Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Return of the blackthorn winter...

The blackthorn trees are beginning to come into flower now, and as I'm being reminded by some of the older folks locally, a cold snap will surely follow!

Actually,there is nothing unusual about a cold end to March. Only a couple of years ago the Easter weekend in late March was marked by a hefty snowfall that produced a winter wonderland. This cold spell was so common in the past that it used to be called the “blackthorn winter”, when ancient folklore described how the blossom of blackthorn bushes appeared during mild weather, only to be destroyed by a cold snap at the end of March. The cold closing days of March were also known as borrowed days.

Blackthorn blossom

The dry and increasingly warm days of March have also brought on numerous other wild flowers. On one local walk through ancient woodland I found wood 
anemone, cuckoo flower, violets and wood sorrel.

Wood Sorrel

Cuckoo Flower

If my diaries are anything to go by, then the spring insects and bugs are late this year locally.
By this same date last year for instance, I had already seen around 5 species of butterfly,as well as  weevils, rhopalid bugs, numerous bee species, bee-flies and wasps, and the ever present bumble-bees.

Friends 'up-country' have been seeing all of these for a while now, but there must be an exclusion zone in effect around West Kent, either that or they're avoiding me!

The daffodils that are in full swing now do attract some insects, and although their main source of pollen seems to be pussy willow at present, the honey bees are most prevalent.

Honey Bee
Pussy Willow

It's still very early in the season regards photographing invertebrates, and I'm still getting my hand in after the long and dark winter months.
My photos seem to follow the same pattern each year, that is, I begin by over-enthusiastically photographing everything and anything that waits around long enough to be snapped.

So pleased am I at the sight of life once again that the camera almost seems to have a will of it's own and I get snap happy. However, as the short spring days turn to long summer ones, things settle into a routine and I tend to get more selective and give a little more thought to composition etc.

The following photo illustarates this nicely. I was so pleased to find this particular bee (Anthopora plumipes), a bee that although common, I'd not managed to photograph before, that I gave little or no thought to getting a nice 'clean' shot of it.
The bee only allowed me the luxury of one shot anyhow, and so I ended up with this rather distracting (although natural) background.

Hairy Footed Flower Bee Anthophora plumipes (male)

 'Thomisidae' or Crab Spiders, so called because they resemble crabs with their flat bodies and angled-out legs (they can also walk sideways and backwards like crabs) do seem to be coming out of hiding now and I've seen several of late sitting in the sunshine atop fence-posts.

Crab Spider (Thomisidae)

Shield bugs are also returning now that winter seems to have relinquished it's grip. Some, like the Green Shield-bug are still in their winter colours (brown mostly), others are already in full refinery and add a real splash of colour to the otherwise still pretty bare hedgerows.

The fairly large Juniper Shield-bug (Cyphostethus tristriatus) spends the winter as an adult, emerging in early spring. The species is common across southern and central England.

Juniper Shield-bug

As for that blackthorn winter, we'll just have to wait a while to see how that pans out. For now, all I can say is that spring has sprung, and the insects and bugs that I love to photograph are slowly but surely getting more numerous in both numbers and species to be seen. 

I would like to think that very shortly the blog entries will become more frequent as the ever diverse world of invertebrates gets into full swing.

Until the next time then...

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