Preparation for migration

As the weather improves birds begin foraging and nest-building. Geese that have spent the winter sheltering in Ireland are suddenly preparing to fly north. The most numerous species found in Wicklow is the Brent Goose (Branta bernicla) which masses on the Birdwatch Ireland-protected saltmarshes at Kilcoole. They routinely gather in dense flocks and fly in a big ritualistic circle, moving from grazing area to grazing area like herd of miniature cattle with wings. As they need to fly to survive the geese cannot support the large multi-chambered stomachs many grazers require. Instead they swallow smooth round pebbles which roll around inside their gizzards, processing the food into more digestible matter.

Brent Geese in flight

Geese are not the only winter visitors soon to be leaving to breed in northern lands. The Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) is a handsome wader with long reddish legs and a spear-like bill. It is a common sight on the mudflats of the Breaches estuary between Kilcoole and Newcastle. This bird will fly to Iceland, and possibly even as far as Greenland, to breed this summer. Kilcoole is a very good place to see them.

Black-tailed Godwit

The Re-awakening

Wicklow has a bundle of microclimates, but can mostly be divided into east and west of the mountains. Most people live on the eastern side, which is sheltered mostly from the north and west winds. It mainly gets cold in the east when there is an easterly winter wind, which is not very common. Because Ireland is fed warm waters from the Caribbean via the Gulf Stream current spring usually comes earlier than any other area of the world at our latitude. St. Brigid’s Day (1st February) is traditionally the first day of the Irish spring. St. Brigid was not a genuine saint, but a much older pan-European goddess whose cult refused to die in the face of Christianity, despite the best efforts of the priesthood. In the end they had to incorporate her into Christianity by making her a saint. As a goddess she was identifiable with mothers and birth.
The Early Crocus is the most reliable sign of the arrival of spring. My studies suggest that won’t flower until the last snows have gone. This one appeared in mid-February.

A colourful sign of things to come.

An Adventure in the Garden of Ireland