Tag Archives: hoverfly

True Spring – Equinoctial Full Moon

Although many spring flowers bloomed since St. Brigid’s Day today was the first day that actually felt like spring in every sense, and it coincided with the Equinoctial Full Moon, the Full Moon closest to the Equinox, which is one week from Wednesday, in case you didn’t know. And this morning I saw my first butterfly of the year basking in the bright sunlight:

A Small Tortoiseshell butterfly newly-emerged from hibernation. Those whoich hatch from chrysalises look far brighter, but this one has survived the winter in pretty good condition.

If the weather continues as good as this there will undoubtedly be more Small Tortoiseshells around soon. However, during the warmer nights more and more moth species are on the wing, including this handsome butterfly-sized Shoulder Stripe (Anticlea badiata) which is attracted to lights, which is why it has perched beneath a light.

A Shoulder Stripe perched beneath a porch light.

And here is a close-up of the same Shoulder Stripe showing the camouflage which matches the very common Turkeytail fungus which grows on rotting wood:

   The blooming flowers which grow more numerous as the days grow longer and warm the countryside are what sustain the butterflies, moths, bees and, of course, hoverflies. Now the daffodils are growing numerous there are more and more insects:

And here is one of the earliest appearing hoverfly species, Melanostoma scalare:

And now that there are so many insects about the birds are spending a lot of time hunting and preparing to breed, like this handsome male Blackbird searching for caterpillars, grubs and earthworms on a grassy verge:

   And despite the many frosts this winter, the bright conditions have meant that many wild flowers which would normally flower later in the year are already blooming, such as these two species of handsome Dead-nettles, which are not related to nettles but look almost identical, but lack a sting, first the White Dead-nettle (Lamium album):

and secondly the Red Dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum):

Spring – the perfect gift for Christmas

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:

Daffodil leaves rising from the ground in my garden earlier this week.
Daffodil leaves rising from the ground in my garden earlier this week.

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.

My neighbour's fully blooming daffodil as seen yesterday afternoon.
My neighbour’s fully blooming daffodil as seen yesterday afternoon.

And here’s the same one from another angle…

23829419606_f9026c0144(1)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:

A beautiful very early flowering snowdrop, and almost beyond belief.
A beautiful very early flowering snowdrop, and almost beyond belief.

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?

A Hebe (Veronica species) blooming right now. This plant normally only blooms in summer months.
A Hebe (Veronica species) blooming right now. This plant normally only blooms in summer months.

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.

A cistus blooming earlier in the week.
A cistus blooming earlier in the week.

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:

A hoverfly in December - all it needs is something to eat.
A hoverfly in December – all it needs is something to eat. This species seems to be Meliscaeva auricollis, which is a very early species, but not usually this early. However, it also seems to be a hibernating species, so may have simply been takiing advantage of a mid-winter snack.

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):

 

I found this caterpillar walking along a footpath after a shower of light rain.
I found this caterpillar walking along a footpath after a shower of light rain.

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:

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Spring Blooms

Two days ago the first crocuses were discovered blooming in my garden. There are leaves out on shrubs too, and the daffodils now have flowerbuds. It is a rare early spring, overlapping with the winter.

Crocuses blooming already. An exciting development this week.
Crocuses blooming already. An exciting development this week.

Last year we had similar temperatures but the spring flowers were extremely slow to bloom, and it did turn very cold and snow on many occasions throughout February and March, and even early April. However, in the lowlands the snow didn’t stick because ground temperatures were far too warm, and it seems likely that even if the weather ss to turn cold in the next few weeks, that snow will not stick.

But there have been some other surprises too, despite the fact we’ve had plenty of frost this week. For example, last weekend I discovered a hoverfly flying about in the sunbeams.

 

Probably the most common species of hoverfly in Wicklow, Episyrphus balteatus is know to show up on sunny days at any time of year. It seems to be a hibernating species.
Probably the most common species of hoverfly in Wicklow, Episyrphus balteatus is know to show up on sunny days at any time of year. It seems to be a hibernating species.

There have also been some classic winter species. Here is a photo from three weeks ago, in the early New Year, when a male Winter Moth came to the light emanating from a rear window:

The Winter Moth, Operophtera brumata, is a drab-coloured species which is distinctive because it comes to light in the very depths of winter. The female has no wings at all, and walks on longish legs.
The Winter Moth, Operophtera brumata, is a drab-coloured species which is distinctive because it comes to light in the very depths of winter. The female has no wings at all, and walks on longish legs.

There have also been some bright green caterpillars around, and many people are windering what species they belong to, and why they are around in winter. Some caterpillars actually spend the winter between napping and eating, and begin to appear now in late winter/early spring when they will find good places to pupate, emerging as moths in late spring and early summer. There are a number of species which do this, but the most commonly seen are usually the caterpillars of the Angle Shades (Phlogophora meticulosa ).

The caterpillar of the Hebrew Character can be bright green to yellow, to cream and even a creamy-pink clour. It's a very beautiful caterpillar species and quite a distinctive moth too.
The caterpillar of the Angle Shades can be bright green to yellow, to cream and even a creamy-pink clour. It usually has a broken white or silvery line running down the centre of its back. It’s can be a very beautiful caterpillar species and quite a distinctive moth too.