April began very cold and clear this year. Gradually it warmed up, despite a mainly cold northerly wind. Day-by-day new creatures began showing up. The first butterfly to make an appearance was a Small Tortoiseshell.
The first migrant birds were not far behind, with Willow Warblers being surprisingly visible in the trees. They were followed by Swallows, and eventually House Martins. Resident species began to become more frisky, and Collared Doves pairs made umistakeable displays of affection.
The Blackbirds and Robins set to work early, building their nests. Blackbirds are very careful nest-builders, reinforcing their nests with mud, and lining them for comfort with moss.
Soon Peacock butterflies joined the throng, and beautiful Ruby Tiger moths began hatching out from their pupae hidden in lawns, and then mating.
High on the sea cliffs the seabirds have begun choosing their nesting sites, and guarding them zealously. This is one of the best times of the year to observe many species, such as kittiwakes, razorbills, guillemots and Fulmar petrels.
Beautiful undergrowth flowers such as Lesser Celandine and Wood Anemone have exploded into bloom, in a race against time before the leaves on the trees unfurl and eclipse the sun's rays.
Hogweed has returned to the hedgrows, their flower-heads slowly expanding and beginning to flower. Here the 7-spot Ladybirds can be seen. This April there was a population explosion. Although these ladybirds are considered voracious predatory beetles they have taken to eating pollen from the hogweed, in large quantities. This might be a new behaviour trait...they normally hunt other insects on these plants.
In the shallow streams with pebble-beds Brook Lampreys can be seen spawning. These small, 20 cm long eel-like fish are actually very different to other fish: they have cartilage skeletons, like sharks, but completely lack jaws, have only tooth-lined sucker mouths. They are like little sock-puppets and can move stones about on the bottom of pools to help suit their spawning. The fertilised eggs take six years to hatch out.
This April will probably be best remembered for the incredible number of blooming dandelions. The roadside verges, lawns and meadows are a blaze of yellow. This extraordinary exhibition of colour probably results from the extremely cold conditions of this winter which has kept the undergrowth in check all around Wicklow.
Thanks to the dandelions Honey Bees and various species of bumblebee are doing extremely well, and there has been a population explosion of one particular species of Mining Bee.
But April will mosly be remembered for the volcanic dust which was blowing down from Iceland and noticeably landing on cars, and causing quite spectacular sunsets occasionally.