Tag Archives: strange

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.

It’s Still Summer… just about

Despite my remarks in the last bulletin about an Indian Summer, I have to stress at this point that we don’t actually have one, as this is still true summer. An actual Indian Summer is unseasonably warm, dry and sunny weather after the Autumn Equinox. This year that moment will be at just after 2 am next Tuesday, so Tuesday will technically be the first day of true Autumn. But we still have a few days before that happens, and the weather has been very good.

Last week my brother, Owen, made a little video of me on the East Coast Nature Reserve, and we actually found something I had not seen before, and in the video you can hear me doubting my initial identification. Apologies for the sound quality… a dodgy camera mic gets the blame:

As you can see from the video the creature in it appears to be all black. I have seen it again since, and it really does appear solid black in all but the brightest sunlight when seen from the right angle, something which I managed to achieve the same morning of the video:

An extremely handsome melanistic cock pheasant in very bright sunlight. It appears to be solid black when seen from any other angle.
An extremely handsome melanistic cock pheasant in very bright sunlight. It appears to be solid black when seen from any other angle.

 

Spit on the flowers…?

Right now Cuckoo-spit is appearing on the flowers of meadows and hedgerows. At first glance it looks like someone came along and spat on the plants, but on closer inspection it appears to be more like washing-up liquid foam.

A classic Cuckoo-spit I photographed today.
A classic Cuckoo-spit I photographed today. Note the greenfly aphid just above it on the leaf branching to the right.

And you might be thinking, because of its name, that Cuckoo-spit is the saliva of the cuckoo bird. It’s not, but get’s its name because you usually hear the cuckoo around the same time you begin seeing this “spittle”. It is in fact an elaborate defence mechanism of a tiny creature that lives beneath the Cuckoo-spit. This insect is known as the Cuckoo-spit Aphid, but is actually a juvenile Froghopper or Spittle-bug.

A Cuckoo-spit Aphid on my hand. They look somewhat like a strange type of childrens' toy of some sort.
A Cuckoo-spit Aphid on my hand. They look somewhat like a strange type of child’s toy.

This little insect cannot hop to escape predators like the adult bug, so instead it blows bubbles of water, from its backside. These rigid little bubbles cover it, but also allow air between them so that the nymph (juvenile bug) can breathe. A truly fascinating defence-mechanism.

There are several species ranging in size from a few millimetres to about 1.5 cm in length.