As many people undoubtedly know, Ireland has very strange weather even at the best of times. Winter snows rarely last more than a week or two if they come at all, and summers can be incredibly variable. The Irish climate can best be described as mercurial, but for the most part it is consistently mild. Last week and the week before it we had some bouts of very warm weather with temperatures reaching 17 degrees Celsius on Halloween itself, largely due to a warm tropical wind from the south.
This wind had control of the temperatures earlier in the week too, and prevented many migrants from flying south. Most notably Scandinavian Swallows and House Martins were forced east to forage in our warmer climes and I was amazed to be photoographing them in large numbers swooping overhead, although my shots were not great in the autumn light, nevertheless you can see them here.
And equally astounding have been the sightings of Red Admiral butterflies feeding on late-flowering buddleia bushes. But I have seen these butterflies in November in other years, prior to cold snaps.
They are now known to hibernate in Europe if the occasion demands it. There is even some evidence these migrants have successfully bred here in milder winters. However, temperatures have already dropped within the last few days and the skies already belong to the talkative Starlings who are amassing in huge numbers and flying in great ‘murmurations’ in a display of incredible aerial agility. They are lovely birds, and they enjoy the sun when they can get it in Wicklow winters.
Traditionally yesterday, November 1st – All Saints Day, marked the beginning of the Celtic Winter, which ends on St. Brigid’s Day – February 1st. However, from a practical point of view this time of year is deep Autumn.
Yes, it’s hard to imagine, but we really are having a balmy January in Wicklow. It’s dry, semi-cloudy, bright and sunny (or moonlit if after dark) and the days are getting noticeably longer, although they are not long by any stretch of the imagination. But it feels wonderful, there’s something very positive and spring-like in the air. And the plants and animals are feeling it too.
Just to show how warm it is, there are slugs to be found, glistening beautifully as they attempt to raid cat food from bowls or just cruising along exploring. Even a hint of frost will cause these creatures to hide, but this year they are very happy with the conditions.
Under the eaves of house and sheds you can find spiders, mostly the usual suspects: Zygiella x-notata (the so-called Missing-section Orb-weaver), and the much larger Steatoda nobilis False Widow. However, there is a beautiful and extremely exotic-looking spider you might also find, another species of orb-weaver (building the classic spider-web design), Araneus marmoreus, one of the most variable species of spider, no two specimens having the exaqct same markings. The one in the photo is a common variety in Wicklow, having a remarkable gold stripe down its back.