Tag Archives: observation

Daffodils! Already?

Incredibly, yes. Yesterday (December 28) I found quite a few daffodil leaves had already burst through the soil, something which I’ve never seen before so early in Wicklow. These are not special early-flowering daffodils either, just regular ones that appear every year in the same place. Usually they would be very early if the appeared like this by the second week of January.

Daffodils are making a very early appearance this winter.
Daffodils are making a very early appearance this winter.

Last year was a much warmer December and they still didn’t put in an appearance so early. It’s fascinating to consider what the trigger mechanism for this growth is, but it’s definitely not temperature. Perhaps after millions of years of evolution these bulbs are hard-wired to recognise subtle changes in conditions that suit their growth, of which we are almost entirely ignorant. But they are not alone – I’ve heard reports of wild Primroses blooming in fields in Wexford since late November, and here are still more Buebells rising above the ground early –

Bluebells rising in another area. Do they know something we don't?
Bluebells rising in another area. Do they know something we don’t?

Probably most incredible of all are the wild Lords-and-Ladies arum lilies, the leaves of which can be seen well above ground in many places, still furled like fleshy green flags. However, I haven’t spotted my old reliables yet – Early Crocuses, which my own studies suggest are the most accurate indicators of the arrival of spring. There is still a lot we have to learn about the natural world, but one thing is for certain, the temperature outside tonight is – 1 degree Celsius and there’s a strong frost which has made lawns crunchy under foot.

National Biodiversity Week and some nice surprises

I know people might be wondering, “where the hell has he gone without a word about Biodiversity Week?”. Yes, it is late in the day, but unfortunately for me Biodiversity Week coincided with a heavy week of non-biodiversity related chores, and only today am I free to write and enjoy it all. Remember, the week is only designed to get you interested in biodiversity, so if you are already reading this, then it’s a case of “mission accomplished”. Also, a number of people have been in touch and I have yet to respond, so please don’t be offended if you have not heard back yet, your messages are not being ignored, and I am delighted to receive them. First things first, I received a lovely message from Ruth Finnerty to say she had found a Cockchafer beetle in her living room and had been able to identify it using this website, which is terrific news for me, because that’s what the website is for. Thank you, Ruth! Cockchafers are on the wing now in the warmish evenings, and this year they really live up to their alternative name of “Maybug”.

A male Cockchafer beetle, which can be told apart form the female by its cock's comb-like antennae. They are quite big beetles, and slow-moving and clumsy when walking, or fliying for that matter. Because they usually show up in May, they are traditionally know as "Maybugs".
A male Cockchafer beetle, which can be told apart form the female by its cock’s comb-like antennae. They are quite big beetles, and slow-moving and clumsy when walking, or fliying for that matter. Because they usually show up in May, they are traditionally know as “Maybugs”.

According to the famous 19th century French naturalist, Jean-Henri Fabre, people would use the grubs to cure toothaches. If anybody tries this remedy, please let me know the results.

Evening time is the best to see Cockchafers as they blunder into lights and windows. However, there are other remarkable creatures out there. Look on the flowers for some real wonders. In the photo below you can get some idea of how tricky it can be, and how observant you need to be. Can you see the two spiders in the photo below. If you can only see one, then you need to know that the other is much bigger.

The male and female Misumena vatia,  or Flower Crab Spider. The female is much larger than her mate, and brilliantly camouflaged, capable of changing colour to some degree, to blend in with backgrounds. The male is actually camouflaged to look like bird dung.
The male and female Misumena vatia, or Flower Crab Spider. The female is much larger than her mate, and brilliantly camouflaged, capable of changing colour to some degree, to blend in with backgrounds. The male is actually camouflaged to look like bird dung.

On this occasion I was fortunate enough to see them mate, which involved the male climbing down behind the female’s bulbous abdomen and putting his sperm directly into her reproductive orifice with his palps, the little claw-like, antennae like structures beside his head. He has to be careful because she will eat him if she can. But there are much smaller creatures that are just as interesting, and I urge you to look at your flowers very carefully to see some very important little insects, pollinating beetles to be exact.

A tiny weevil, essential for the pollination of many plant species. These funny little insects are known as Pea Weevils, and they will run away and hide once they feel they have been spotted.
A tiny weevil, essential for the pollination of many plant species. These funny little insects are known as Pea Weevils, and they will run away and hide once they feel they have been spotted. This is a potentilla flower, from the same shrub that the spiders above were photographed in.

 

One to watch out for – the Treecreeper

This is an excellent time of year to spot Treecreepers. The Treecreeper is a bird about the size of a sparrow, with excellently camouflaged brown feathers with a bright white belly, that makes it look like a broken piece of timber. This is a good look to have, as the Treecreeper, like its name suggests, lands on the bottom trunks of trees and crawls slowly up the bark looking for tiny insects hiding in little gaps and recesses in the bark. In order to get these little creatures it has an incredible beak, which is shaped like a curved tweezers, or needle-nose pliers. This is a common and widespread bird in Wicklow, but one of the least seen, and probably the least photographed because it moves unnoticed in the shade of trees. The photo below was taken by me two days ago, but it’s not great due to the low light. But you can perfectly see the strange beak of this remarkable, little known bird.

Treecreeper - Certhia familiaris - doing what it does best. Look out for these birds on tree trunks throughout Wicklow. Hard to spot, and hard to notice too, even when you're looking at them.