It seems that winter is having a last battle with spring. We’ve had snow the last two days but rain is forecast for later and milder weather for tomorrow, it will possibly be the last. I know many of you are still under a couple of feet of snow but it’s so unusual for it to snow here in the west of Ireland that the first thing I do is reach for the camera!
Most exciting of all were the hare prints down in the newer wood where there are ash, cherry and oak trees. I followed them for a bit and came across some droppings too. In Ireland we have Irish hares (Lepus timidus hibernicus), a unique subspecies of the Mountain Hare (Lepus timidus). Having studied hares for my thesis they are one of my favourite animals.
Spring is definitely here though the weather is still cold and wet. But the flowers are opening and warming the heart. My favourites are primroses. They grow in the banks of our hedgerows. The first ones we saw were on the 14th February, but these were a bit battered by the hail showers we’ve been having. The ones below were photographed on the 19th February and are in a bank below some lovely old, wizened hawthorns on the edge of our hill field.
In the garden, the crocuses are opening and today our first daffodil opened fully.
In the polytunnel, we have planted our early potato crop – the variety is Charlotte and we can usually harvest them in May. They will be small but delicious! The second lot of broad beans I sowed (the first ones were eaten by a mouse!) have germinate and are just starting to grow. I’ve leave them in pots for a couple of more weeks before planting into the tunnel. In the greenhouse, I’ve sown some radish and early lettuce, a few kohlrabi and early cabbages in seed trays. We’ll see how they all go.
In the wood things are moving too. I spotted these badger prints a couple of weeks ago. Badgers don’t live in the wood but every so often we will find footprints on the muddy bits of the track, where they have been passing through.
And a sure sign of spring – the frogs have returned to spawn in the drain below the chicken field. It is always the first place they spawn. They will return to the pond in the next few days. It will be interesting to see if they will use the new pond, which lies between the drain and the existing garden pond. The photo isn’t great. I haven’t been able to sneak up on the frogs yet – without them all diasppearing under the surface of the water – but the picture will give you an idea of the amout of spawn. Each clump of spawn represents what one female has produced. There are about 50 clumps – that is 50 female frogs. And for every female frog there will be a male mating with her – that is 100 frogs in this little bit of drain. It’s pretty impressive!
Earlier in the week, while transplanting a small tree, my husband found a little newt. In winter, newts will find frost-free corners of the garden to rest up in, only coming out in milder weather to forage for food. They will often use compost heaps to hide in so it’s a great reason to have a compost heap.
Now with spring on its way, they will be thinking of heading back to the pond to breed. We often see them swimming in the pond during the spring and summer (see previous post https://murtaghsmeadow.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/newts/). They look quite graceful in the water. On land they seem almost prehistoric.
In Ireland, we only have one species of newt (Smooth – Lissotriton vulgaris), but in the UK there are three – smooth, palmate and great crested. Newts will eat slugs and snails as well as earthworms. In water, they will eat tadpoles and water insects.
I love seeing these little amphibians in the garden. We’re still waiting for the frogs to return to the pond to spawn. It’s usually about now we start to see them, so it shouldn’t be long. If you find newts in your garden you can record your sightings at www.biology.ie
I have been saving this post for halloween. My son actually spotted this bat in the workshop two weeks ago and I ran to get the camera. It isn’t the best shot, but the bat flew into a tiny gap between the wooden window frame and the wall and vanished before I could get a decent shot.
I wasn’t sure which bat it was. We have nine bats in Ireland and I thought it was too big to be a Pipistrelle of which we have three (Common, Soprano and Nathusius). The Nathusius’ Pipistrelle is only a recent discovery and so far the only breeding population has been recorded in Northern Ireland (in 1997), though it has been recorded in other counties on bat detectors. It amazing how little we know about bats here in Ireland.
I sent the photo to a couple of ‘bat expert’ friends but they have come back with two possible answers – either a Leisler’s or one of the pips.
We regularly see bats flying around our house and up and down the hedgerows of the little road that runs past the house. I’d love to get my hands on a bat detector to find out exactly which species they are.
I have been lucky to have been involved as a volunteer on two bat projects. The first was when we lived in the UK near Thetford Forest. Here they had numerous bat boxes in the forest which were checked once a year and all the bats were recorded. Individual bats were marked with numbered rings, the same as those used to identify birds. It was a great way to get really close to these amazing creatures.
Bat from bat box in Thetford forest
The other project was a night time one, so all we got to see were the bats leaving their roost. This was here in Ireland and these were very special Lesser Horseshoe bats. It’s the only horseshoe bat we have in Ireland and it is at its most westerly and northery limit in terms of population distribution. In this project, a number of the bats were fitted with radio tags and we got to track them through the night. I’m not a great person for staying up late but I really enjoy this night-time field work. The world is so different in the dark. You can check out the Vincent Wildlife Trust page for more information on the lesser horseshoe bat –
Wishing you all a Happy Halloween!
As an ecologist, one of the mammals that has always eluded me was the Pine marten. These are shy, elusive animals about the size of a small domestic cat. Yesterday evening, about 9pm, still bright as the sun was shining, I saw one. What is more, I saw it from my living room window! I was sitting watching a film and outside I noticed the birds (starlings and swallows, all presently feeding chicks) were alarming calling. I looked out and there it was standing on the log pile that rests against the side of the house. All I saw was it’s dark brown face and unmistakable creamy yellow throat patch and then it was gone. We have often thought that they were around, having seen scats in the forest. The habitat is good for these beautiful mammals; a conifer plantation and newer broadleaf woodland provides plenty of cover and food. They are omnivores taking berries, fruits, small mammals, amphibians and birds. For a photograph and more information check out http://www.mammals-in-ireland.ie/species/pine-marten
I suppose the chances of seeing it again are pretty slim, though I have to admit I did think about it as I set out to do my butterfly monitoring transect late this afternoon. But no such luck. So instead I leave you with a photo of the Ringlet butterfly which along with a Speckled wood and a few Meadow browns were my only recordings!