Tag Archives: Wicklow

The Great May Adventure

May is always a bit of a mixed bag. You never know quite what you’re going to get, but it’s always progressing towards the calmer months of summer. And in the natural world it’s a time of frenetic activity. This year we had May weather in April because the weather was so unusually dry for spring. First it started with early bird nesting.

A handsome Wood Pigeon in breeding colours carrying a large twig to its nest.
A Jackdaw carrying nesting material to a disused chimney where it has a nest.
A Robin carrying spider prey back to its nest, which is hidden in the hedge. It watched to make sure I had moved on before entering the nest and giving the location away.

But the most important aspect of the spring, apart from the weather, is the mass flowering of various plants. The most important is the spring dandelion bloom. Dandelions provide huge amounts of pollen that many insects depend on, especially our pollinators. Every conceivable species of bee, fly and many beetles depend on these flowers in the early part of spring. In May they reach a crescendo in their blooming and then rapidly seed while other spring blooms appear just in time to sustain the insect population. Here you can see dandelions and bluebells together:

The Bluebells are now mostly gone out of flower in the lowlands, but up in the highlands of Wicklow they are only coming into bloom, so if you’re looking for bluebells this late in May then you need to go upland. Tawny Mining Bees among many other species depend on these flowers. The Tawny Mining Bees are gone for this year, but you might see another pollinator about, the somewhat sinister-looking and beautiful Panzer’s Nomada (Nomada panzeri) a cuckoo-bee which parasitizes the mining bees. It is also known to have a bad sting, but this one was very calm and unthreatening:

Also, May is the time to see the Orange-tip butterfly (Anthocaris cardamines). The females are all white with very few black dots on the upper sides of their wings. The males have are identical but have stunning orange markings on the tips of their forewings.

The female Orange-tip looks pretty much like other species of white butterfly when seen from above, although she does have silvery-black forewing tips.
The male Orange-tip is very distinctive despite being fast-moving and rarely sitting still.

However, from below both the male and female Orange-tip look very different to other white butterflies, having a green marbling pattern which gives them camouflage.

The marbling pattern on the underside of both the male and female’s wings can be seen when the butterfly is at rest.

As the weather gets warmer more and more moths appear too, but keep a look out for caterpillars, because many of the caterpillars of moths found in Wicklow are far more spectacular looking than the adults of the same species. Here, for example, is the caterpillar of the Yellow-tail Moth (Euproctis similis). The moth is plain pale white with a bright yellow abdomen tip, but look at the gaudy colours of this caterpillar found on a Cistus bush:

The hairs of this caterpillar are a defence against predators and can cause irritation rashes 0n the skin of some people.

Along with dandelions the other big bloomer where the bees depend on is the big spiny Gorse or Furze bush. The yellow flowers fill the air with the scent of vanilla. Unfortunately in dry conditions they are highly flammable, but now we are at last getting some decent heavy rain showers the danger is passing. Some parts of Ireland have suffered terrible Gorse Fires this year. But fortunately Wicklow has escaped the worst of it:

April Adventures

Spring has been a little slow to take off – I only saw my first Swallow yesterday, and we only had our first reasonably warm and sunny weather over the last three days. There might not be swallows but the sunny weather has brought out some very impressive birds, most notably Buzzards (Buteo buteo). These birds are best described as either very large hawks or small eagles and should not be confused with vultures which are a very different kind of bird. Here are two photos I got of one bird recently:

Buzzards like bright, sunny days because they can use the sun to hide their approach. Their favourite prey are rabbits, especially in spring when there are abundant young rabbits around which lack the experience of older rabbits and can be easily caught. Buzzards will also eat rats and will scavenge roadkill. The famous cry of the hawk in American western movies is the same as the cry of the Buzzard.

Because it’s April I would like to remind you to keep an eye out for Ireland’s rarest known species of solitary bee, the Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva). These bees make small volcano-like burrows on lawns and the female is stunningly beautiful. They have no sting and although you might see a number of bees in one area they are not working together as a colony but living single lives. Here is a photo of a female, and the yellow on her hind legs is not the bees colour but, in fact, pollen collected on special hairs:

The male is much less handsome and harder to tell apart from the males of other mining bee species, of which there are a few in Ireland. And here is a photo of a female in her mine. They often like to watch from the entrance and will duck their heads in if they think they’ve been spotted.

The female is about the size of a small worker bumblebee, but is large as mining bees go. There is a very similar bee species which is more common and not quite so red in colour, the Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum) which is more robust-looking, and I here is a photo of that species so you can tell them apart:

Common Carder Bee feeding on vinca.

If you see a Tawny Mining Bee and especially if you find nests the National Biodiversity Data Centre will want to hear from you, and they can be contacted at this website which allows you to submit records, coordinates and photographs of anything and everything in the natural world, but rare creatures especially:

www.biodiversityireland.ie

 

True Spring – Equinoctial Full Moon

Although many spring flowers bloomed since St. Brigid’s Day today was the first day that actually felt like spring in every sense, and it coincided with the Equinoctial Full Moon, the Full Moon closest to the Equinox, which is one week from Wednesday, in case you didn’t know. And this morning I saw my first butterfly of the year basking in the bright sunlight:

A Small Tortoiseshell butterfly newly-emerged from hibernation. Those whoich hatch from chrysalises look far brighter, but this one has survived the winter in pretty good condition.

If the weather continues as good as this there will undoubtedly be more Small Tortoiseshells around soon. However, during the warmer nights more and more moth species are on the wing, including this handsome butterfly-sized Shoulder Stripe (Anticlea badiata) which is attracted to lights, which is why it has perched beneath a light.

A Shoulder Stripe perched beneath a porch light.

And here is a close-up of the same Shoulder Stripe showing the camouflage which matches the very common Turkeytail fungus which grows on rotting wood:

   The blooming flowers which grow more numerous as the days grow longer and warm the countryside are what sustain the butterflies, moths, bees and, of course, hoverflies. Now the daffodils are growing numerous there are more and more insects:

And here is one of the earliest appearing hoverfly species, Melanostoma scalare:

And now that there are so many insects about the birds are spending a lot of time hunting and preparing to breed, like this handsome male Blackbird searching for caterpillars, grubs and earthworms on a grassy verge:

   And despite the many frosts this winter, the bright conditions have meant that many wild flowers which would normally flower later in the year are already blooming, such as these two species of handsome Dead-nettles, which are not related to nettles but look almost identical, but lack a sting, first the White Dead-nettle (Lamium album):

and secondly the Red Dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum):