Scarcely a week has passed since we had our unexpected snow storm, but at last true spring has begun, and here is a little video I made of the transition, and the exciting arrival of a Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris), a small bird which creeps up walls and tree trunks feeding on insects and spiders as it goes. And then a very exciting scene which proves spring is, at last, definitely here:
However, not only have birds been collecting nesting materials, but finally frogspawn appeared in my garden pond, and lots of it:
This is the spawn of the Common Frog, Rana temporaria. For those of you who are wondering what the green on the pond is, it is actually tiny leaves of Duckweed, a plant which exists only as a leaf, and which reproduces by cell division – one leaf turns into two, two into four, four into eight, eight into sixteen. And that is how it forms carpets of green on ponds.
Wicklow had a very lucky escape when Ophelia struck Ireland yesterday. All across the county there were trees down, and almost everybody lost their electricity at some point. However, three people lost their lives directly due to the storm and my thoughts are definitely with their families, and considering how many people are trapped in rural areas of Ireland without electricity, water and possibly with no means of communication, then this death toll could very easily rise. So, if you are in one of those areas and happen to read this on your mobile phone, do check on people in your area. Elderly or disabled people in particular might not be able to draw attention to their predicament. And beware of broken trees and powerlines.
As Hurricane Ophelia began to move towards Ireland late last week and over the weekend the weather became both very overcast and unseasonably warm. On Friday night temperatures were 17 or 18 degrees Celsius (65 or 66 degrees Fahrenheit), depending on where you were. These night-time temperatures would be far more normal in a balmier Irish summer, but were very much out of place and unpleasant in mid-October. On Saturday night misty drizzle began and extended into Sunday, and as a result frogs could be found hopping along footpaths or outside the doors of houses, just like this camera-shy one I came across:
Met Eireann, the meteorological service (weather forecasters) for Ireland had predicted that the structure of Hurricane Ophelia would change before it struck Ireland. It had been a Catergory 2 hurricane when it began moving north from the coast of West Africa, but nobody expected it to increase to a Category 3 hurricane (there are only five categories) or remain that for so long. It was only about 500 kilometres south of Ireland when it finally began to change shape and turn into a sub-tropical cyclone, but it had lost none of its energy as it struck the island. Just before this happened there was a sudden and mysterious abundance of moths coming to windows. Only a few hours before the winds arrived I saw this beautiful Angle-Shades (Phlogophora meticulosa) perched on the wall by the back door light:
I had expected there to be a sudden rush of large House Spiders towards the house just prior to the storm, and during, but this never occurred and it seems the spider season has already come to an end this year. Some people will undoubtedly be happy to hear that. It’s possible that the frogs and birds consumed many of these spiders . There were birds hiding from the storm in sheds and outhouses, and even disused chimneys. Most small birds will eat spiders, and frogs certainly take them if they come across any.
With all of our incredible technology it is very easy to forget how fragile we are. We take electricity for granted, and not having any for any length of time is a shock to the system, especially in darker times of the year. To makes matters worse, many parts of Ireland require electricity to pump tap water and sewage systems, yet don’t have generators available to back up these systems. When a storm like Ophelia occurs we get an unpleasant reminder that mankind does not rule the natural world, but is itself ruled by nature.
Fortunately today was dry and sunny almost everywhere, and it was so calm that it was hard to imagine how dangerous things were yesterday. In fact, I was astonished to see a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) butterfly flying about in the warm sunlight this afternoon, even though it was only 14 degrees Celsius in the shade. I managed to get a decent photo as it sunbathed on ivy.
And there was a very beautiful sunset tonight, but it is now much colder than it was before the tropical air of the hurricane came our way, and tonight we are to have proper October temperatures, or maybe even temperatures more like December. Many trees still have their leaves. Many, of course, don’t. Without their shelter winter will probably come early this year.
August is often a damp and humid month, but it is also usually very consistent, and arguably the most pleasant of the summer months in Wicklow. Perhaps it is because we know another summer is slowly drawing to an end and try to appreciate every moment more knowing Autumn and Winter lie ahead wth their long nights. If you look in long grass around meadows you will now find tiny Common Frogs (Rana temporaria) which were tadpoles earlier in the year. And they really are tiny as you can see by this one which actually hopped onto my hand while I was sitting on a lawn:
We have only one species of frog in Ireland, and it is so important to our economy that it is protected by law at every stage of development. It is illegal to collect frogspawn, catch frogs, or even handle them without a licence. Of course, for practical reasons these creatures do sometimes have to be manhandled to get them out of harm’s way. The reason frogs are so important to Ireland is because of their voracious eating of agricultural pests. And speaking of pests, August is considerably more pleasant than July because the blood-sucking biting flies have greatly diminished in numbers after their population explosion. The Cleg Fly (Haematopota pluvialis) pictured, (our most common Horse Fly) attacked me last week and I just managed to swat it away. I looked for it for five minutes fearing it was still waiting to launch another attack when I suddenly noticed it had been caught by a spider. The spider is at the very rear of the fly and is much smaller. Note the enormous skin-puncturing awl-like beak under the Cleg Fly’s remarkably patterned eyes.
However, August is a sad time too, because one of our summer migrating birds leaves for Africa. The Swift (Apus apus) is quite a bit larger than the Swallow, House Martin or Sand Martin and has much longer wings. It can best be described as a flying crescent. Swifts look black but are actually a very dark, chocolatey brown. Keep your eyes open and you might see one or more stragglers flying with the Swallows. They are difficult to photograph compared with Swallows or House Martins, but they look almost the same close up as they do from a distance due to their dark colouration.