Tag Archives: trees

In the Wake of Hurricane Ophelia

Wicklow had a very lucky escape when Ophelia struck Ireland yesterday. All across the county there were trees down, and almost everybody lost their electricity at some point. However, three people lost their lives directly due to the storm and my thoughts are definitely with their families, and considering how many people are trapped in rural areas of Ireland without electricity, water and possibly with no means of communication, then this death toll could very easily rise. So, if you are in one of those areas and happen to read this on your mobile phone, do check on people in your area. Elderly or disabled people in particular might not be able to draw attention to their predicament. And beware of broken trees and powerlines.

As Hurricane Ophelia began to move towards Ireland late last week and over the weekend the weather became both very overcast and unseasonably warm. On Friday night temperatures were 17 or 18 degrees Celsius (65 or 66 degrees Fahrenheit), depending on where you were. These night-time temperatures would be far more normal in a balmier Irish summer, but were very much out of place and unpleasant in mid-October. On Saturday night misty drizzle began and extended into Sunday, and as a result frogs could be found hopping along footpaths or outside the doors of houses, just like this camera-shy one I came across:

A beautifully camouflaged European Common Frog – Rana temporaria

Met Eireann, the meteorological service (weather forecasters) for Ireland had predicted that the structure of Hurricane Ophelia would change before it struck Ireland. It had been a Catergory 2 hurricane when it began moving north from the coast of West Africa, but nobody expected it to increase to a Category 3 hurricane (there are only five categories) or remain that for so long. It was only about 500 kilometres south of Ireland when it finally began to change shape and turn into a sub-tropical cyclone, but it had lost none of its energy as it struck the island. Just before this happened there was a sudden and mysterious abundance of moths coming to windows. Only a few hours before the winds arrived I saw this beautiful Angle-Shades (Phlogophora meticulosa) perched on the wall by the back door light:


I had expected there to be a sudden rush of large House Spiders towards the house just prior to the storm, and during, but this never occurred and it seems the spider season has already come to an end this year. Some people will undoubtedly be happy to hear that. It’s possible that the frogs and birds consumed many of these spiders . There were birds hiding from the storm in sheds and outhouses, and even disused chimneys. Most small birds will eat spiders, and frogs certainly take them if they come across any.

With all of our incredible technology it is very easy to forget how fragile we are. We take electricity for granted, and not having any for any length of time is a shock to the system, especially in darker times of the year. To makes matters worse, many parts of Ireland require electricity to pump tap water and sewage systems, yet don’t have generators available to back up these systems. When a storm like Ophelia occurs we get an unpleasant reminder that mankind does not rule the natural world, but is itself ruled by nature.

Fortunately today was dry and sunny almost everywhere, and it was so calm that it was hard to imagine how dangerous things were yesterday. In fact, I was astonished to see a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) butterfly flying about in the warm sunlight this afternoon, even though it was only 14 degrees Celsius in the shade. I managed to get a decent photo as it sunbathed on ivy.

And there was a very beautiful sunset tonight, but it is now much colder than it was before the tropical air of the hurricane came our way, and tonight we are to have proper October temperatures, or maybe even temperatures more like December. Many trees still have their leaves. Many, of course, don’t. Without their shelter winter will probably come early this year.


What’s moths got to do with it?

Believe it or not, quite a lot.
Moths are major bio-indicators and moth biodiversity and habitat biodiversity, or lack of it, are linked. My friend Veronica French recently contributed to a large-scale study of moths for a paper about the relationship between tree biodiversity in forests and arthropod biodiversity (like insects, spiders, etc.), just published in the scientific journal Forest Ecology and Management under the title “Can Mixed Species Stands Enhance Arthropod Diversity in Plantation Forests?”:


Congratulations Veronica!

Now we are in October there are very few moths and butterflies around, but nevertheless you will see this smallish moth at your windows, the Hebrew Character – Orthosia gothica. It is important to remember that although they might not be on the wing so much, if at all, these species are still going about their lives in the countryside, albeit as caterpillars, or in suspended animation as pupae, which will later hatch out into adult moths.

The Hebrew Character, a very common moth species still seen at night-time windows in October.

Fantastic Fungi

What makes autumn special… or especially special, as I recently heard someone say, is fungi. There are always fungi around, but usually like veins or threads in the soil or in trees, alive or dead. But in autumn their spectacular fruiting bodies appear, what we call mushrooms and toadstools. And many of them are absolutely fantastic-looking. Each tree will have its own species, so what you find very much depends on where you go, but Wicklow has such varied habitats you are likely to find many spectacularly-different species. Here are just a selection I found in a woods consisting of birch, alder and willow trees on acidic soil:

Honey Waxcap – Hygrocybe reidii, with lovely fleshy orange gills.
Pleated Inkcap – Parasola plicatilis (mature form)
Common Inkcap – Coprinopsis atramentaria, which has spores that ooze like writing ink.
I’m not 100% certain of this identification, but I think it’s a Liver Milk-cap – Lactarius hepaticus. Milk-caps have milky “juice” in their gills containing the spores.
Turkeytail – Trametes versicolor, a fungus found worldwide and which lives in dead timber. It is also known as “rainbow fungus”.
Matt Bolete – Boletus pruinatus, a very heavy mushroom and quite large.
Shaggy Inkcap – Coprinus comatus, also known as Lawyer’s Wig, for obvious reasons. This is an extremely inky fungus, and notoriously strong, the mushroom being known to crack asphalt as it rises. Yet it is extremely brittle too, as I found when I bumped my camera lens off one, and it broke!

These are just a selection I photographed in less than an hour in the woods. As for eating them… I have only very basic knowledge about that and so can give no advice. All mushrooms taste like poison to me! Mushroom soup isn’t too bad though… sometimes. And I would never risk making it myself. The cause of of most food-related poisonings is the colossal ego of a wannabe chef…