Tag Archives: scent

The Great May Adventure

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.

A handsome Wood Pigeon in breeding colours carrying a large twig to its nest.
A Jackdaw carrying nesting material to a disused chimney where it has a nest.
A Robin carrying spider prey back to its nest, which is hidden in the hedge. It watched to make sure I had moved on before entering the nest and giving the location away.

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.

The female Orange-tip looks pretty much like other species of white butterfly when seen from above, although she does have silvery-black forewing tips.
The male Orange-tip is very distinctive despite being fast-moving and rarely sitting still.

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.

The marbling pattern on the underside of both the male and female’s wings can be seen when the butterfly is at rest.

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:

The hairs of this caterpillar are a defence against predators and can cause irritation rashes 0n the skin of some people.

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:

Spring Along The Cliffs

Last week I walked the Cliff Walk between Bray and Greystones and discovered that already many seabirds had arrived to begin the breeding season. Kittiwakes were on the cliffs closest to the sea surface and Fulmars had arrived in from the ocean to find nesting sites below and even above the pathway. However, I was most impressed by the Razorbills, which were fishing below the cliffs, moving in formation.

Razorbills enjoying the sunshine below the cliffs of Bray Head.
Razorbills enjoying the sunshine below the cliffs of Bray Head.

These birds look just like penguins, but are decent fliers too. In fact, they are closely-related to the original penguin, the Great Auk. which went extinct in the middle of the 19th century. As I proceeded along the path a seal moved along the cliffs at almost exactly the same rate, and appeared to be waiting, and would then mischievously dive beneath the waves when I attempted to take a photo. From the distance it appeared to me to be a Harbour Seal but it can be hard to tell.

The seal which followed my journey along the cliffs. It's nose is quite blunt which means it's almost certainly a Harbour Seal, aka Common Seal. Ironically they're not as common as the larger Grey Seal.
The seal which followed my journey along the cliffs. It’s nose is quite blunt which means it’s almost certainly a Harbour Seal, aka Common Seal. Ironically they’re not as common as the larger Grey Seal.

The pathway was decorated by the white blossoms of Blackthorn trees and it is a great place to get close enough to the spiky Gorse bushes which are covered in bright yellow and beautiful blossoms. These blossoms have a subtle but quite strong scent. There’s something nostaligic about it and it fills the air along the path right now.

Gorse (aka Furze) blooming by the pathway on Bray Head. Spring is the time of the big blooming.
Gorse (aka Furze) blooming by the pathway on Bray Head. Spring is the time of the big blooming.