So far we have had a very warm, sunny and mostly dry June here in Wicklow, with temperatures ranging from 20 degrees to 24 degrees Celsius in the shade. Last year was a very cold summer in contrast. And the lovely weather has brought the wildlife out. Here is a young Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) crossing the road right in front of me:
I was standing at a bus stop and happened to notice the electric green of a girl crossing out into the middle of the road, and the little fox was trotting in front of her, wary but not too scared. The girl and her sister went to the shop to get some food for it, as they were fairly certain hunger had brought it out. I suspect it was in the habit of foraging in the shop’s forecourt bin. It ented a field behind the bus stop and I got this lovely photo of it peering out from the corn:
Whereas livestock farmers often hate foxes, cereal farmers really appreciate their presence as they eat a lot of rodents and scare birds away from their fields. Birds are extremely wary of fields where they’ve previously seen foxes. At night you will often hear the piercing shriek of vixens across the hillsides. This usually happens in winter or early spring, but they also call in summer and autumn.
This year the Hawthorn blooms have lingered for a very long time, and they are absolutely beautiful:
I’ve been very slow with my posts in recent weeks but from now on I intend to keep them at a steady space, so watch out for them.
May is the most spectacular month in Wicklow. This is due to the sudden mass-blossoming of the various trees and shrubs along the hedgerows and in the parks and gardens. May is usually quite warm too, and it is this year, but there is quite a bit of rain too, which also helps the blooming, but can cause them to fade a little faster too.
It has been a somewhat blustery and cool May, with a many showers, but according to a new version of an old saying: “Wet and windy May, fills the barns with corn and hay”. But the rain and the sunlight combine to support lush vegetation in Wicklow, and there are dramatic scenes everywhere. The Hawthorn, the sacred tree of the ancient druids, bursts into blossom and crowns the spring and announces the summer.
Hiding on the blooms of dense plants like the Russian Comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum) the small predators aim to catch big prey. The Flower Crab Spiders are especially brazen, and can even be seen attempting to snatch bumblebees.
Even on the ground in towns and villages there is drama and action: watch for ants hurrying back to their nests with food and prey. Their incredible strength is fascinating in itself.
However, not all of the action near to the ground is of a predatory fashion. Some creatures have no problem finding food in abundance, and therefore have plenty of time for other activities. On the large fleshy leaves of the Broad-leaved Dock (Rumex obtusifolius) you will often see beautiful sweet-wrapper shiny green beetles calmly munching on the vast leaves. This is the Dock Leaf Beetle (Gastrophysa viridula), a very distinctive species of leaf beetle, due to the enormous abdomen of the pregnant female. She becomes swollen with hundreds of eggs, and is usually garded closely by a mate, or a suitor waiting for her to lay her eggs so he can take his turn fathering offspring.
All of this excitement between waist and ground level is wonderful to observe, but it can distract you from incredible seens high above. A chance glance at the Wicklow clouds could bring your eye into line with a flock of fleeing pigeons or doves, and just in time to see a Peregrine Falcon slowly wheeling above. If you can see it clearly then your back will almost certainly be to the sun, and the great predator’s prey will be even further from you than the falcon, because this bird likes to fly at it prey from the direction of the sun, where it can be seen least well, if at all.
Although a very similar species of falcon, the Hobby (Falco subbuteo), can occasionally be found in Wicklow, this Peregrine is a stouter bird with wings that appear wider from front to back when seen in flight. It has recently been dicovered that Peregrines living in cities and towns will hunt actively at night, usually striking their night-flying prey from beneath, in the ambush-style of their sea-dwelling equivalent, the Great White Shark. It is theorised that the lights from buildings illuminate the undersides of birds flying above them, allowing the Peregrine to see its prey in the dark, although it might also be argued that it is using the lights of the buildings in the same way it uses the sun during daylight hunting, to prevent its prey from seeing it.