Musings and photos of wild and everyday life

Plants

Spring or Late Winter

The 1st of February is Lá Fhéile Bríde (St. Brigid’s Day) and traditionally welcomes Spring.

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Tree Split,  Lough Dan

This year the ‘Winter’ was so mild that the usual flocks of Greylag Geese and Whooper Swans only made brief appearances in the fields around us.  ‘Spring’ seems to be wet, cold and windy in comparison!  Storms Doris and Ewan were not appreciated, ripping rooves, felling trees, disrupting Electricity service and ruining golf scores.

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Mallard Drake walking on thin Ice, Frensham Little Pond, Surrey

The birds and animals have been ‘twichy’ – a bit like the bird watchers – for some time but many people associate the onset of Spring more with March or April  and around here the worst weather of the year offen hits us in February or even March.

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R-otary Club Crocuses, Stephen’s Green, Dublin

Anyway the weather generally does seem to have been milder in recent years, no doubt a product of the climate change that politicians and many businesses around the world refuse to tackle.  It is easy to be pessimistic about the future when you couple this with radicals being elected to parliaments and higher stations around the world (trying to be polite as this includes murderers and nut cases) and the increasing violence and war threat.

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Snowdrops & Helibores in Garden

Keeping the happy face on, the usual early flowers have risen – Crocuses, Snowdrops, Helibores etc. – and Daffodills are starting here although much more developed in the capital. Garden flowers such as Viburnum Bodnantense, flowered over winter as usual, improving the  fragrance of the neighbourhood.

 

On another note completely, Sika Deer seem to be thriving in Ireland.  Deer generally are too numerous and suffer official culls but Sika seem to appear much more commonly recently.

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Sika Deer, Trooperstown Wood, Wicklow

What is really required is a reintroduction of Wolves – the 4 legged kind, we have plenty of the others.  Reading a great book, Feral, by George Monbiot, I was delighted to see the case for apex predators was well made.  It always seemed to me that the ‘wild’ here was badly skewed and marginalised.  Monbiot argues convincingly that a bottom up approach to diversity and conservation is much less successful than a top down, apex predator approach along with relieving our mountains from the catastrophies of sheep farming.

Here’s to better action from our politicians on the environment (and hopefully, more immediately,  improving weather and some sun !)


Autumn Passing

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Autumn Colours and Shankill river, Wicklow

Didn’t seem to last long but Autumn has given way to Winter.  While the weather was good this year, already the temperature has taken a dive.  Hopefully the great colours of the falling leaves were enjoyed by many.

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It was a busy time in many ways.  Apart from loads of photos to be takem, an old oil tank acting as a coal bunker needed to be removed (partly to make way for a new Water Butt and auto solar-powered watering system – but that’s another story) and it revealed a teeming environment of ‘low life’.

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Snails, slugs, spiders and other creepy crawlies behind old bunker

Not everyone’s cup of tea, so to speak, but it’s amazing what lives and dies beyond our normal gaze.

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Interesting contrast between these two pictures, don’t you think!

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Young Moorhen scavenging – St Stephen’s Green Dublin

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Autumn is the time that many young birds start to fend for themselves, entering another dangerous period of their short lives.

Moorhen often feed on droppings and other bits and pieces lying around as this young one was in St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin.

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Great Northern Loon or Diver, Clew Bay, Mayo

 

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Autumn is also one of the main migration times as thousands of birds leave and arrive in search of more suitable conditions.  Twitchers will have been covering the miles to catch sight of unusual birds and rarities.

If not at the twitcher stage, it is still worth looking out for birds and sea creatures from our

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Red-throated Loon, Clew Bay, Mayo

shores.

We recently saw both Great Northern and Red-throated Loons while strolling along the beach in Clew Bay, county Mayo.

Theses used to be called Divers in Europe.  They were in transitionary plumage – half way between breeding and Winter plumage.

Loons or Divers are large duck-like birds sometimes confused with cormorants from a distance.  They can stay underwater for a few minutes at a time during which you need to predict where they will surface.

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Rut Master calling in woods of Phoenix Park, Dublin

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Younger Fallow Deer Stags practice fight, Phoenix Park

Autumn and early Winter is the rutting time for  some deer species in this part of the world.

Right on Dubliners’ doorsteps, the Phoenix Park hosts several groups of Fallow deer.  They have been there for a few hundred years since they were placed for the hunting classes.

During the rut, Stags compete to have mating rights with groups of does.  This involves a lot of posturing, gutteral calls and some fighting using their prodigious antlers (which while impressive and photogenic, otherwise seem to be a bit of a nuisance, catching in grass and branches).

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Rut Master Stag with Does, Phoenix Park

Damage is sometimes done but mostly common sense prevails and the strongest (or most confident or biggest bluffer) prevails.

Fights can be witnessed – they often take place in the woods while the does sit and wait in the fields.  Young stags also practice fight which is a much more relaxed affair.

It is not a good idea to approach too closely at this testosterone charged time.  Indeed too many people get too close all year to animals that should be left wild.  Many also feed them bread, Mars bars and all sorts of stuff best left outside the park.

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Red Toadstool – Fly agaric – Clara Vale, Wicklow

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This is what it is all about – a contented if tired stag with ‘his’ hopefully content and fruitful does!

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Plants usually provide the most colourful and showy Autumn sights.

But it is not just the dying leaves – whose often brilliant colours are caused by the closing down of chlorophyll, resulting in the green leaves changing to a range of yellow to orange and red colours – that are notable.

Many plants show confident colour at this time.  For example Crocuses and shrubs such as Verbena often flower brightly and some with lovely scent.

Mushrooms also can be colourful although generally in nature, the most colourful are the most dangerous!  This one is said to be poisonous although rarely seems to kill humans.  It also has hallucinogenic properties.

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Curlew & Godwits against morning sun, Baltra beach,Mayo

Finally, this is the season of the wader.  Coasts everywhere are greeting larger and larger flocks and Geese and Swans are on their way, including ‘ours’, hopefully.

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The message as always is if you can get out there, well, GET OUT THERE.

Happy Winter


Spring 16

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Crocus in Garden

While many in Ireland are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Easter rising, plants have been rising in fields and gardens as for ever.

Crocuses, Daffodils, Primroses and Snowrops are the early bloomers, bringing colour & promise.

Snowdrop in Garden

Snowdrop in Garden

Other flowers to test the temperature early are the Hellebores. Like all the others, they provive nectar for the early flying insects.

Hellebore Flower

Hellebore Flower

Most of these are waning now as the main shrubs and plants take over.  However here in the cold foothills of Wicklow, everything starts later and some are still hanging on.

Frost is still a threat and some flowers, like sleepy teenagers, look very different from early morning …….

Snowdrops & Hellebores Drooping in early frost

Snowdrops & Hellebores Drooping in early frost

to afternoon!

Snowdrops & Hellebores Awake

Snowdrops & Hellebores Awake

 


The Flowers that Bloom in the Spring …

Daffodil against sun in Garden
Crocuses in Hermitage Museum courtyard Amsterdam

Crocuses in Hermitage Museum courtyard Amsterdam

With apologies to Messrs Gilbert & Sullivan, these flowers have everything to do with this case.

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There has been a good showing of wild and garden bulbs such as Crocuses as well as other Spring flowers this year befitting from some sunny spring weather.
They add colour and provide nectar for early flying insects.
But more importantly, they signal an end to the dark cold days.
Snowdrop in Garden

Snowdrop in Garden

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Snowdrops lit up field edges and areas under sleeping bushes, early on.
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Their delicate, fairy-like white heads seemed to dominate fields and gardens.
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The traditional show in Altamount Gardens, Co. Carlow, was brilliant with different varieties and areas where the lawn was almost obscured by white. . See https://cliffsview.wordpress.com/2015/02/22/spring-signs/

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Daffodil against sun in Garden

Daffodil against sun in Garden

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Daffodils (Narcissi), Cyclamen and Tulips followed, reminding us what great value bulbs are, usually recurring each year, often in greater numbers, with little work required.
Tulip inners in Garden

Tulip inners in Garden

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Bluebells in Garden

Bluebells in Garden

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Primrose has had a very good spring and these always cheery flowers are in full bloom.
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So also are Bluebells in many places.
Bluebell woods Muckross rd Killarney

Bluebell woods Muckross rd Killarney

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Here in this colder corner of heaven, they are just starting!
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It always seems to me that blue is not a common colour in nature and so to see woodland carpeted in blue surprises and delights year after year!
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Three-cornered Garlic Allium triquetrum Howth with E coast in distance

Three-cornered Garlic (Allium triquetrum) Howth with East coast in distance

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Many places have large shows of white flowers again, like a revisit of Snowdrops. Ransoms or Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum), related to Chives, are in full growth in many places, especially in woods. A quick break of a leaf delivers the sharp Garlic smell.
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An introduced species of Garlic, Allium triquetrum, gives a similar show in some more open spaces around the country.  It  has more bell-like white flowers on Hydra-like multiple stems.  It also smells of Garlic but not as strong as the more common variety and has narrower leaves.
Wild Pansy Viola tricolor Bull Island

Wild Pansy (Viola tricolor) Bull Island

Pink Rhododendron Flowers Russborough

Pink Rhododendron Flowers Russborough

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Meadowsweet is beginning to add fragrance to country roads and keep an eye out for Wild Pansies which seem too vivid to be growing wild.
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Rhododendron, that most invasive of invasive species, should be blooming shortly.  It probably is already in some parts. Despite its all enveloping and choking nature, the flowers in many colours, are something to see.  If you can forgive them their bullying nature for 1 month, two good places to view them are Deer park in Sutton / Howth and Russborough House, south of Blessington (See .  Howth has the advantage of great views over the coast.
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In the west, many roadsides sport them and they can be a real nuisance to control!

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Gorse at Lower Reservoir Silent Valley Co Down

Gorse at Lower Reservoir Silent Valley Co. Down

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Of course one of the nicest sights at this time of year is Gorse (Ulex) in full bloom.

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Enjoy and may the Furze be with Yew.