Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Blue skies smiling at me

We rarely have high pressure weather systems over Donegal, but the past week has been like this:

Con-trail over Mongorrey
High pressure at this time of year produces sun during the day and frost at night, so we have had a couple of nights with -4 and -5c, but the days are warm enough to bring out the first insects.

I can almost predict that the first hoverfly of the year will be a female Eristalis tenax, and sure enough, I spotted this one today on a Dandelion:

Female Eristalis tenax on Dandelion
Females of Eristalis tenax overwinter as mated adults, so they are ready to produce eggs as soon as it's warm enough. Related Eristalis species overwinter as pupae, so although the tenax females have a head start, they are at risk if the winter is very cold.

I went up to see if there was any frog spawn at the usual places, but none was visible, although I have seen a few frogs at night. I did, however, see a few midges in loose clouds:

Midge cloud

This is still a good time of year to see lichens before the green growth obscures them. I found a large specimen of Peltigera membranacea (Rabbit's-Paw Lichen):

Peltigera membranacea - 'Rabbits-paw lichen'

The underside of the thallus is covered with spiky rhizines, which are used as anchors:

Rhizines on the underside of the thallus of Peltigera membranacea
There are quite a few different species of Peltigera on the patch, but P. membranacea is easily distinguished by the pale blue thallus.

Evernia prunastri can be distinguished from other similar species by the twin-forked branching structure:

Evernia prunastri on Willow
Cladonia portentosa is most often seen apparently growing on the ground amongst mosses and heaths, but it's actually growing on buried wood. This specimen is growing on a badly-decomposed log:

Cladonia portentosa on decayed log
Night brings out the spring moths, and my first for the year is the Dotted Border:

Dotted Border moth
The Dotted Border feeds on a wide range of broad-leaf trees as a larva. I'll leave you to work out where its name comes from.

Here's the result of living in a wet climate:

Peziza domiciliana

Peziza domiciliana is a fungus which is most commonly found indoors, growing through concrete. This specimen is happily growing in the boot of my car.

New to my species list (and not previously recorded in Ireland, although I find that difficult to believe).

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Ashes to ashes

Last night, I found a newt lying apparently dead on a country lane. I picked it up and it moved a little, so I decided to take it home to check for damage (a car had just passed):

Male Smooth Newt

It seemed ok and survived the night, so I took it up to the local stream and released it there.

The stream runs alongside a country lane that is edged on both sides by Ash trees:

Craigs Road with Ash trees
Given that Chalara fraxinea has been detected not far from here, I rather suspect that these trees won't last much longer (hence the title of this post). This will, of course, be disastrous from the perspective of the trees, but Ash isn't the obligate food source of very many fungi or insects, so the impact on overall biodiversity is not likely to be as bad as it could have been.

The stream runs alongside the right-hand side of the road in the deep shade of the trees, and is a great source of water plants, with numerous liverworts and mosses on the rear wall:

Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage with the liverwort Conocephalum conicum
Many of these plants like dark, damp conditions, so I suspect the rear wall flora will be altered until some other trees grow to provide more shade.

The stream is where I always find the first flowering specimens of Lesser Celandine, and a few flowers were just beginning to open:

Lesser Celandine just opening
Just as I was taking the above shots, I heard the unmistakeable deep croak of the Raven. I looked up and saw a pair circling overhead:

Ravens over Craigs Road
They circled and kept me in view for quite a while before flying off west. I managed this shot showing the very distinctive tail:

At the top of the stream, where it emerges from an underground run, there is a wall that is always good for a few moss shots. This is a back-lit shot of Tortula muralis:

The moss Tortula muralis
I like to think that the setae (the 'stalks' that hold the capsules aloft) are light pipes, driving sunlight directly to the interior of the plants.

The capsules of many mosses are held well clear of the foliage in order to enhance the chances of spore dispersal, but Grimmia pulvinata continues to puzzle me with its insistence on keeping the capsules buried deep under the leaves:

Grimmia pulvinata, with buried capsules
You can just make out the brown capsules in that shot.

This shot of Barbula unguiculata would make a nice banner for somewhere:

Barbula unguiculata

 On the other side of the road, we have an untended copse where dead wood is ideal for fungi. This white crusting fungus is Meruliopsis corium:

Meruliopsis corium

There are also a few patches of Snowdrops in the same area:

A quick check on the Willows showed that the catkins are well advanced, so perhaps spring is on the way after all.

Willow catkins

Saturday, 2 February 2013

The birds

It seems that my prediction of a locally mild winter has been fairly accurate so far: we have had a few nights with frost, but rarely anything below -2. One night delivered a couple of centimetres of snow, but it lasted barely a few hours. We have, however, had fairly unrelenting rain with dark skies and terrible light.

Buzzards are a fairly common sight in the area, and we often have a couple flying directly over the house as they circle looking for prey. A pair decided to survey the local rookery, so I tried to get a few shots. As soon as you point anything at them, they make a dash for cover, and this is the shot I got as they flew round the other side of my house:

The sky is the colour that I have become familiar with over the last 40 days or so.

When we arrived back from shopping today, I noticed a Song Thrush lying beside our front doorstep. It seemed to be in some distress, but it didn't move as I rattled off a few shots. After I put the camera down, I approached it to see if it had any injuries, but it flew off, apparently in good order. On close examination of the photographs, however, I see that there are injuries to each side of the head, as shown in the following shot:

Injured Song Thrush
Those injuries are indicative of a predator of some kind, but I don't think that our local cat has a mouth large enough for that.

Another mystery.

Interestingly enough, this is a new addition to my Species List.