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.

 

April 23, 2013

Return to Spring

Anyone following this blog will realise it has been on hiatus since early March. Why so? Because although it looked like spring was breaking through, the winter became very long and drawn out. We had the coldest March since records began in 1882, and it was only two weeks ago that the temperatures suddenly became normal. Only the Monday before last ( a week and a day ago) did the temperatures rise above 15 degrees Celsius. All of this was caused by an easterly wind from Siberia, and then from the Arctic. This easterly lasted almost two months without stopping, which is extremely bizarre. Anyhow, things are now returning to normal and today was a balmy 18 degrees Celsius.

I have only seen three butterflies so far this year, two were Small Tortoiseshells and one was a Peacock (Inachis io) and both are species which hibernate. The Peacock is below.

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Most importantly, many of the spring flowers are now blooming and the hardiest, the daffodils and crocuses, have already lost their blooms – the first phase of spring is over, despite the cold. However, now it is the turn of the trees to get their blossoms, and the first I saw since temperatures warmed up was the Red Currant (Ribes rubrum), a plant of the hedgerows, beloved by bees.

The Red Currant has a very distinctive scent which to many people is the scent of spring.

The Red Currant has a very distinctive scent which to many people is the scent of spring.

You know it is getting warmer when you see the Nursery-web Spider sunbathing. This spider loves sunlight, and has a very distinctive pose, which I have mentioned many times before as resembling Leonardo Da Vinci’s Universal Man, which also has eight legs…

A Nursery-web Spider sunbathing on the rim of a tub containing flowers. It's not so big in real life as it appears in this photo.

A Nursery-web Spider sunbathing on the rim of a tub containing flowers. It’s not so big in real life as it appears in this photo.

However, for me the most exciting of all has been the appearance of the Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva) and other species of solitary bee. You might remember reading, earlier in the blog, of how my garden became the first known established colony of this bee species in Ireland. That doesn’t mean they were not already here, just not known to be for certain. This week another colony was discovered in Co. Kilkenny and there are bound to be more of this handsome bee. I use the term “colony” lightly, because although the bees have appeared in large numbers, there is no single nest and each female bee takes care of her own nest and young. The males appeared first, and then the larger females, which they had to wait for to emerge from their underground chambers. The males are much smaller, and look almost like a totally different species. I will be doing a lot more about these bees in the next instalment… but you will not have to wait months for it. Tomorrow, if possible.

The male Tawny Mining Bee... actually quite small, and fast-moving when not at rest.

The male Tawny Mining Bee… actually quite small, and fast-moving when not at rest.

 

The female Tawny Mining Bee, which looks like a cuddly toy, and has the appearance of a flying ruby. She looks like a small bumblebee but has a very red bosy and a black head.

The female Tawny Mining Bee, which looks like a cuddly toy, and has the appearance of a flying ruby. She looks like a small bumblebee but has a very red body and a black head.

Finally, there are also plenty of bumblebees around. Usually the last to show up in gardens is the Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum) and this for me puts the seal on spring. To the uninitiated the Carder Bee could be confused with the Tawny Mining Bee, except for one very clear difference – she is much larger. Here is the first Carder Bee I have seen this year, and have not seen too many since, but it takes a while for a hive to get going.

My first Carder Bee of the year, and a handsome one at that. Almost certainly a queen bee, as they overwinter and establish the new colonies each spring.

My first Carder Bee of the year, and a handsome one at that. Almost certainly a queen bee, as they are the ones that overwinter and establish each new colony in the spring.

March 28, 2012

We are having an incredible spring in Wicklow

It almost beggars belief that it is still only March, but it is sunny and warm and you couldn’t ask for a better summer than what we’re having now. Only a few days ago I was paying a visit to the East Coast Nature Reserve with my brother, Trevor, when he spotted a large male Viviparous Lizard (Lacerta vivipara). Officially there is only one indigenous species of reptile in Ireland, and this is it. They love sunny spaces, so the boardwalk in a nature reserve is perfect. Lizards can be approached with a camera, so long as you move slowly, and that’s what I did when taking this macro at 20cm distance. The usual length of a male is about 18-20cm from nose to tail-tip, but I have actually found one measuring 23cm long. Don’t move fast, because if you do you’ll scare them, and they are very, very fast when escaping.

The Viviparous Lizard, also known as European Common Lizard. Viviparous means "live-bearing", which is in reference to the fact that in northern climates the female lizard hatches her eggs in her womb and gives birth to live young, like a mammal does.

Butterflies are now already in abundance, and a few times I’ve had to rescue them from the windows of sheds and especially from a polytunnel. Especially interesting was a newly hatched out Speckled Wood, whose wings were still drying after having emerged from a crysalis.

Speckled Wood butterfly rescued from a polytunnel. This is usually our most common species of butterfly.

There are also dainty little Holly Blue butterflies to be seen. Sometimes they resemble petals from flowers, and appear to be falling on the wind, possibly a clever illusion to throw predators off the scent.

A male Holly Blue, which can be identified by the big black tips on his wings. This one is feeding on vinca. This is the first I saw in 2012.

 

The clear nights are still relatively cold, but warming day-by-day, and more and more moths are being enticed to the lights of windows. You stand a very good chance of finding a lovely fawn-coloured moth called the Common Quaker during March, and I managed to photograph one earlier in the week.

The Common Quaker, a handsome moth very common in march.

If you are in Wicklow then now is the time to get out there into the countryside, and if you’re thinking of visiting Ireland, then this is almost certainly the year to do it. Because so much is happening I’m going to be increasing my blogging rate. The tree blossoms are just about to burst into bloom…

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