December Freeze

Wicklow Landscape
Wicklow Landscape

This December was extremely unusual for Wicklow, with heavy snowfall in late November and snowy conditions continuing into early December. There was a brief thaw for just over a week in mid-December before another, heavier succession of snowfalls, which caused a White Christmas for 2010.

A Tractor In The Snow
A Tractor In The Snow

The Wicklow landscape was harsh and forbidding, and many villages and smaller settlements were cut off from the outside world. Tractors were often the only reliable means of transport, with 4x4s even being unable to pass the snowy drifts.

Winter in Wicklow is always hard because of the shortness of the days. A typical December day is usually under eight hours in length. This means that in snowy conditions birds are often forced to forage in twilight and even after dark, or in the darkness before dawn.

Robin
A Robin In The Snow
Male House Sparrow
Male House Sparrow
Pied Wagtail
Pied Wagtail

Garden birds can be seen with their feathers fluffed out, such as the Robin, House Sparrows, and Pied Wagtails.

Mistle Thrush
Mistle Thrush
Dunnock
Dunnock

Some shy birds become braver and can be easily seen in open areas of gardens, such as the large Mistle Thrush and small Dunnock.

Lapwings
Lapwings In Flight

But there were larger and more spectacular birds to be seen in the skies. Lapwings, also known as Green Plovers, could be seen flying slowly on their long wings. Their strange high-pitched calls resounded across the dark night skies as they gathered in fields and meadows.

Rooks Passing The Moon
Rooks Passing The Moon

Probably the most spectacular birds of all were the crows. Each evening Rooks flew home to their roosts in vast numbers. Sometimes they formed black clouds of many hundreds, twisting and wheeling in the sky in what would appear to be some sort of ritual dance. They were not the only birds practising aerial acrobatics: in the towns the pigeons were also doing so.

Leabeg Stone
Leabeg Stone

The 2010 Winter Solstice in Wicklow occurred at 11:38pm, less than half-an-hour before midnight on the 21 December. This meant that the first sunrise of the astronomical New Year was the followng morning, 22 December. This year was extremely special, as there was a Full Moon coinciding with the Solstice. As the Full Moon set on the western horizon the Sun rose over the eastern horizon exactly in time. It was spectacular to watch this event from the ancient Leabeg Stone in Kilcoole, which was like the pivot in a see-saw between both heavenly bodies.