Belfast Telegraph

The unexpected winter sights produced by our crazy weather

By Linda Stewart

It's not even Christmas yet - and frogspawn has already been spotted in Northern Ireland.

The Woodland Trust had recorded its earliest sighting in nearly a decade, with spawn on Cornwall's Lizard Peninsula added to the Nature's Calendar survey on November 21.

Northern Ireland has now managed to beat that, with Ulster Wildlife learning of another frogspawn sighting near Dungannon, Co Tyrone, on November 19.

The exceptionally mild winter has brought out a host of plants and animals not normally associated with yule-tide, according to Ulster Wildlife.

People posting on its Facebook page have reported of snowdrops already starting to push through the ground, lesser celandines growing and honeybees and bumblebees still on the wing.

Several people have reported seeing bats flying in the daytime instead of hibernating in roosts, as would be normal at this time of the year, including one sighting in Fermanagh.

Gorse is blooming in the Castlereagh Hills and sightings of wasps have been reported - but Ulster Wildlife says these are queens out scouting for a hiding place.

Andy Crory of Ulster Wildlife said: "We are enjoying an exceptionally mild winter compared to the last two years, so it's not surprising to see many creatures still active.

"There is still lots of food around and it's not quite cold enough yet for many to enter hibernation.

"Some animals, such as frogs, have unfortunately been fooled into thinking spring has come early, but when the first real frosts hit this will all change.

"We would encourage the public to keep their eyes peeled and record their wildlife sightings with CEDAR online to help us understand more about the state of our local wildlife and the impacts a warming climate might be having on their behaviour."

The Woodland Trust says staff have reported a red admiral butterfly in a Donaghadee garden on November 24, while daffodil shoots were seen pushing through the ground in Bangor.

Dr Kate Lewthwaite, Nature's Calendar project manager, said: "Although spring is generally arriving earlier, to receive a frogspawn sighting before winter has properly begun is highly unusual.

"Given the reasonably mild weather we have been enjoying recently it is possible for frogs to be fooled into spawning early, but sadly it is unlikely the spawn will now survive the frosts we are experiencing. A recent paper which analysed frogspawn records on Nature's Calendar highlighted the long-term risks posed to the species by climate change and we need people to keep adding their valuable information to our survey to allow scientists to learn whether frogs are able to adapt or not."

Factfile:

The average date for the earliest frogspawn sightings across the UK over the past five years is March 8, with the most recent earliest occurrence being in 2005, when a record was added with a sighting on October 26. By recording activity of species, thousands of people have enabled Nature's Calendar to become the leading survey into how climate change is affecting UK plants and wildlife.

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