Tag Archives: berries

The Autumn Equinox

Tonight, and only a short time ago,  at 9.02 am local time here in Wicklow (8.02 pm GMT) was the exact halfway point between the Summer Solstice and the Winter Solstice. To put it bluntly, this is the definite end of summer and start of autumn, and from now until the Vernal Equinox next March each day will be shorter than the night. And the birds know that, so they’re fattening up, increasing their energy reserves by eating the various berries on the myriad trees and bushes which are brimming with them right now. Here’s a photo I got of a male House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) feeding on blackberries:

   And now butterflies are disappearing fast, although there are Large Whites, Green-veined Whites, Red Admirals, Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells still to be seen in small numbers. The latter two will hibernate and need to find suitable accomodation relatively soon if they are to make it to spring. However, the most numerous butterfly at this time of the year, and the one that blends in best with the autumn colours, is the Speckled Wood, which is usually the last species seen along hedgerows in the autumn. Their numbers are falling too, though. This September has been cooler than those we’ve had in recent years and that’s probably a factor.

But, if any creature plucks the heart strings more than others as it disappears from the landscape it’s the Swallow, You can still see some in our skies, but they’re flying south-east at speed, and usually not playfully hunting for insects as they were a few weeks ago. Now they have no time to waste and need to get to southern Europe and across the Sahara Desert to southern Africa with some degree of urgency, as the insect population on which they depend crashes in the colder, less sunny climate of autumn. There’s still a lot to enjoy out there though, and I’ll be doing my best to showcase it. Here is my slightly out-of-focus photo of a Swallow flyng quickly south,  and quite high up, this morning. I guess this is farewell and bon voyage, until next March or April:

 

November Settling In

Every November is different. Some are unseasonably warm and dry. But this year we have a classic example. On Halloween night the temperature was 17 degrees Celsius but it suddenly dropped on November 1 and has been good and cold ever since, with some heavy rain thrown in for good measure. In short, it feels like a real autumn. And now the wildlife is getting in on the act. Three days ago I saw this beautiful sight:

It's not easy to tell here but these are Brent Geese flying inland in formation towards the mountains of Wicklow, possibly making their way to the Blessington Lakes in west Wicklow.
It’s not easy to tell here but these are Brent Geese flying inland in formation towards the mountains of Wicklow, possibly making their way to the Blessington Lakes in west Wicklow.

Geese are, of course, the definitive proof that we are in the darker half of the year as Ireland serves as a wintering-ground for a number of species. One or two geese will stay in parks or on lakes all year, but these are very few in number as Ireland becomes too hot for them in spring and summer. But there are smaller migrations too – in September and October Blackbirds and Robins (and many other birds) seem to disappear from gardens but this is largely because they are migrating. Then new ones appear. Right now birds are arriving in gardens to feed on berries on the shrubs and trees.

A handsome male Blackbird feeding on the few remaining berries in the topmost canopy of a rowan tree, which is also known as the mountian ash.
A handsome male Blackbird which has come to feed on the few remaining berries in the topmost canopy of a rowan tree, which is also known as the mountian ash.

However, wherever there are still flowers blooming there will be a few bees around to collect their nectar on the few sunny afternoon hours.

A Honey Bee collecting nectar from a saucer-sized cosmos, a popular garden flower which is found in meadows in Europe but not in Ireland... yet.
A Honey Bee collecting nectar from a saucer-sized cosmos, a popular garden flower which is found in meadows in Europe but not in Ireland… yet. The pollen sacs on her legs are swollen with pollen, probably because the hover flies have largely disappeared  with the onset of cold weather and aren’t around to compete with the bees. There are also, of course, fewer bees, so more work and pollen for those remaining.