April 18, 2014

Earthly Delights in the Wicklow Garden

This year Wicklow is enjoying an incredible spring, and this Easter is one of the best we’ve ever had. The butterflies have arrived in great numbers and among them spectacular beauties like the Peacock.

The first Peacock of the year, sunning itself on some boards.

The first Peacock of the year, sunning itself on some boards.

And this truly is the ‘Spring of the Ladybirds’ as they are absolutely everywhere. The Seven-spot Ladybirds are the most numerous but also look for the tiny orangish-coloured 14-spot Ladybirds.

A load of Seven-spot Ladybirds sunning themselves on a box tree. Two of them are having a bit more fun than the rest, and a small wolf spider is sharing the basking spot.

A load of Seven-spot Ladybirds sunning themselves on a box tree. Two of them are having a bit more fun than the rest, and a small wolf spider is sharing the basking spot.

Slightly less commonly noticed, but probably just as widespread are the Tawny Mining Bees. These lovely bees make volcano-like mounds at the tops of burrows in which they lay their eggs. They are solitary bees, not living in large nests, although it is possible to see numbers of them sharing areas of the garden.These bees only show up for a few weeks in spring, usually in April, and they then fill in their burrows and the adults die while the young spend almost a year of their lives underground in the tunnels. The mounds disappear too, as the bees use the soil to seal the nests shut. When the grubs reach adulthood they will dig themselves free next spring and build their own nests.

A female Tawny Mining Bee on the mound at the mouth of her mine.

A female Tawny Mining Bee on the mound at the mouth of her mine.

 

April 2, 2014

Spring Flowers

We have some April showers at the moment, but since the Equinox on the 21 March the days have been pretty nice and warming up well. Spring moves from the ground upwards into the canopies of the trees, so that the undergrowth blooms earliest and then the insects begin appearing, feeding on the nectar and pollen that is available.

The Early Dog Violet - Viola reichbachiana - one of the earliest flowering spring plants.

The Early Dog Violet – Viola reichbachiana – one of the earliest flowering spring plants in Wicklow.

Primroses - Primula vulgaris - blooming. These are among the most hardy spring flowers, sometimes blooming beneath snow. There was no snow this year, thankfully.

Primroses – Primula vulgaris – blooming. These are among the most hardy spring flowers, sometimes blooming beneath snow. There was no snow this year, thankfully.

Keep an eye out on the flowers for the insects, especially different species of bees. Spring is the time of the Mining Bees, and there are a number of different species, but the most commonly seen in Wicklow is probably the Mining Bee - Andrena haemorrhoa.

A female Andrena haemorrhoa Mining Bee feeding on Lesser Celandine, one of the most beautiful spring flowers, which will continue to flower well into Autumn.

A female Andrena haemorrhoa Mining Bee feeding on Lesser Celandine, one of the most beautiful spring flowers, which will continue to flower well into Autumn. She collects pollen on special hairs on her rear legs, which gives them a yellow colour.

At this time of year the larger trees and bushes begin to blossom and their fragrances are now beginning to fill the air, and they contribute very much to the distinctive fragrance of the spring air. One of the most impressive of these bushes is the Flowering Currant - Ribes sanguineum - which is found throughout Wicklow in lowland areas and has beautiful flowing tresses of pink flowers.

Flowering Currant as you will see it at the moment along hedgerows and even riverbanks. Unfortunately I cannot reproduce the scent for you via the internet, but one day it may be possible, and that will be quite an adventure,

Flowering Currant as you will see it at the moment along hedgerows and even riverbanks. Unfortunately I cannot reproduce the scent for you via the internet, but one day it may be possible, and that will be quite an adventure.

Now that there is nectar to be had, keep an eye out for moths at the windows at night time. More and more are showing up, day-by-day, and one of the most common is the Hebrew Character – Orthosia gothica.

A Hebrew Character moth on a night time wall.

A Hebrew Character moth on a night time wall.

 

March 11, 2014

The Little Things Of Life

Spring is now gathering pace, and the days have grown to be almost as long as the nights. This week the Azores High has arrived over Ireland, bringing us clear skies – gorgeous warmish sunny days and frosty nights. But the warm days have caused insects to appear and there is a population explosion of Seven-spot Ladybirds (Coccinella septempunctata). They can be seen basking on trees, shrubs and walls all across Wicklow right now.

A Seven-spot Ladybird basking on Vinca. These predatory beetles also like to gorge on pollen when it's available. They are larger than most other Irish ladybird species.

A Seven-spot Ladybird basking on Vinca. These predatory beetles also like to gorge on pollen when it’s available. They are larger than most other Irish ladybird species.

ANot quite so noticeable as these bright red ladybirds, but almost as numerous, are Green Shieldbugs (Palomena pristina) which have truly awesome camouflage. In summer they are bright green, but in winter become dead-leaf brown. Most are still that colour right now, but will soon become brighter.

A not so green Green Shieldbug sunbathing on the edge of a plant container. In another few weeks this one will be bright leaf green, provided it lives that long. These insects have excellent defences so there's a good chance it will live for a good long time.

A not so green Green Shieldbug sunbathing on the edge of a plant container. In another few weeks this one will be bright leaf green, provided it lives that long. These insects have excellent defences so there’s a good chance it will live for a good long time.

One especially interesting insect I’ve seen this week is a type of moth, the Dotted Border (Agriopis marginaria) is a little bit smaller than a butterfly, and very similar in appearance. It is a late-winter/early-spring species and so you have only a few more weeks to see them this year, if even that much. They readily come to light. The one I photographed is a male, and this is easy to tell because of the typical feathered antennae, but also because the female of the species has only stubs for wings, and must walk about on foliage wafting pheremones on the air so that she can be found by the male. Keep an eye around window frames for these guys.

Dotted Borders are quite drab-looking but have a distinctive row of dots along the edges of their wings. Males come to windows by night, attracted to the light, apparently due to a chemical emitted by lightbulbs which is very similar to the pheremone emitted by the female as an attractant.

Dotted Borders are quite drab-looking but have a distinctive row of dots along the edges of their wings. Males come to windows by night, attracted to the light, apparently due to a chemical emitted by lightbulbs which is very similar to the pheremone emitted by the female as an attractant.

 

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