Tag Archives: Spring

April Transformation

We had a very cold and somewhat wet March, and April has been somewhat similar, bright and sunny but often windy and chilly at the very same time. However, a huge change is underway and spring is unfolding by the day and the hour. Only a few days ago I was delighted to see a queen Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum) sunbathing on some bare ground among the violets.

A furry queen Carder Bee, which usually appears later in spring than the much larger Buff-tailed Bumblebee queens. This is very much the spring bumblebee.
A furry queen Carder Bee, which usually appears later in spring than the much larger Buff-tailed Bumblebee queens. This is very much the spring bumblebee.

Particularly delightful is the sight of Tawny Mining Bees (Andrena fulva) on the wing.  Usually males appear first, but this year I spotted a big furry female days before the first male. This is officially our rarest species of solitary bee, and as a result the National Biodiversity Data Centre are looking for recorded sightings from the public.  Here is a link to the record sheet, which is easy to follow and make submissions on: http://records.biodiversityireland.ie/submit_records.php?fk=SolitaryBeesStandard&caching=cache

And here is a photo I got two days ago of a female Tawny Mining Bee:

25689979503_90c1d788e2And here is a photo of a male Tawny Mining Bee from the same day:

The male Tawny Mining Bee has a distinctive white 'beard'.
The male Tawny Mining Bee has a distinctive white ‘beard’.

There is a similar but smaller species of mining bee also appearing right now, the Early Mining Bee (Andrena haemorrhoa). The males are very similar to the Tawny Mining Bee males, but much smaller and lack the white beard. The female is very beautiful, and here is a photo of a female from the same day as the Tawny Mining Bee photos:

A pretty female Early Mining Bee. She is much smaller then the female Tawny Mining Bee, and about the size of a male of that species.
A pretty female Early Mining Bee. She is much smaller then the female Tawny Mining Bee, and about the size of a male of that species.

Also buzzing around the lawn, feeding on dandelion flowerheads is a small and somewhat sinister-looking wasp. This is in fact yet another bee, but for the mining bees it is indeed sinister, as it’s a parasitic bee which lays its eggs in the nests of mining bees, its grubs killing and eating the mining bee grubs. This particular species of cuckoo bee is Panzer’s Nomada (Nomada panzeri):

Panzer's Nomada
Panzer’s Nomada. There are many similar Nomada Bee species.

But it hasn’t all been bees. Despite the cold some sunny days have warmed up sheltered areas enough for migrating butterfly species to begin flying about. So far I have only seen two butterfly species, and this one is the second, a Peacock (Inachis io):


The Vernal Equinox

At 4.30 GMT (Ireland is in the same timezone as Greenwich) this morning we reached the exact halfway point between the Winter Solstice just past, and the approaching Summer Solstice. Today the night and day were of equal length, which is where the term ‘equinox” derives, night and day being equal in length. We are now in the Great Northern Summer, when each day is longer than each night. And it was a lovely sunny day here in Wicklow too, a change from the cloudy days of the last week. And it does look like proper spring. Here are some of the delights I’ve encountered:

25239549894_7ba8a50e3fAbove is the amazing broad green on the way into Greystones from the south (Charlesland) side. Every year it is gold from the flowers of thousands of cultivated daffodils. You still have time to see this, but soon the flowers will begin to wilt, so don’t wait too long.

Yesterday I found two different moth species under the light by the back door, firstly the beautiful little Double-striped Pug (Gymnoscelis rufifasciata):

25617928750_3057233c0cAnd secondly, the slightly larger and longer Diurnea fagella, which badly needs a common name:

25285794564_6741eee9beTwo heralds of warmer weather. And now, with midnight approaching, I must go.

Spring: at last

It has been a whole month-and-a-half since I wrote the last instalment of this blog. Why? Because Spring stopped. Yes, it seems incredible, but even though crocuses came up out of the ground it became too cold for them to unfurl, until last week when suddenly spring began properly. And here they are as you can still see them:

25543338410_2066360d21Although this winter just gone has been by no means our coldest, it was by far wettest. Normally, even in cold years there are some warm and sunny winter days, but not this year. It just didn’t happen. Almost everyday was consistently cloudy and almost every day up until a few weeks ago, there was rain. So temperatures never rose over 10 Celsius. The frogspawn which appeared early froze solid. The female Early Thorn moth very likely died without mating, having woken too early. Here is a male I photographed only yesterday, six weeks later in the spring:

25539482190_42480ee7acFor all that time the Lesser Celandine managed a small number of flowers, since the sun and warmer temperatures which arrived late last week, they a erupting with blooms:

25209652354_7d7c61c668Flowers are vital because so many small creatures depend on their pollen and nectar for food, and in turn so many larger creatures depend on those insects for food, and so on and so forth. It really has been a tough winter, but at last spring is doing what it should do. If you look carefully at trees and bushes around Wicklow which have managed to keep their foliage you will see Green Shieldbugs (Palomena prasina) sunbathing on them. In winter they turn brown to match brown foliage and dried leaves. Most of the year they are shiny green. Here’s one changing from brown to green, but some have already done so:

25840182115_4e1fc8e856Because they are herbivorous sap-feeding insects shieldbugs can survive throughout the year on shrubs, but other insects need to eat small insects which only thrive when plants do, and pollen. Seven-spot Ladybirds in particular await spring blooms so they can feed on pollen, but at this time of the year they are mostly sunbathing, to warm themselves up after a period of partial hibernation:

25719231192_aa3a2384cdAt this time of year you will very likely see large queen bumblebees flying around, collecting pollen from flowers, but many people also tell me they see a lot of honeybees. However, in most cases what they are actually seeing are Drone Flies, large hoverflies which pupate over winter, having spent their young lives as aquatic maggots living in stagnant pools. However, we depend heavily on them to pollinate our flowering plants:

25719232592_70b173ac0bAnd, once you’ve got flies going about, it’s only a matter of time before you see spiders, which generally lie low in winter due to the lack of insect prey. Here is a handsome little one I spotted a couple of days ago, a young Nursery-web Spider (Pisaura mirabilis) which also likes to bask on sunny walls, only making a web during the breeding season. Now, hopefully, all will follow the normal course of the seasons, and get sunnier and warmer.