Tag Archives: weather

An all too Spring-like Winter… so far

Unfortunately the first post of this new year must be a sad one – I have just learned that one of Wicklow’s best known naturalists, Stan Moore, passed away on the last day of 2016 after an illness. Stan wrote the column Nature’s Corner in the North Wicklow Times for many years. He had an all-encompassing interest in nature, was a brilliant artist and produced lovely oil paintings, photographs and videos of the natural world. The first time I met him he came to my house with an illustration of a fish he had found, and needed to look at some of my books to positively identify it as it was a strange one. A few years later I recorded him being interviewed by a journalist for a programme which was aired by the Greystones Community Radio Project, and if I can dig that out I’ll put it on the blog. Sadly I did not take up photography until later, so I have no photo of the naturalist. Rest in Peace Stan!

This January is very different to last year – instead of the incredible wet weather caused when Ireland was struck full force by last year’s severe El Nino event  we have had long dry spells, and some of them have been quite balmy. This had apparently caused the vegetation to get very self-assured, and as early as the 9th of December I saw my first daffodil leaves breaking the surface of the soil, and now many of them are well above ground and soon to bloom:

Daffodil with flower stalk rising in the centre.
Daffodil with flower stalk rising in the centre.

And if that wasn’t enough the pennant-like leaves of Arum Lilies have begun to unfurl:

The leaves of Arum Lily, also known as Cuckoo-pint and Lord's-and-Ladies.
The leaves of Arum Lily, also known as Cuckoo-pint and Lord’s-and-Ladies.

And today I spotted dozens of Alexanders which had broken through the ground and come up all leafy along a roadside verge – Alexanders normally don’t appear until February at the earliest:

32193439185_c03ec74e9d_z   However, most surprising of all is an Elder tree which has sprung fresh green leaves all along the ends of its topmost branches:

Fresh elder leaves glowing in the winter sunlight.
Fresh elder leaves glowing in the winter sunlight.

So the question is, are we getting an extremely early spring? Can the plants predict, or are they just reacting to the immediate circumstances. The short answer to that question is that I don’t know. Last year’s freak wet weather, followed by this year’s very dry weather could have thrown the natural world off-kilter, but plants have had millions of years to evolve an ability to predict and behave accordingly, so perhaps the smart money should be on an early spring. But I have seen all of these plants struck by sudden cold spells before, and killed, and the only plants I have seen in my garden which never appear until the winter has finished its work are a certain group of wild (feral) Early Crocuses. Until I see them I’m not convinced the weather is definitely on the up. However, in the meantime the amount of wildlife to be seen is growing. A few days ago I spotted a male Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata) on a wall by a window light. It was actually more brownish than it appears in the photo, but the camera flash had a strange effect on the colouration:

The Winter Moth is quite small, about thumbnail size.
The Winter Moth is quite small, about thumbnail size.

There are also caterpillars of spring and summer moths to be found at this time of year, most having hatched from their eggs in late autumn. They eat and sleep all winter. Here is a handsome green Angle Shades caterpillar, and two smaller Large Yellow Underwing moths, all of which will get much larger before becoming moths:

All of these caterpillars can be found on and under lawns in winter.
All of these caterpillars can be found on and under lawns in winter.

Because the nights are so long keeping birds asleep, and there are few other invertebrate predators around in winter, slugs can be often seen in huge numbers on warm dark winter nights. Some of them can be very handsome. Here, for example, is a medium-sized species known as the Dusky Slug (Arion subfuscus):

A Dusky Slug grazing on mould and moss on a piece of ceramic.
A Dusky Slug grazing on mould and moss on a piece of ceramic.

And this distinctive species is a relatively recent arrival, the Budapest Keeled Slug (Tandonia budapestensis), which was first identified in the British Isles in the 1920s, probably carried in on plants:

Keeled Slugs get their name from the raised line on their backs, which is like the keel of an upturned boat. Its is very distinctive on the Budapest Keeled Slug.
Keeled Slugs get their name from the raised line on their backs, which is like the keel of an upturned boat. Its is very distinctive on the Budapest Keeled Slug.

Slugs might not be to your taste, but if not then there are still quite a few bumblebees to be seen feeding on winter-flowering garden plants such as Mahonia and Vinca. Here is one I saw today, with noticeably full pollen sacs on its legs, a Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris):

A bumblebee feeding on Vinca difformis today. This plant is sometimes known as Star-of-Bethlehem due to its habit of flowering in winter, bit it blooms sporadically throughout the year.
A bumblebee feeding on Vinca difformis today. This plant is sometimes known as Star-of-Bethlehem due to its habit of flowering in winter, bit it blooms sporadically throughout the year.

Only time will tell how this winter pans out, so in the meantime Happy New year!

Moths of Autumn

According to the ancient Celtic calendar autumn begins in early August with the feast of Lughnasa, the ancient god, and winter begins at Martinmass (November 11), with Spring starting on Brigid’s Day (February 1). However, the weather in Ireland generally corresponds to the astronomical calendar, with Autumn beginning with the Autumn Equinox, and Winter beginning with the Winter Solstice, and ending with the Vernal (Spring) Equinox.

30843198324_a1eb9f14b2_z

The weather we have at the moment is certainly autumnal rather than wintery. In fact, we have had a classic Autumn this year, beginning mild and with temperatures almost up to those of summer, and then suddenly plummeting to frosts early on November 1. And then it became mild again, and very wet at the end of November, and now we have reached a dry spell with weather due to become frosty again. This weather is perfect for autumn moths, and this year I have seen some very interesting and beautiful ones. There have been quite a few but these ones are especially interesting. Firstly, in late November this male Feathered Thorn (Colotois pennaria) appeared after a female had briefly waited in the same place. This species flies from September until early December.

A handsome male Feathered Thorn.
A handsome male Feathered Thorn. This moth is about the size of an average butterfly species.

Next was the larger Mottled Umber (Erannis defoliaria), a moth which flies from October until January, and seems to like it colder than most moths. The male and female are easy to tell apart because the female has no wings and doesn’t even look very much like a moth. Hopefully I’ll get a photo of one soon to upload.

A very striking Mottled Umber. These moths can be very variable in pattern and colouration. Well, the males can be...
A very striking Mottled Umber. These moths can be very variable in pattern and colouration. Well, the males can be…

Finally, a drab but common moth which comes to windows frequently is the November Moth (Epirrita dilutata) which flies from September until early December, weather-permitting.  Although this one looks large in the photo these moths are actually only as large as a thumbnail.

The very grey November Moth.
The very grey November Moth.

A Storm Called Barney

Only last week Ireland’s meteorological service began giving names to storm rather than just using reference numbers. The first storm was Abigail, and yesterday Wicklow got struck heavily by a storm called Barney. Trees were felled across Wicklow, and in Wicklow Town a sports hall had its roof torn off, while a GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) building in the town of Rathnew also lost part of its roof in gusts reaching up to 129 kmph. Here is my video of the early part of the storm just as it was rolling in from the west over our clear skies and the handsome glowing crescent moon: