The Incredible Skies of November Wicklow

In some ways it is a great shame that November is the quietest month for tourists visiting Wicklow. November in particular gives us our most spectacular skies. Why they are so amazing in November is undoubtedly due to a combination of factors such as the angle of the autumn sun, atmospheric moisture and pressure, and the lie of the land, particularly the Wicklow Mountains and hill. Much more sholuld be made of this spectacle. There should be a cloud festival in November and buses bringing painters and photographers to the best vantage points. In this, the quietest month, we could truly celebrate nature in a way that no one does. Until that time the skies are left to the connoisseurs of light and cloud.

I took this photo of the sky at sunset yesterday with my trusty little Canon camera. The palm tree adds something exotic, but these cordyline trees are extremely common in Wicklow gardens. They are known as Cornwall Palms, although they are not actually true palm trees at all.

Blue Tit Acrobatics

November is a great month for viewing the foraging behaviour of garden birds because so many leaves have gone from the trees and because the insect population begins to crash as foliage and flowers disappear due to the lower amounts of sunlight and increasing cold. In the video below you can see a Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus) very carefully searching leaves for small insects and other goodies. The footage is very slightly out of focus, so apologies for that.

Red-throated Diver

Swans are not the only interesting birds sailing close to shore in November. It is an especially good time to see the Red-throated Diver (Gavia stellata), quite a rare species, patrolling the Wicklow coastline. In America these birds are known as “loons” and are famous for the haunting cry of the male on lonely lakes at evening time.

A Red-throated Diver, photographed this morning along the coast near the village of Newcastle. It is well worth observing the diving antics of this fascinating species.

According to Glynn Anderson, author of Birds of Ireland: Facts, Folklore and History, the name “loon” actually derives from the Shetland Island word “loom” meaning “lame”, a work originating in Old Norse. This seems a very apt term as Red-throated Divers, along with their relatives, are extremely ungainly on land. However, in water they have few equals and can diver for over two minutes (making them difficult to photograph). It has to be said that the species of diver (or loon, if you prefer) , can be very difficult to tell apart in Winter when they have plumage that is drab compared with their spring and summer breeding plumage which gives them their specific names. Fortunately, at a recent public meeting, the famous birdwatcher Eric Dempsey verified that the divers patrolling the Wicklow coastline at this moment are Red-throated Divers.

An Adventure in the Garden of Ireland