Tag Archives: ornithology

Still To See

It’s the last full week of August now and many people would think summer was drawing to an end, but there are still plenty of wonderful wild things to see in Wicklow. If you look in the streams right now you have a very good chance of seeing Brown (Sea) Trout parr (sub-adults) (Salmo trutta) in the crystal clear waters. In fact, there are loads of them and they are very handsomely marked and coloured:

Also, due to the very balmy winter, subsequent early spring, and the fairly consistent summer we’ve had this year, many birds have had more than one brood of youngters. It would seem some have had as many as three broods. Here is a Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) I saw feeding one of three fledglings which were moving through willow tree canopies with it.

Finally, keep an eye out for a lovely little bright red flower known as the Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis). This tiny flower opens and closes depending on the weather, and is famously used to predict coming weather as it will often open or close in advance of sun or rain, respectively. Most people will know the Scarlet Pimpernel as a swashbuckling hero of novels and films, but almost as many people are left wondering what a ‘pimpernel’ is exactly. Believe it or not it’s a very old Latin word for pepper – piperinella, which got modified over the centuries by the addition of an m. There is also a Bog Pimpernel and a Yellow Pimpernel, and, ridiculously, Scarlet Pimpernel can itself also be pink or royal blue in colour. However, it is mostly red in colour, as the name suggests. Anyhow, I personally feel a swashbucking hero going by the name ‘The Scarlet Pepper’ doesn’t really have the same ring to it, so long live Pimpernel!

The Great May Adventure

May is always a bit of a mixed bag. You never know quite what you’re going to get, but it’s always progressing towards the calmer months of summer. And in the natural world it’s a time of frenetic activity. This year we had May weather in April because the weather was so unusually dry for spring. First it started with early bird nesting.

A handsome Wood Pigeon in breeding colours carrying a large twig to its nest.
A Jackdaw carrying nesting material to a disused chimney where it has a nest.
A Robin carrying spider prey back to its nest, which is hidden in the hedge. It watched to make sure I had moved on before entering the nest and giving the location away.

But the most important aspect of the spring, apart from the weather, is the mass flowering of various plants. The most important is the spring dandelion bloom. Dandelions provide huge amounts of pollen that many insects depend on, especially our pollinators. Every conceivable species of bee, fly and many beetles depend on these flowers in the early part of spring. In May they reach a crescendo in their blooming and then rapidly seed while other spring blooms appear just in time to sustain the insect population. Here you can see dandelions and bluebells together:

The Bluebells are now mostly gone out of flower in the lowlands, but up in the highlands of Wicklow they are only coming into bloom, so if you’re looking for bluebells this late in May then you need to go upland. Tawny Mining Bees among many other species depend on these flowers. The Tawny Mining Bees are gone for this year, but you might see another pollinator about, the somewhat sinister-looking and beautiful Panzer’s Nomada (Nomada panzeri) a cuckoo-bee which parasitizes the mining bees. It is also known to have a bad sting, but this one was very calm and unthreatening:

Also, May is the time to see the Orange-tip butterfly (Anthocaris cardamines). The females are all white with very few black dots on the upper sides of their wings. The males have are identical but have stunning orange markings on the tips of their forewings.

The female Orange-tip looks pretty much like other species of white butterfly when seen from above, although she does have silvery-black forewing tips.
The male Orange-tip is very distinctive despite being fast-moving and rarely sitting still.

However, from below both the male and female Orange-tip look very different to other white butterflies, having a green marbling pattern which gives them camouflage.

The marbling pattern on the underside of both the male and female’s wings can be seen when the butterfly is at rest.

As the weather gets warmer more and more moths appear too, but keep a look out for caterpillars, because many of the caterpillars of moths found in Wicklow are far more spectacular looking than the adults of the same species. Here, for example, is the caterpillar of the Yellow-tail Moth (Euproctis similis). The moth is plain pale white with a bright yellow abdomen tip, but look at the gaudy colours of this caterpillar found on a Cistus bush:

The hairs of this caterpillar are a defence against predators and can cause irritation rashes 0n the skin of some people.

Along with dandelions the other big bloomer where the bees depend on is the big spiny Gorse or Furze bush. The yellow flowers fill the air with the scent of vanilla. Unfortunately in dry conditions they are highly flammable, but now we are at last getting some decent heavy rain showers the danger is passing. Some parts of Ireland have suffered terrible Gorse Fires this year. But fortunately Wicklow has escaped the worst of it:

Fledglings and Maybugs

It was a tough spring for the birds because temperatures were almost relentlessly below normal, causing plants to bloom, blossom and leaf late, and insects to be in short supply. I was surprised to see the Blackbird above with such a large fledgling chick. I had put some cream out for them, cream which had just gone off, but they loved it.

Two Cockchafer beetles - the males have rooster-like red combs on their antennae.
Two Cockchafer beetles – the males have rooster-like red combs on their antennae.

Last Thursday was our first really warm sunny summer-like day and later that night I found Maybugs, better known as Cockchafer Beetles, coming to the lights of the house in huge numbers. In fact, I’ve never seen so many at one time. They will be flying around Wicklow skies until late in June, and possibly even into July.  They are heavy beetles and when one very big one accidentally blundered into the web of a female Giant House Spider the poor spider was quite at a loss what to do, as the beetle was a bit bigger than its usuall prey. The Cockchafer fell out of the web soon after, ably assisted by gravity:

When spider dreams come true they're generally too big to handle.
When spider dreams come true they’re generally too big to handle.