Tag Archives: hawthorn

A Very Wild June

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:

A lovely young red fox, returning from a foraging trip to a shop!
A lovely young red fox, returning from a foraging trip to a shop!

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:

Foxes have very beautiful eyes, as you can see here.
Foxes have very beautiful eyes, as you can see here.

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:

A lovely white-blossomed hawthorn tree, one of the most beautiful sights in the late spring and early summer countryside.
A lovely white-blossomed hawthorn tree, one of the most beautiful sights in the late spring and early summer countryside.
Hawthorn blossom up close - the scent is amazing. The scent of spring.
Hawthorn blossom up close – the scent is amazing. The scent of spring.

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 Blooms

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.

Hawthorn is one of the most beautiful blooming plants and can be found right along Wicklow hedgerows.
Hawthorn is one of the most beautiful blooming plants and can be found right along Wicklow hedgerows.
The apple blossoms are all but gone now, but they were absolutely spectacular this year and gave Wicklow its scent of spring. In this photo you can see tulip flowers too. Apple trees are very common in Wicklow and there are many old orchards, and even apple trees growing in hedgerows.
The apple blossoms are all but gone now, but they were absolutely spectacular this year and gave Wicklow its scent of spring. In this photo you can see tulip flowers too. Apple trees are very common in Wicklow and there are many old orchards, and even apple trees growing in hedgerows.
Lilac trees are not quite as numerous as hawthorns, but they are common and widespread along hedgerows and in gardens and their magnificent flowerspikes produce a heavy yet subtle perfume that actually makes the air smell fresh. This year they had a bumper blossoming making for a fantastic May.
Lilac trees are not quite as numerous as hawthorns, but they are common and widespread along hedgerows and in gardens and their magnificent flowerspikes produce a heavy yet subtle perfume that actually makes the air smell fresh. This year they had a bumper blossoming making for a fantastic May.
The so-called 'Wedding Cake' Viburnum is a magnificent shrub which, for some reason, is very common in Wicklow and produces huge swathes of blossom but no fragrance. However, they are extremely popular with insects, especially hoverflies.
The so-called ‘Wedding Cake’ Viburnum is a magnificent shrub which, for some reason, is very common in Wicklow and produces huge swathes of blossom but no fragrance. However, they are extremely popular with insects, especially hoverflies.
The bluebells came up early this year and are still forming carpets of blue in the mountains, but I don't think they'll be around too long, so make sure to get out and look for them. You can tell the true native bluebell from the similar Spanish bluebell because only the native has a scent, and it's a beautiful scent too.
The bluebells came up early this year and are still forming carpets of blue in the mountains, but I don’t think they’ll be around too long, so make sure to get out and look for them. You can tell the true native bluebell from the similar Spanish bluebell because only the native has a scent, and it’s a beautiful scent too.
In boggy areas (of which there are many in Wicklow) the Yellow Flag is the dominant flowering plant and they can be seen in huge numbers in coastal marshes right now. These beautiful plants are irises and they can be kept next to garden ponds, but the root can be more than a metre under the soil, which is usually under almost as much water in the areas these plants inhabit, so digging them up is certainly not worth the effort. Leave them where they are and admire from afar.
In boggy areas (of which there are many in Wicklow) the Yellow Flag is the dominant flowering plant and they can be seen in huge numbers in coastal marshes right now. These beautiful plants are irises and they can be kept next to garden ponds, but the root can be more than a metre under the soil, which is usually under almost as much water in the areas these plants inhabit, so digging them up is certainly not worth the effort. Leave them where they are and admire from afar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

High drama in May

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.

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) in bloom.

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.

Flower Crab Spider (Misumena vatia) waits in ambush to snatch a bumblebee collecting nectar from Russian Comfrey. It failed, and some bees even knocked others away from the flowers.

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.

A Black Garden Ant (Lasius niger) carrying an unfortunately squashed Bark Louse (Psocidid) back to its nest along a footpath.

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.

He likes big butts! A male Dock Leaf Beetle perched on a heavily pregnant female.

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.

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) soaring above Wicklow.

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.

A Peregrine Falcon seen from the side, preparing for a stoop, its attacking dive. On this occasion the pigeons spotted the hunter and managed to escape. The black "executioner's mask" markings of the head are easy to see from this angle.