Tag Archives: sun

The Winter Solstice

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The Winter Solstice occurred at 10.44 am GMT this morning, which is our local time in Ireland, but there probably won’t be a noticeable lengthening of the day until 25 December, Christmas Day. This is the deepest point of the greater winter, the time exactly halfway between the Autumn Equinox and the Spring (Vernal) Equinox. According to the ancient Celtic calendar this was also the centre of true winter, halfway between Martinmas and St. Brigid’s Day. But in the modern world it is only the start of Astronomical Winter, which ends on the Vernal Equinox in late March. And the weather generally matches the astronomical seasons, with proper winter cold not getting going until now although the days are growing longer.

At this time of year some wildlife is hard to see, some is completely hidden, some not so obvious. But some wildlife is easier to see, especially birdlife as many birds come into gardens looking for food. Some insects species only appear at this time of year, such as the moths in the previous post, and here’s yet another handsome one, the Scarce Umber – Agriopis aurantiaria. 

Scarce Umber
Scarce Umber

This might be the last Scarce Umber to be seen this year, as they only fly from October to December, and are therefore a true autumn moth. And, as is the case with many moths in autumn and winter, only the male has wings. The female is a strange-looking wingless insect.

Also keep an eye out for late autumn fungi. There are some spectacular Common Inkcap – Coprinopsis atrametaria – about, usually along roadsides in small groups at the bottom of earthen banks or ditches, as was the case with these ones:

Common Inkcap
Common Inkcap

Spring flies away with the Orange-tips

As it’s such a beautiful sunny weekend here in Wicklow I just want to remind people that spring has finally given way to summer, and the best evidence of this is that the Orange-tip butterflies have already disappeared. Here’s the last one I photographed this year:

Sadly the beautiful Orange-tip butterflies have finished up for another year, but their caterpillars will be munching away all summer. This one was feeding on charlock, a type of mustard.
Sadly the beautiful Orange-tip butterflies have finished up for another year, but their caterpillars will be munching away all summer. This male was feeding on charlock, a type of mustard.

There is always the chance of seeing one or two stragglers in certain areas, but it’s highly unlikely now we are midway through June. Also gone for this season are the thumb-sized queen Red-tailed Bumblebees although you have a better chance of seeing one or two stragglers of this species than an Orange-tip this weekend. And lastly I have seen the first real summer flowering, that of the first Butterfly Bush. Summer is here.

I have a lot more to blog about this weekend, but in the meantime, keep your eyes peeled.

The Eclipse and Equinox

St. Patrick’s Day is usually the time when spring begins to feel like spring, and this year we had a bright and dry St. Patrick’s Day. And it was the first day I noticed the power of the spring booms.

The biggest bloomers of the moment are the prickly Gorse or Furze bushes. You need to lean in close to get the scent, but it's very strong and beautiful too.
The biggest bloomers of the moment are the prickly Gorse or Furze bushes. You need to lean in close to get the scent, but it’s very strong and beautiful too.
Alexanders is a smooth relative of the hogweed which dominates the banks and hedgerows of Wicklow in spring, dying off in early summer. They creamy flowers are like cauliflower, but the unusual frangrance they produce is very much the perfume of spring. They are very important flowers as bees depend on them to make honey at this time of year.
Alexanders is a smooth relative of the hogweed which dominates the banks and hedgerows of Wicklow in spring, dying off in early summer. The creamy flowers are like cauliflower, but the unusual frangrance they produce is very much the perfume of spring. They are very important flowers as bees depend on them to make honey at this time of year.

Friday, March 20, brought with it a rare event, an eclipse of the sun, the first since August 11, 1999. It was a cloudy morning but I still managed to get some decent photos of the spectacle. 90% of the sun was eclipsed at the darkest point. Our next one won’t be until 2026.

Approaching the darkest part of the eclipse the cloud gave way temporarily to allow me this photo.
Approaching the darkest part of the eclipse the cloud gave way temporarily to allow me this photo.
Ironically this photo of the eclipse nearing its end is more impressive than the earlier photo, largely because you can see more clearly what is happening between the two heavenly bodies.
Ironically this photo of the eclipse nearing its end is more impressive than the earlier photo, largely because you can see more clearly what is happening between the two heavenly bodies.

On Friday night at 10.45 pm GMT another important event occurred – the spring equinox. This moment is the exact half-way point between the winter and summer solstices. That means that Saturday was the first day of astronomical spring. And it was a beautiful day too. I have more spring phenomena report, but just for now let’s leave it at that.