Scarcely a week has passed since we had our unexpected snow storm, but at last true spring has begun, and here is a little video I made of the transition, and the exciting arrival of a Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris), a small bird which creeps up walls and tree trunks feeding on insects and spiders as it goes. And then a very exciting scene which proves spring is, at last, definitely here:
However, not only have birds been collecting nesting materials, but finally frogspawn appeared in my garden pond, and lots of it:
This is the spawn of the Common Frog, Rana temporaria. For those of you who are wondering what the green on the pond is, it is actually tiny leaves of Duckweed, a plant which exists only as a leaf, and which reproduces by cell division – one leaf turns into two, two into four, four into eight, eight into sixteen. And that is how it forms carpets of green on ponds.
August is often a damp and humid month, but it is also usually very consistent, and arguably the most pleasant of the summer months in Wicklow. Perhaps it is because we know another summer is slowly drawing to an end and try to appreciate every moment more knowing Autumn and Winter lie ahead wth their long nights. If you look in long grass around meadows you will now find tiny Common Frogs (Rana temporaria) which were tadpoles earlier in the year. And they really are tiny as you can see by this one which actually hopped onto my hand while I was sitting on a lawn:
We have only one species of frog in Ireland, and it is so important to our economy that it is protected by law at every stage of development. It is illegal to collect frogspawn, catch frogs, or even handle them without a licence. Of course, for practical reasons these creatures do sometimes have to be manhandled to get them out of harm’s way. The reason frogs are so important to Ireland is because of their voracious eating of agricultural pests. And speaking of pests, August is considerably more pleasant than July because the blood-sucking biting flies have greatly diminished in numbers after their population explosion. The Cleg Fly (Haematopota pluvialis) pictured, (our most common Horse Fly) attacked me last week and I just managed to swat it away. I looked for it for five minutes fearing it was still waiting to launch another attack when I suddenly noticed it had been caught by a spider. The spider is at the very rear of the fly and is much smaller. Note the enormous skin-puncturing awl-like beak under the Cleg Fly’s remarkably patterned eyes.
However, August is a sad time too, because one of our summer migrating birds leaves for Africa. The Swift (Apus apus) is quite a bit larger than the Swallow, House Martin or Sand Martin and has much longer wings. It can best be described as a flying crescent. Swifts look black but are actually a very dark, chocolatey brown. Keep your eyes open and you might see one or more stragglers flying with the Swallows. They are difficult to photograph compared with Swallows or House Martins, but they look almost the same close up as they do from a distance due to their dark colouration.
Today is St. Brigid’s Day, the traditional start of the Celtic Spring, and it is very springlike by any standards. In the last few days I found Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) blooming:
Only three days ago I found my first Crocus blooming, although I hasten to add that this is not one of the crocuses which I normally consider as the true sign spring has begun, this one being a more recent addition to the garden, but beautiful nonetheless:
And today the first Daffodil in my garden began to bloom, undoubtedly due to the long-awaited arrival of spring rain:
This winter has been as dry as last winter was wet. In fact, it has been so dry that reservoirs across Ireland have been at levels normally associated with hot summers, as so little rain has fallen. But this week, fortunately, the rain has arrived and the plants and animals have been awakened by it. The night before last I spotted a big handsome Common Frog (Rana temporaria) hopping along the path in the dead of night, under a deluge of rain. It can’t be long before they start to spawn. and many probably already have:
And early in the evening, as though to mark the occasion, we had the rare sight of the Moon and the brightly-burning planet Venus promenading across the sky with the planet Mars, a small reddish dot, almost halfway between them, which is apparently quite a rare event:
Finally, and most exciting of all for me, I had the good luck to spot a moth resting on a wall yesterday, and it was a species I haven’t seen before, the Mottled Grey (Colostygia multistrigaria):
This moth normally flies in February and March, mostly in March, but the good conditions seem to have brought this one out earlier than usual. However, the moth that really is the harbinger of spring, the Early Thorn, hasn’t appeared yet. I suspect I’ll find one sooner rather than later this year.