Only last week the weather was improving so much, and the spring flowers all blooming so brilliantly, that it seemed spring was truly here and here to stay. I even saw my first hoverfly, which was, unusually for our spring, a Drone Fly (Eristalisspecies):
But this week everything went crazy, with the arrival of the so-called “Beast from the East”, a fierce cold weather system bringing snow and freezing temperatures to all of Europe from Siberia. Just as I was winding down using the bird-feeders in my garden they suddenly became vitally important to birds in the cold weather, and were also getting the attention of many rodents, including one particularly handsome and determined Wood Mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus). Here it is climbing out of the leaf litter next to the tree holding the feeders, just at sunset:
One night I even managed to get a video of the mouse climbing on a peanut-feeder, a tiny creature with huge eyes and ears, and a long tail:
However, there were also some less welcome visitors, such as two young Brown Rats (Rattus norvegicus), which were not quite so cute, and a lot bigger than the mouse, but equally interesting in their cheekiness:
The cold weather inspired some incredible behaviour in some of the wildlife. Probably the most amazing thing I have seen in some years was a flock of desperate crows, Rooks (Corvus frugilegus) to be exact, who were managing to take food off the carefully-designed “crow proof” small bird feeders. One of them was even hovering like a hummingbird! Watch and be amazed:
The bad weather doesn’t end there though – tonight a huge rain storm from the Bay of Biscay, Storm Emma, collides with the Beast from the East and we have a Red Weather Warning, the highest level, only used once before and, ironically, only a few months ago when Hurricane Ophelia made for the island of Ireland. This time, it’s for snow drifts. Hopefully the wildlife will not suffer too much.
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:
Of all of our months, April brings with it the most spectacular changes to the Wicklow landscape, so I’ve decided to showcase the changes so nobody can be in any doubt. This April was very sunny, dry and warm with very few ‘April showers’, until these last few days. Firstly, in the towns, villages and gardens, we had the cherry trees blossoming.
Now, under cold breezes and rain of the last few days these blossoms are beginning to fall like snow flakes. However, some are only now starting to blossom properly. However, while the streets were and are lined with these beautiful trees the surrounding Wicklow hills steadily turned bright yellow as the jungles of Furze bushes also blossomed. Their flowers filled the mountain air with the scent of vanilla. They will continue to blossom for some time, and have another less-spectacular blossoming in the summer.
Meanwhile, along the laneways and roadways of the Wicklow countryside the fleshy Alexanders have grown tall and putting a subtle fragrance on the spring air which can only be found in springtime. These plants die off in June and should be treated with respect as they are so vital to pollinating insects so early in the year.
These plants grow on the roadside verges in front of the hedges, but in the hedges the wild Blackthorn trees have their white blossoms right now. They don’t really have a scent, but the blossoms are associated with ancient pagan fertility rites, and in recent times girls making their first Holy Communions would wear little tiaras of blackthorn blossom on their heads. The blossoms are very tough compared to cherry blossoms and don’t break easily.
Behind the hedgerows, in the fields, you have a good chance of seeing the great spring blooming of dandelions. These much-maligned wildflowers (not ‘weeds’) consitute entire eco-systems in their own right, and they are also edible and considered extremely good for cleansing the liver of impurities, which is why they should be eaten in moderation. They are the favourite flowers of many bee species, particularly the tiny Nomada cuckoo bees.
And then in the gardens the orchard trees are also blossoming. The Pear trees went first, as usual, and most have already lost the blossoms, which have been shorn from the trees by rain and dispersed by wind. But this is what they looked like at their height only just over a week ago –
Finally, in many of the older gardens and escaped into nearby hedgerows, you will find dense shrubs of Flowering Currant. Every spring they turn red due to their scented hanging blossoms. These flowers are loved by almost all species of bee and hoverfly, not to mention human beings.
And that’s just the blossoms and flowers making their presence felt in April. May will bring with it a whole area of blossoming trees and wild flowers . Every tree and flower has its moment in Wicklow.