Tag Archives: Pisaura mirabilis

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.

The March of Early Spring

Forgive the title pun, but this year it really has felt as though March began the spring properly. With just one hour to 1 March I spotted my first moth of the year by the rear window, a Dotted Border (Agriopis marginaria), a species which can be easily identified by the row of minute dots along the edges of its wings.

A Dotted Border moth.
A Dotted Border moth. Note the tiny dots along the wing edges.

The Dotted Border is an early spring moth, flying from February until April.

In the last few days I have seen quite a few bees around, mainly big queen Buff-tailed Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) and so far one male of the species sunning itself on an old white-painted board.

The male Buff-tailed Bumblebee is very similar to the female but far smaller. She is immense.
The male Buff-tailed Bumblebee is very similar to the female but far smaller. She, by contrast, is immense, almost thumb-sized.

Last year’s Buff-tailed BumblebeesĀ  were still around in late December and early January, collecting pollen from flowering exotic garden shrubs such as Mahonia. The bees then disappeared for the two months of the coldest part of winter and are now re-emerging to start new colonies. Buff-tailed Bumblebees areĀ  not the only ones around, I was very surprised to find a handsome queen Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum) two days ago, drowsily collecting pollen from the newly blooming dandelions.

A Common Carder Bee from the side. These bees normally don't show up until very late March or early April, and even stranger is that this has been a colder year than last year by a long way.
A Common Carder Bee on dandelion. These bees normally don’t show up until very late March or early April, and even stranger is that this has been a colder year than last year by a long way.

Like the bees the birds have already begun their spring activities too. I was very impressed by the display a Magpie was putting on for his intended, flying high into the air and hovering like a kite before dropping suddenly and swooping to where she was perched at the top of a huge Ash tree.

A male Magpie displaying to a female as part of a courtship ritual.
A male Magpie displaying to a female as part of a courtship ritual.They are certainly very beautiful birds.

I was also delighted to observe some other creatures enjoying the recent sun, such as this very distinctive spider, the Nursery-web Spider (Pisaura mirabilis) which almost always rests in a pose similar to Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Universal Man’.

Nursery-web Spiders love to sunbathe. They don't make webs to hunt with, only for protecting their young, and only in late spring.
Nursery-web Spiders love to sunbathe. They don’t make webs to hunt with, only for protecting their young, and only in late spring. They are a medium-sized spider.

I saw all of these creatures in the last few days, but today alone (the best spring day so far) I saw even more spring wildlife, and I will post those images later tonight.