Tag Archives: “Winter Heliotrope (Petasites fragrans)”

On Safari in Glendalough

There are two wonderful creatures which I have not managed to see properly with my own eyes – the Emperor Moth, which only flies from April to early June, and the Green Tiger Beetle. The male moths fly over the heather of bogs in daytime, looking for the mcuh larger resting females. They are as large as butterflies, and often are even larger. The beetles are shiny green, with huge eyes and remarkable markings. Both species are very common in Wicklow, but I have only once managed to catch a glimpse of male moths flying past me on the mountains. This time I wanted a photograph, of both creatures.

Looking over the Lower Lake towards the ancient monastic city of Glendalough.
Looking over the Lower Lake towards the ancient monastic city of Glendalough. There was quite a haze over the water. Note the round tower.

The title might seem like an exaggeration, but it’s not. A good walk in Glendalough on a sunny day can be quite a safari, with big animals as well as little. While the lowlands where covered in cloud I went up there one afternoon last week with might brother, and found it bathed in sunlight.  We followed the path up by the Poulnadrass Waterfall and the many timber steps up to the Spinc overlooking the Upper Lake. This also seemed like a good place for a heroic portrait:

27036891242_b8c9278a42The whole hilltop was covered in heather and Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus). Bilberries are widely known in Europe as blueberries, and are a very close relative of the true, North American Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum). I even found one bush already had berries growing on it – they start off red in colour, and only turn blue in late summer:

The bases of flowers swelling to become berries. They have a long way to go still.
The bases of flowers swelling to become berries. They have a long way to go still.

Two reddish Emperor Moths flew past us, but we could not chase them over the deep boggy mud. They flew too fast for photos. But then I spotted something very exciting – the largest wild lizard I have ever seen in Ireland, and it was basking on the steps:

A very handsome male Viviparous Lizard, in breeding colours.
A very handsome male Viviparous Lizard, in breeding colours.

The lizard was over 20 cm long, and very boldly patterned. We have only one native species of reptile in Ireland, the Viviparous Lizard – Zoothoca vivipara. It is sometimes referred to as the Common Lizard, but this species is not always as common as other species in Europe. It gets its name because the female can lay eggs, but will also hatch her eggs internally and then give birth to live young, like mammals, an ability which allows this creature to live in much colder climates than other lizards. In fact, they can be found at the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia. It’s very strange finding them on mountain tops, but apparently they’re able for the harsh conditions. And they had a great view:

From a viewpoint like this lizards can see their main enemies coming - birds-of-prey such as the Kestrel.
From a viewpoint like this lizards can see their main enemies coming – birds-of-prey such as the Kestrel.

After climbing to the highest point we began to descend to the Glenealo Valley above the Glendalough valley. Here we found much larger wildlife:

A feral goat above Glendalough.
A feral goat above Glendalough.

There was a large herd of ‘feral’ goats. These animals have been living wild for centuries so ‘wild’ is probably a more accurate term for them. However, the goats were not alone, as nearby there were plenty of deer:

This would appear to be a pregant female, and she was quite large. Deer in the Wicklow Mountains are mostly crossbreeds between native Red Deer and Japanese Sika, both of which are classed as seperate species, but are genetically the same species, which is why their offspring are fertile.
This would appear to be a pregant female, and she was quite large. Deer in the Wicklow Mountains are mostly crossbreeds between native Red Deer and Japanese Sika, both of which are classed as seperate species, but are genetically the same species, which is why their offspring are fertile.

From here we made the long, scenic descent to the floor of the Glenealo Valley and followed the long stoney trail to the very rear of Glendalough’s valley, which you can see here very well:

After crossing the handsome footbridge across the floor of the Glenealo Valley we followed the stream to the waterfalls dropping into Glendalough. You can see here where Glenealo terminates and Glendalough begins far below.
After crossing the handsome footbridge across the floor of the Glenealo Valley we followed the stream to the waterfalls dropping into Glendalough. You can see here where Glenealo terminates and Glendalough begins.

Just as we reached the bottom of the Glenealo Valley we spotted what appeared to be orchids next to the pools and streams, but the leaves were sticky and insects were lying dead on them – they were carnivourous plants:

Pinguicula - better known as Butterwort.
Pinguicula – better known as Butterwort.

There are three known species of Butterwort native to Ireland, and based on the leaves I suspect this one is Common Butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris) but I’ll need to return to see them in flower to be certain of the species. Believe it or not, but there are actually more than ten wild species of carnivorous plant in Ireland.

We still had a bit of walking to do before we got back to the Upper Car Park, which has its own security in summer, and costs €4 for the day, which is worth it for peace-of-mind, and to be certain of a parking place.  We saw, but failed to photograph a few bird species, namely the Wheatear, Meadow Pipit and the huge chortling Ravens spiralling above us. Sadly, this walk is beyond the capabilities of wheelchairs or mobility scooters, but some day in the future this might not be entirely the case. However, the valley floor of Glendalough is almost completely wheelchair accessible and there is always lots to see and photograph, not to mention the beautiful sounds and scents of the natural world.

The Earliest Spring Ever!

Last night we had a severe frost in Wicklow, but it seems the plants have decided, for whatever reason, that spring is here to stay. I have never seen anything quite like it. On New Year’s Day I found Bluebells throwing the leaf-litter off and raising their juicy leaves to the sun.

Bluebell leaves …on New Years Day!

And not only were the daffodils up, but irises had poked their blade-like leaves through the soil, and the crocuses were not only well up above ground but some now have flowers on the verge of opening.

A crocus about to blossom, as I photographed it yesterday.

Okay, so maybe you’re thinking these impetuous plants are mistaken: crocuses can sometimes bloom in the snow, as can primroses, and daffodils often make mistakes. Fair enough arguments, but have you ever seen cherry blossom in January? There are certain October-flowering Cherry trees, but not January ones, and the pair of cherries growing out front of the church (opposite the petrol station) in Newcastle village would seem to me to be the typical spring variety. True, they are in sunny areas, but covered in blossoms and being attended by big Bumble Bees. Incredible!

 

One of the blossoming cherries outside the church on Newcastle main street.
A close-up of the beautiful blossoms, with bees in there somewhere.

According to the weather forecasters we are in for another week of cold frosty nights and mostly clear sunny days, so winter is certainly not done with us yet. But spring is here, whatever the weather. And just to end, keep an eye out for the beautiful feather-duster like, aniseed-scented blooms of the Winter Heliotrope. They are in abundance this year, and they have to be as there is so much competition.

Winter Heliotrope flies the flag for winter, while it still can.

And after a great 2012, with the massive successes of Wicklow boxer Katie Taylor and cross-country runner Fionnuala Britton, it seems the very landscape itself has decided to throw a celebratory party. 2013 is off to an awesome start.

Winter…turning into Spring!

It’s January and the beautiful-looking and beautifully-scented Winter Heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) is in full bloom, with soft feather duster-like flowers pouring aniseed-scented perfume into the warmer than average air.

Winter Heliotrope at sunset today, a January afternoon.

Not only this, but there are insects to be found everywhere, as there is little or no frost. Even now the Green Shieldbugs are changing from their brown winter colours to the green that gives them their name.

Brown form of Green Shieldbug already changing to green.

However, unusually for so early in January, the leafy spikes of daffodils have already broken through the surface of the clay, and are far in advance of last winter. The warm soil-temperatures and general lack of cold, and particularly frost, have led to this unusual situation. But there is one plant that puts the rubber stamp to an Irish spring, and that’s the crocus. So far I haven’t found any above ground or flowering, but they are not easy to find until their bright flowers burst open, which will very likely be very soon.

 

Daffodils photographed today, about two or three weeks earlier than last year, due to our unusually balmy January conditions, not to mention those preceding warm spells in November and December.

So, if you’re tired of snow and frost and ice, hop on a plane or ferry and come to Wicklow to see a wonderful early spring where temperatures are well above freezing and there are even summer garden plants still blossoming…with daffodil flowers coming shortly.