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Flowers and the Dawn Chorus – Spring is Here!

It was in the last days of January the crocuses began to spring up. They didn’t open though, remaining spear-like flowerbuds. And then last Saturday some opened slightly and briefly, and then shut again due to the cold. There is one group of Early Crocuses which have always grown in my garden which I consider the markers of true spring, when snow simply will not sit on the ground anymore even if it does fall. These crocuses finally opened today after a night of rain.

Early Crocuses open and declare the spring.
Early Crocuses open and declare the spring. As you can see the shadows are stil long under the winter sun.
Crocuses are robust little flowers until they open, at which time they become as delicate as tissue paper. They are surreal against what had been a winter landscape.
This one is a different crocus, a hortiucultural variety, but still beautiful. Crocuses are robust little flowers until they open, at which time they become as delicate as tissue paper. Their gaudy colours are surreal against what had been a winter landscape.

Flowers begin the spring because they provide pollen and nectar for insects to feed on. The more flowers there are, the more insects there are, and the more larger animals have to feed on. Of course, the slightly warmer temperatures also cause grubs to transform into beetles, and here is one of the first I’ve seen this year, Aphodius prodromus, a type of tiny dung beetle which breeds in horse-manure. There just happens to be a field full of horses nearby.

This little beetle had evidently flown across the garden before crash-landing in a puddle of water - a lucky escape. They are stong fliers but clumsy too.
This little dung beetle had evidently flown across the garden before crash-landing in a puddle of water -from which it had a lucky escape with my help. They are stong fliers but clumsy too.

Wicklow was very dry this winter, with little or no rainfall for almost a month up until two days ago. The result has been an almost magical opening of flowers, including one unexpected little beauty, and one of the most important wild flowers of the spring – Lesser Celandine.

This specimen of Lesser Celandine has nine petals, but they can have as few as six. The plant is a member of the buttercup family, and so many bloom they can turn whole areas yellow. Insects absolutely thrive on their flowers, particularly hoverflies.
This specimen of Lesser Celandine has nine petals, but they can have as few as six. The plant is a member of the buttercup family, and so many bloom they can turn whole areas yellow. Insects absolutely thrive on their flowers, particularly hoverflies. For now this one stands alone.

At seven this morning, in the damp twilight, the dawn chorus began. Birds of many species began singing loudly and melodiously and were perfectly audible indoors. The chorus lasted about half-an-hour and it is the first time I’ve heard it this year. Dawn is still quite late, but gradually the mornings will lengthen and become earlier and the dawn choruses will grow longer and longer. However, the breeding season has begun and spring is most definitely here.

Daffodils! Already?

Incredibly, yes. Yesterday (December 28) I found quite a few daffodil leaves had already burst through the soil, something which I’ve never seen before so early in Wicklow. These are not special early-flowering daffodils either, just regular ones that appear every year in the same place. Usually they would be very early if the appeared like this by the second week of January.

Daffodils are making a very early appearance this winter.
Daffodils are making a very early appearance this winter.

Last year was a much warmer December and they still didn’t put in an appearance so early. It’s fascinating to consider what the trigger mechanism for this growth is, but it’s definitely not temperature. Perhaps after millions of years of evolution these bulbs are hard-wired to recognise subtle changes in conditions that suit their growth, of which we are almost entirely ignorant. But they are not alone – I’ve heard reports of wild Primroses blooming in fields in Wexford since late November, and here are still more Buebells rising above the ground early –

Bluebells rising in another area. Do they know something we don't?
Bluebells rising in another area. Do they know something we don’t?

Probably most incredible of all are the wild Lords-and-Ladies arum lilies, the leaves of which can be seen well above ground in many places, still furled like fleshy green flags. However, I haven’t spotted my old reliables yet – Early Crocuses, which my own studies suggest are the most accurate indicators of the arrival of spring. There is still a lot we have to learn about the natural world, but one thing is for certain, the temperature outside tonight is – 1 degree Celsius and there’s a strong frost which has made lawns crunchy under foot.