We’ve had a very cold wet autumn and now a good chilly winter has arrived. Today is Christmas Day and we had a superb bright and sunny morning due to cool, clear skies. There was a good frost this morning. Here is a video I made of bees feeding on blooming mahonia. Mostly they are the hardy White-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus lucorum, with some very big examples. This bee commonly flies in winter. But there was also one Honey Bee in there, Apis mellifera.
May is always a bit of a mixed bag. You never know quite what you’re going to get, but it’s always progressing towards the calmer months of summer. And in the natural world it’s a time of frenetic activity. This year we had May weather in April because the weather was so unusually dry for spring. First it started with early bird nesting.
But the most important aspect of the spring, apart from the weather, is the mass flowering of various plants. The most important is the spring dandelion bloom. Dandelions provide huge amounts of pollen that many insects depend on, especially our pollinators. Every conceivable species of bee, fly and many beetles depend on these flowers in the early part of spring. In May they reach a crescendo in their blooming and then rapidly seed while other spring blooms appear just in time to sustain the insect population. Here you can see dandelions and bluebells together:
The Bluebells are now mostly gone out of flower in the lowlands, but up in the highlands of Wicklow they are only coming into bloom, so if you’re looking for bluebells this late in May then you need to go upland. Tawny Mining Bees among many other species depend on these flowers. The Tawny Mining Bees are gone for this year, but you might see another pollinator about, the somewhat sinister-looking and beautiful Panzer’s Nomada (Nomada panzeri) a cuckoo-bee which parasitizes the mining bees. It is also known to have a bad sting, but this one was very calm and unthreatening:
Also, May is the time to see the Orange-tip butterfly (Anthocaris cardamines). The females are all white with very few black dots on the upper sides of their wings. The males have are identical but have stunning orange markings on the tips of their forewings.
However, from below both the male and female Orange-tip look very different to other white butterflies, having a green marbling pattern which gives them camouflage.
As the weather gets warmer more and more moths appear too, but keep a look out for caterpillars, because many of the caterpillars of moths found in Wicklow are far more spectacular looking than the adults of the same species. Here, for example, is the caterpillar of the Yellow-tail Moth (Euproctis similis). The moth is plain pale white with a bright yellow abdomen tip, but look at the gaudy colours of this caterpillar found on a Cistus bush:
Along with dandelions the other big bloomer where the bees depend on is the big spiny Gorse or Furze bush. The yellow flowers fill the air with the scent of vanilla. Unfortunately in dry conditions they are highly flammable, but now we are at last getting some decent heavy rain showers the danger is passing. Some parts of Ireland have suffered terrible Gorse Fires this year. But fortunately Wicklow has escaped the worst of it:
So we’ve finally reached the end of a January which was slightly wetter than most Januarys, but much more typical than December was. However, all the heavy rain of December provoked a remarkable response from the plantlife of Wicklow. Here, for example, are two photos from the 4th January, and they are quite incredible because this one is a tuft of natural Bluebells:
And these are the leaves of the Arum Lily, also known as Lords-andLadies or Cuckoo Pint, Arum maculatum:
Both are spring plants, but usually they don’t begin to appear until much later in the year, in March or April. However, the weather became more cold towards mid-January, and their growth slowed. Birds began showing up in gardens looking for food, as usually happens in December, January and February. Here are a few which came to feeders in my garden:
It is definitely one of the best times of the year to birdwatch, because birds need the food we provide and the shelter or our gardens, but it is important to remember that when the weather improves that they will become lazier and more likely to be killed by both cats and Sparrowhawks if they keep attending the feeders, and they will lose some of their foraging skills. So it’s best to help them when they need help in winter, but don’t make them dependant on bird feeders.
This week spring has made a serious declaration of intent – here are three photographs I took in the last few days which prove spring has properly begun:
And finally, here is one of my favourite spring sights of all:
A female Early Thorn moth, usually appearing in mid-February, but this one seems happy enough to join the spring bandwagon. Keep an eye out for these moths when they come to windows at night. They are like a butterfly in size and pose. Absolutely beautiful. This Monday is 1 February, which means St. Brigid’s Day, the first day of the Celtic spring. This year spring wouldn’t even wait for the saint.