found on the island of Ireland which comprise Northern Ireland).

Steven Falk is a very nice guy and he has worked for years on his studies, producing this fantastic book. The illustration by Richard Lewington are incredibly detailed, and whether you are a novice or expert you will want to own this book. I have only had it a short time and have already expanded my knowledge to a huge degree.

Anyhow, butterflies have now also begun to appear and here is one of my favourites looking its best, the Peacock, Nymphalis io, which is the butterfly species Americans want to see when they visit Europe, and who could blame them:

The Peacock can be easily identified by the bright and bold eye-spots on its wings.
The Peacock can be easily identified by the bright and bold eye-spots on its wings.

And I am glad to say the lovely Green-veined White butterflies are also flying about the Wicklow countryside in the last few weeks. The ‘green veins’ in the undersides of their wings are perfect camouflage when they are at rest. If you don’t believe me then tell me if you can see the Green-veined White in this photo:

26041389844_fc60e9c63eAnd here is another photo, just to make it easier to spot:

26043613843_dcf6b5429dAnd finally a nice surprise for me, a remarkable rare species of bug spotted by my brother. This one has no common name, as yet, and is known by its scientific name of Corizus hyoscyami:

26277313750_91ce7af3bf_zFinally, and perhaps unusually, I would like to dedicate this post to my uncle, Larry Lynch, who passed away unexpectedly after a short illness on Thursday afternoon. He knew how to live well and how to take each day as he found it, and he will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

Sahara Dust and Irish Rain

Now that it’s Autumn Ireland is suffering some very damp weather, and Wicklow is experiencing a ‘classic’ Autumn, cold wet and muddy, but quite beautiful too. This is largely the result of two very warm and balmy summers in a row –  not in Ireland but in Africa, in the Sahara Desert. After hot summers in North Africa huge amounts of dust are blown westwards out into the Atlantic Ocean.

The direction of Saharan dust and how it travels around the Atlantic and brings heavy rain to Ireland and the rest of Europe.
The direction of Saharan dust and how it travels around the Atlantic and brings heavy rain to Ireland and the rest of Europe. Ireland is marked in red.

Some of the dust is carried northwards directly into the Bay of Biscay to the south of Ireland, but most goes to Brazil in South America and the Caribbean. Some of the dust lands on the Brazilian coast where it has been directly identified as damaging the rare coastal cloud forests. Much of it lands in the Caribbean where it sinks to the sea floor and smothers coral reefs, in some cases directly killing them.

The lighter dust that doesn’t land on the sea begins to do something quite different. At the heart of every single drop of rain lies a tiny particle of dust. Water molecules evaporating from the ocean are attracted to this dust and slowly begin to collect around it. The dust is carried from the Caribbean on the air currents that flow above the Gulf Stream, the same current that keeps our temperatures mild despite the fact that the island of Ireland lies very far north. When they arrive over Ireland’s southern coast the combination of cold land air and the fact the droplets are too heavy to stay airborne causes them to fall in torrents, sometimes causing terrible flood damage to coastal communities in the south west.

The rains of autumn are going to get worse over the years, for the simple reason that the Sahara is expanding at ‘an alarming rate’. How and why this desert originally began to form throusands of years ago is still something of a mystery, but the cause of its rapid expansion in the 20th and 21st centuries is not a mystery – UN studies have found that it is largely due to cattle-farming in sub-Saharan Africa.

Areas around water sources begin to suffer extreme climate change and erosion because grazing animals congregate within only a few hours walking-distance of them. These 10-12 km desertification circles around drinking wells were identified and termed “Piospheres” by an Australian ecologist, Dr. Robert Lange, as early as 1969. The width of these desertification circles exactly matches the distance that a bovine animal can travel in one night . The big problem now is that the population of sub-Saharan Africa has grown and led to a demand for more and more cattle, which has caused the Sahara to grow faster and faster.

So the secret to solving this problem can only be a change in farming practices, which will require a cultural change and the developments of new methods of irrigation to restore the damaged environments of sub-Saharan Africa.