March Comes Alive
It has been one of the driest springs in decades. The skies have been extremely clear, with icy north and easterly winds blowing across Ireland. Thick layers of frost have covered the ground, and night time temperatures in Wicklow in early March have been as low as -7 Celsius.
But flowers began to appear and the creatures that feed on them have slowly made their presence felt. Honey Bees (Apis mellifera) are feeding on the Winter Heliotropes and Dandelions that are quite common on rough ground, and on cultivated flowers, such as Erica. And the imitators of Honey Bees, the Drone Flies (Eristalis species), have also started to attend these hardy flowers. Bright yellow flowers of the Gorse (or Furze) bushes are scenting the air along the low hills. Gorse is a fantastic plant for supporting bird life, providing nest sites are protection from predators courtesy of the vicious spines.
One of the first insects to appear was the Green Shieldbug (Palomena prasina). It often turns brownish in winter, as there is so little greenery about for it to lie camouflaged against. However, in gardens this is often not the case, and the shieldbug remains green and stays hidden on shrubs and trees, such as the Bay tree pictured. The shieldbugs seem to derive their colour from the chlorophyll in the sap of green plants, which is often absent from native deciduous plants.
It wasn't long before the Nursery-web Spiders (Pisaura mirabilis) began basking on walls and leaves of Vinca along walls and fences.
But the most striking hunters to have shown up this week are also everybody's favourite beetle, the 7-spot Ladybird (coccinella septimpunctata). At the moment they're being very lethargic, sleepily sitting about on leaves, sunning themselves.But the first aphids are stalking the land, and the ladybirds won't go short of food.
But the birds are the ones who have decided that it's springtime. Collared Doves (Streptopelia decaocto) have begun collecting twigs and testing them by driving the ends into the ground to see if they are springy. Twigs that don't bend, or that break, are abandoned. The dove in the photo, and its mate, are building a nest in a very tall leylandii conifer. And Starlings have begun exhibiting their shiny breeding plumage, singing complex songs from the tops of trees and aerials.
Brent Geese spent St. Patrick's Day feeding up and preparing to make their migrations north to their spring nesting grounds. Their flights provided an extraordinary aerial display, their wings audibly cutting the air overhead.
This year the Vernal (Spring) Equinox fell on Saturday 20th March. This is the beginning of Astronomical Spring, and this year it was the beginning of actual Spring. The cold weather subsided and the landscape came to life as it should, with the daffodils (Narcissus) finally blooming properly and in unison.
Frogs were visible creeping through the dead leaves of last year to make their way to their breeding ponds. Unfortunately those that spawned too early might have suffered badly for it, as the pools shrank in the dryness, and the heavy frosts froze the spawn solid.
In every available pond the frogs have been gathering to breed, croaking in a low tone and splashing noisily across the surfaces until you get too near. Then they dive below the surface and wait until the visitor is gone, or is patient enough to remain motionless and clever enough not to cast a shadow over the pond.
Beautiful moths have begin coming to the lights of houses, such as the Agdistis that resembles Leonardo Da Vinci's flying machine design, and the Shoulder-stripe (Anticleia badiata) that has such extraordinary camouflage patterns.And the first caterpillars have begun to stir too, preparing to pupate, like the hairy Ruby Tiger. The hairs are a poisonous defence against predators, but are generally harmless to humans.