Tag Archives: “Lesser Celandine”

Butterfly Spring

While it is quite possible to see a hibernating butterfly emerge on a rare sunny day in the depths of winter, it doesn’t usually happen, and I don’t ever really feel like a spring has begun until I see a butterfly. I saw my first this year only three days ago, on Friday, the very first day of March. As is the case almost every year, it was a Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae), and it was perched in a sheltered area, on the iron grey branch of an old apple tree:

This Small Tortoiseshell almost certainly emerged from its chrysalis late last summer, or in the early autumn. However, it was in pretty good nick so it might have gone into hibernation very soon after hatching, as it bears none of the injuries butterflies get after a few days on the wing. Well, mostly. There are some patches of colour missing.

On Wednesday I saw another spring moth, the Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria), which likes to perch under lighted windows. It is a lovely species, although drab in colour, and it flies from now until the end of May, or thereabouts:

   If you look closely, although you don’t have to look too closely, you will see the familiar bright scarlet or orange of our most common ladybird species, the Seven-spot Ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata), which is beloved of children and adults alike. At the moment they are basking in sunlight, and with so few aphids around (their favourite food) at this time of year they depend heavily on the pollen of spring plants:

   I’m glad to say there are lots more spring wildflowers about now. One of the most important of all is the Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna), which is very beautiful and very important as a source of pollen for spring insects, although many of them eat the pollen rather than carry it to other flowers:

However, spring will not be properly and reliably here until the Spring Equinox, which this year occurs on 20th March, at the precise time of 9.58 pm in the evening. Right now, as I write this, we have torrential rain, and snow brought in by ex-Hurricane Freya. Fortunately our ground temperatures are nicely above average and will keep any snow from sticking.

Moths and Butterflies Return

Winter has been very long and drawn out, but at last the weather seems to be improving and very gradually warming up. Late last night I was delighted to find two spring moths on a wall by a window. The first is the old reliable still lacking a common name, Diurnea fagella:

Slightly more impressive than this drab but variable moth was the stockier, and more handsomely marked Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi):

   This medium-sized (small medium) moth had a small chunk taken out of its left forewing, which was very possibly due to a nip from a bird’s beak.  The recent more consistent temperatures have caused spring flowers to bloom in a big way, and the annual mass flowering of dandelions is now beginning. Dandelions are extremely important for pollinators, and many other insects, as are the Lesser Celandine flowers. You can see one here being attended to by a Honey Bee (Apis mellifera).

   However, today I saw something which really lifted my spirits, my first butterfly of the year, a Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae):

And I even made a video about it, and it’s not as bad as it first seems:

 

Spring: at last

It has been a whole month-and-a-half since I wrote the last instalment of this blog. Why? Because Spring stopped. Yes, it seems incredible, but even though crocuses came up out of the ground it became too cold for them to unfurl, until last week when suddenly spring began properly. And here they are as you can still see them:

25543338410_2066360d21Although this winter just gone has been by no means our coldest, it was by far wettest. Normally, even in cold years there are some warm and sunny winter days, but not this year. It just didn’t happen. Almost everyday was consistently cloudy and almost every day up until a few weeks ago, there was rain. So temperatures never rose over 10 Celsius. The frogspawn which appeared early froze solid. The female Early Thorn moth very likely died without mating, having woken too early. Here is a male I photographed only yesterday, six weeks later in the spring:

25539482190_42480ee7acFor all that time the Lesser Celandine managed a small number of flowers, since the sun and warmer temperatures which arrived late last week, they a erupting with blooms:

25209652354_7d7c61c668Flowers are vital because so many small creatures depend on their pollen and nectar for food, and in turn so many larger creatures depend on those insects for food, and so on and so forth. It really has been a tough winter, but at last spring is doing what it should do. If you look carefully at trees and bushes around Wicklow which have managed to keep their foliage you will see Green Shieldbugs (Palomena prasina) sunbathing on them. In winter they turn brown to match brown foliage and dried leaves. Most of the year they are shiny green. Here’s one changing from brown to green, but some have already done so:

25840182115_4e1fc8e856Because they are herbivorous sap-feeding insects shieldbugs can survive throughout the year on shrubs, but other insects need to eat small insects which only thrive when plants do, and pollen. Seven-spot Ladybirds in particular await spring blooms so they can feed on pollen, but at this time of the year they are mostly sunbathing, to warm themselves up after a period of partial hibernation:

25719231192_aa3a2384cdAt this time of year you will very likely see large queen bumblebees flying around, collecting pollen from flowers, but many people also tell me they see a lot of honeybees. However, in most cases what they are actually seeing are Drone Flies, large hoverflies which pupate over winter, having spent their young lives as aquatic maggots living in stagnant pools. However, we depend heavily on them to pollinate our flowering plants:

25719232592_70b173ac0bAnd, once you’ve got flies going about, it’s only a matter of time before you see spiders, which generally lie low in winter due to the lack of insect prey. Here is a handsome little one I spotted a couple of days ago, a young Nursery-web Spider (Pisaura mirabilis) which also likes to bask on sunny walls, only making a web during the breeding season. Now, hopefully, all will follow the normal course of the seasons, and get sunnier and warmer.