Tag Archives: Lords-and-Ladies

St. Brigid’s Day

I know what you’re wondering – where have I been for the month of January? I’ll tell you – sick with the worst dose of flu I’ve had in 22 years! But I’m almost over it.

According to Irish tradition the first day of February, which is St. Brigid’s Day, is the beginning of spring. And, considering that the term ‘spring’ refers to the ‘springing forth’ of plantlife, then it is usually pretty accurate. However, this year, despite a good cold January and a very cold and blustery first day of spring, has seen very early plant growth – the earliest I’ve ever seen. Daffodils rose out of the ground in late December and I saw my first daffodil blooms last weekend!

   And this is not an early type of daffodil. However, the crocuses beat the daffodils to it, just.

The crocus above was the first crocus bloom I saw this year, and it appeared las week during a short bout of freakishly warm weather which lasted four days. But the Early Crocuses I usually rely on as the definitive announcement of the arrival of spring have not risen yet, let alone bloomed, so maybe they think we still could get snow. However, other spring plants, usually much later than daffodils and crocuses, have already made an appearance. Check these out:

They are, of course, snowdrops, which are usually the earliest bloomers of the spring plants, although they are technically more winter flowers. However, in snowy areas they usually signal the end of carpeting snowfalls. What is really strange is how quickly these much less hardy plants have jumped out of the ground:

These are the relatively delicate leaves of Lords-and-Ladies, aka Cuckoo-pint, aka Arum Lily (Arum maculatum) which normally break out of the ground in February but don’t unfurl their leaves like this until March at the earliest, yet here they are. And here’s something more impressive:

Believe it or not, these are bluebells! I have never seen them appear out of the ground quite so early, and looking so robust. However, there are also insects astir, including this extremely early moth, the Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria):

The male is a stocky moth, shown here, and the female is wingless. This species is around from January until March, so it’s not exactly early. To make things interesting there are two varieties of this species. Both have silky ‘silver screen’ underwings.

January, outgoing

So we’ve finally reached the end of a January which was slightly wetter than most Januarys, but much more typical than December was. However, all the heavy rain of December provoked a remarkable response from the plantlife of Wicklow. Here, for example, are two photos from the 4th January, and they are quite incredible because this one is a tuft of natural Bluebells:

Yes, genuine Bluebells in early January.
Yes, genuine Bluebells in early January.

And these are the leaves of the Arum Lily, also known as Lords-andLadies or Cuckoo Pint, Arum maculatum:

Borad fleshy leaves of the Arum Lily.
Borad fleshy leaves of the Arum Lily.

Both are spring plants, but usually they don’t begin to appear until much later in the year, in March or April. However, the weather became more cold towards mid-January, and their growth slowed. Birds began showing up in gardens looking for food, as usually happens in December, January and February. Here are a few which came to feeders in my garden:

A spectacular little Blue Tit, one of our more common species.
A spectacular little Blue Tit, one of our more common species.
A Blue Tit and a much larger Greenfinch at a peanut feeder.
A Blue Tit and a much larger Greenfinch at a peanut feeder.
Two male House Sparrows at a seed feeder. These birds have become very rare in some parts of Europe, but are an invasive species in North America. In Ireland they are perfectly at home and still doing well.
Two male House Sparrows at a seed feeder. These birds have become very rare in some parts of Europe, but are an invasive species in North America. In Ireland they are perfectly at home and still doing well.
A Robin. The European Robin is a species of Chat, whereas the American Robin is much larger and a species of Thrush. Our Robins are starting to make territorial calls and to fight - breeding season is coming.
A Robin. The European Robin is a species of Chat, whereas the American Robin is much larger and a species of Thrush. Our Robins are starting to make territorial calls and to fight – breeding season is coming.
A male Blackbird basking in the weak January sun. Blackbirds have begun to sing their territorial songs and squabbling over territories just like the Robins. This year breeding season will be early for them too.
A male Blackbird basking in the weak January sun. Blackbirds have begun to sing their territorial songs and squabbling over territories just like the Robins. This year breeding season will be early for them too.

It is definitely one of the best times of the year to birdwatch, because birds need the food we provide and the shelter or our gardens, but it is important to remember that when the weather improves that they will become lazier and more likely to be killed by both cats and Sparrowhawks if they keep attending the feeders, and they will lose some of their foraging skills. So it’s best to help them when they need help in winter, but don’t make them dependant on bird feeders.

This week spring has made a serious declaration of intent – here are three photographs I took in the last few days which prove spring has properly begun:

Proper, wild Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, blooming brightly right now.
Proper, wild Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, blooming brightly right now.
The first Crocus bloom I've spotted this year, but it was eaten by a slug yesterday, before it could open.
The first Crocus bloom I’ve spotted this year, but it was eaten by a slug yesterday, before it could open.

And finally, here is one of my favourite spring sights of all:

24584088241_3ff70c7479A female Early Thorn moth, usually appearing in mid-February, but this one seems happy enough to join the spring bandwagon. Keep an eye out for these moths when they come to windows at night. They are like a butterfly in size and pose. Absolutely beautiful. This Monday is 1 February, which means St. Brigid’s Day, the first day of the Celtic spring. This year spring wouldn’t even wait for the saint.