All posts by Samuel Connolly

Beautiful Tropical Birds Visit Wicklow

In January there were reports of beautiful tropical wading birds called Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) having somehow arrived in Ireland. Three of them found their way to the East Coast Nature Reserve on the Wicklow Coast and have been the focus of huge attention, the area becoming almost a pilgrimage site. And, most remarkably, they don’t shun the attention at all. They are not scared of people.

They are very dark birds, kind of like a choclate brown combined with shimmering dark purple. They have long beaks which they use to probe the boggy ground for insects.

What everybody is wondering is if they are going to stay in Ireland, like the Little Egret did in the 1990s. They are found mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, southeast Asia and Australasia, but in the mid-19th century Glossy Ibises flew across the Atlantic to Brazil and have since colonised much of the Americas. Could they make a permanent colony here too, despite our cold conditions? We’ll know soon enough.

Here is a video I made about them, easily the most exciting nature event in Ireland, and Wicklow, in a few years:

St. Brigid’s Day

I know what you’re wondering – where have I been for the month of January? I’ll tell you – sick with the worst dose of flu I’ve had in 22 years! But I’m almost over it.

According to Irish tradition the first day of February, which is St. Brigid’s Day, is the beginning of spring. And, considering that the term ‘spring’ refers to the ‘springing forth’ of plantlife, then it is usually pretty accurate. However, this year, despite a good cold January and a very cold and blustery first day of spring, has seen very early plant growth – the earliest I’ve ever seen. Daffodils rose out of the ground in late December and I saw my first daffodil blooms last weekend!

   And this is not an early type of daffodil. However, the crocuses beat the daffodils to it, just.

The crocus above was the first crocus bloom I saw this year, and it appeared las week during a short bout of freakishly warm weather which lasted four days. But the Early Crocuses I usually rely on as the definitive announcement of the arrival of spring have not risen yet, let alone bloomed, so maybe they think we still could get snow. However, other spring plants, usually much later than daffodils and crocuses, have already made an appearance. Check these out:

They are, of course, snowdrops, which are usually the earliest bloomers of the spring plants, although they are technically more winter flowers. However, in snowy areas they usually signal the end of carpeting snowfalls. What is really strange is how quickly these much less hardy plants have jumped out of the ground:

These are the relatively delicate leaves of Lords-and-Ladies, aka Cuckoo-pint, aka Arum Lily (Arum maculatum) which normally break out of the ground in February but don’t unfurl their leaves like this until March at the earliest, yet here they are. And here’s something more impressive:

Believe it or not, these are bluebells! I have never seen them appear out of the ground quite so early, and looking so robust. However, there are also insects astir, including this extremely early moth, the Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria):

The male is a stocky moth, shown here, and the female is wingless. This species is around from January until March, so it’s not exactly early. To make things interesting there are two varieties of this species. Both have silky ‘silver screen’ underwings.

Spring in Early Winter!

This year we had very mild conditions up until early November, when it turned colder than usual and pretty much stayed that way until the Winter Solstice, which is the beginning of the astronomical winter. We then had a week of unseasonably warm weather which came to a sudden end with a cold front arriving after dark on Christmas Day. But that one warm week has had an amazing effect, as it has caused the sudden, and unexpectedly early growth of daffodils in many places –

And it’s worth remembering these are not ‘early daffodils’ but a variety which appears at regular, normal times of year. In the photo you can clearly see a flowerbud. However, since the warm week we have had some very cold weather, with sunny days of only 1 degree Celsius, and plenty of snow on the hills and mountains. These cold conditions have caused lots of lovely bird species to enter gardens, desperate for food, such as this beautifully coloured Blue Tit  –

There are also plenty of Starlings –

   However, the most numerous ones are House Sparrows, and they are roosting in low bushes and in the mornings you can see them bathing in puddles, regardless of the temperatures. It’s a great time of year to see birds –