Tag Archives: nectar

Heritage Week and Butterflies

From the beginning of this weekend until the end of the next weekend is Heritage Week here in Ireland, so there is plenty on. The emphasis is often a little too much on cultural heritage, so make sure you experience some natural heritage yourself. This month is a great time to see nature, and at the moment butterflies are putting on magnificent displays in the gardens all around Wicklow. To help beginners with identifications and to showcase the creatures themselves, here’s a little video showing you just what’s out there, or even in your garden:

A sinister-looking fly

A number of people have asked me about a sinister-looking fly with a big pointy beak on its head, which they have been seeing around their gardens lately. Many people are wondering if these are the horse-flies I was alluding to in an earlier instalment. You’ll be glad to know you are perfectly safe, as this is actually Rhyngia campestris, known to its friends as the Beaked Hover Fly. The photos below are very close up, so the insect looks much bigger than it appears in real life, but imagine it to be roughly the size of the more troublesome House Fly.

The Beaked Hover Fly. Here you can see it has a lower 'jaw' which opens beneath the beak to release a very long proboscis which it uses to feed on nectar.
The Beaked Hover Fly feeding on viola nectar. Here you can see it has a lower ‘jaw’ which opens beneath the beak to release a very long proboscis which it uses to feed on nectar.

Beaked Hover Flies are especially fond of violets, violas and pansies, and their extremely long probosces seem to have evolved to feed on these kinds of flowers. But they like Russian Comfrey and Wild Mustard too.

When seen from above the extraorinary length of the proboscis is easy to see. In this case feeding on a viola.
When seen from above the extraorinary length of the proboscis is easy to recognise. In this case the fly is feeding on a viola.

Anyhow, there is absolutely nothing to fear from this harmless nectar-feeder. It’s a vitally important pollinator of our plants, and our very lives depend on the existence of these creatures and their relatives. It may not be particularly colourful (it looks like beautiful amber to me), but it does have a lovely beak.


The Earliest Spring Ever!

Last night we had a severe frost in Wicklow, but it seems the plants have decided, for whatever reason, that spring is here to stay. I have never seen anything quite like it. On New Year’s Day I found Bluebells throwing the leaf-litter off and raising their juicy leaves to the sun.

Bluebell leaves …on New Years Day!

And not only were the daffodils up, but irises had poked their blade-like leaves through the soil, and the crocuses were not only well up above ground but some now have flowers on the verge of opening.

A crocus about to blossom, as I photographed it yesterday.

Okay, so maybe you’re thinking these impetuous plants are mistaken: crocuses can sometimes bloom in the snow, as can primroses, and daffodils often make mistakes. Fair enough arguments, but have you ever seen cherry blossom in January? There are certain October-flowering Cherry trees, but not January ones, and the pair of cherries growing out front of the church (opposite the petrol station) in Newcastle village would seem to me to be the typical spring variety. True, they are in sunny areas, but covered in blossoms and being attended by big Bumble Bees. Incredible!


One of the blossoming cherries outside the church on Newcastle main street.
A close-up of the beautiful blossoms, with bees in there somewhere.

According to the weather forecasters we are in for another week of cold frosty nights and mostly clear sunny days, so winter is certainly not done with us yet. But spring is here, whatever the weather. And just to end, keep an eye out for the beautiful feather-duster like, aniseed-scented blooms of the Winter Heliotrope. They are in abundance this year, and they have to be as there is so much competition.

Winter Heliotrope flies the flag for winter, while it still can.

And after a great 2012, with the massive successes of Wicklow boxer Katie Taylor and cross-country runner Fionnuala Britton, it seems the very landscape itself has decided to throw a celebratory party. 2013 is off to an awesome start.