Tag Archives: rain

St. Brigid’s Day

Today is St. Brigid’s Day, the traditional start of the Celtic Spring, and it is very springlike by any standards. In the last few days I found Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) blooming:

32595658126_55678fc77d_zOnly three days ago I found my first Crocus blooming, although I hasten to add that this is not one of the crocuses which I normally consider as the true sign spring has begun, this one being a more recent addition to the garden, but beautiful nonetheless:

32595657066_79388c7eee_zAnd today the first Daffodil in my garden began to bloom, undoubtedly due to the long-awaited arrival of spring rain:

31842590133_32dd5c06cd_z   This winter has been as dry as last winter was wet. In fact, it has been so dry that reservoirs across Ireland have been at levels normally associated with hot summers, as so little rain has fallen. But this week, fortunately, the rain has arrived and the plants and animals have been awakened by it. The night before last I spotted a big handsome Common Frog (Rana temporaria) hopping along the path in the dead of night, under a deluge of rain. It can’t be long before they start to spawn. and many probably already have:

32595656566_172dbf7a26_zAnd early in the evening, as though to mark the occasion, we had the rare sight of the Moon and the brightly-burning planet Venus promenading across the sky with the planet Mars, a small reddish dot, almost halfway between them, which is apparently quite a rare event:

From left to right: the Moon, Mars and Venus straining to shine tonight through a murky evening sky.
From left to right: the Moon, Mars and Venus straining to shine tonight through a murky evening sky.

Finally, and most exciting of all for me, I had the good luck to spot a moth resting on a wall yesterday, and it was a species I haven’t seen before, the Mottled Grey (Colostygia multistrigaria):

32595656306_d78d226308_zThis moth normally flies in February and March, mostly in March, but the good conditions seem to have brought this one out earlier than usual. However, the moth that really is the harbinger of spring, the Early Thorn, hasn’t appeared yet. I suspect I’ll find one sooner rather than later this year.

Heavy humid July

Although we don’t have the hottest of summers we do have very humid ones, and this week even more so due to a stream of clouds coming upon us with the Jet Stream, riding over the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, bringing us cloud from the Sargasso Sea. We had a very dry spring and summer in Wicklow up until a few days ago, and the change in weather is very welcome to the plants and the insect world. It is a great time to see insects. They like it a little damp.

Sweet Pea blloming in a hedgerow. Garden flowers like these do very well when there's rain, and in turn attract insects.
Sweet Pea blloming in a hedgerow. Garden flowers like these do very well when there’s rain, and in turn attract insects.

Wicklow, like many other places around the world is going through a cycle of change due to human activity. The natural world is always in a state of flux,and always has been, but what we human beings do makes things more complicated. For example, here is one of the most common moths found in gardens throughout Wicklow:

The male Light Brown Apple Moth is the most common garden moth in Wicklow throughout June and July, and is easily disturbed in daylight.
The male Light Brown Apple Moth is the most common garden moth in Wicklow throughout June and July, and is easily disturbed in daylight.

The Light Brown Apple Moth (Epiphyas postvittana) above, is a very handsome small moth. However, it is not quite what it seems – this species only a very recent arrival in Ireland. This moth actually originates from Australia. It was first recorded in the British Isles on the island of Great Britain in 1936, and is now found pretty much everywhere on Great Britian and in eastern and southern Ireland. This just goes to show how things can change within an ecosystem very fast. And, while new species are arriving, some resident species are becoming rarer:

A Eurasian Curlew flying over, calling loudly. A sight and sound that is becoming rarer in Ireland and Europe.
A Eurasian Curlew flying over, calling loudly. A sight and sound that is becoming rarer in Ireland and Europe.

I heard this Curlew before I saw it, as it was calling loudly, piping across the sky as it flew. They are large birds and have an incredibly curved bill, as you can just make-out in the photo above. The numbers of curlew staying in Ireland to breed in summer are getting fewer and fewer due to overhunting. However, they can still be heard regularly in Wicklow, but for how long is anybody’s guess. Many come from other parts of Europe to overwinter here, creating the illusion of high numbers on the island of Ireland. They are a very rare sight in spring.

 

Sahara Dust and Irish Rain

Now that it’s Autumn Ireland is suffering some very damp weather, and Wicklow is experiencing a ‘classic’ Autumn, cold wet and muddy, but quite beautiful too. This is largely the result of two very warm and balmy summers in a row –  not in Ireland but in Africa, in the Sahara Desert. After hot summers in North Africa huge amounts of dust are blown westwards out into the Atlantic Ocean.

The direction of Saharan dust and how it travels around the Atlantic and brings heavy rain to Ireland and the rest of Europe.
The direction of Saharan dust and how it travels around the Atlantic and brings heavy rain to Ireland and the rest of Europe. Ireland is marked in red.

Some of the dust is carried northwards directly into the Bay of Biscay to the south of Ireland, but most goes to Brazil in South America and the Caribbean. Some of the dust lands on the Brazilian coast where it has been directly identified as damaging the rare coastal cloud forests. Much of it lands in the Caribbean where it sinks to the sea floor and smothers coral reefs, in some cases directly killing them.

The lighter dust that doesn’t land on the sea begins to do something quite different. At the heart of every single drop of rain lies a tiny particle of dust. Water molecules evaporating from the ocean are attracted to this dust and slowly begin to collect around it. The dust is carried from the Caribbean on the air currents that flow above the Gulf Stream, the same current that keeps our temperatures mild despite the fact that the island of Ireland lies very far north. When they arrive over Ireland’s southern coast the combination of cold land air and the fact the droplets are too heavy to stay airborne causes them to fall in torrents, sometimes causing terrible flood damage to coastal communities in the south west.

The rains of autumn are going to get worse over the years, for the simple reason that the Sahara is expanding at ‘an alarming rate’. How and why this desert originally began to form throusands of years ago is still something of a mystery, but the cause of its rapid expansion in the 20th and 21st centuries is not a mystery – UN studies have found that it is largely due to cattle-farming in sub-Saharan Africa.

Areas around water sources begin to suffer extreme climate change and erosion because grazing animals congregate within only a few hours walking-distance of them. These 10-12 km desertification circles around drinking wells were identified and termed “Piospheres” by an Australian ecologist, Dr. Robert Lange, as early as 1969. The width of these desertification circles exactly matches the distance that a bovine animal can travel in one night . The big problem now is that the population of sub-Saharan Africa has grown and led to a demand for more and more cattle, which has caused the Sahara to grow faster and faster.

So the secret to solving this problem can only be a change in farming practices, which will require a cultural change and the developments of new methods of irrigation to restore the damaged environments of sub-Saharan Africa.