Tag Archives: bird

Little Terns and Whitethroats

This year we had a mostly very warm and sunny May and as a result many creatures, and wildflowers, appeared earlier and stayed around longer, but we are now coming to a period of transition as spring becomes summer. If you can visit the coast of Wicklow this year, when the weather is fine, do it. Down at the Breaches halfway between the functioning railway station of Kilcoole and the retired station of Newcastle you will find a fenced off area where an absolute bumper breeding season of the rare Little Tern (Sterna albifrons ) is in full swing, and will be for about another month.

Watchtower and hide used to monitor the Little Tern breeding grounds on the Kilcoole side of the Breaches.

The birds themselves are very noisy and can be seen fishing for sandeels and other small fish very close to shore. Their flocks fill the sky, but this is a very rare sight as this species has only a handful of breeding grounds in Europe.

The Little Tern is smaller than other terns and can be identified by its bright yellow bill. In the past they were known as ‘Sea Swallows’.

Being high spring there are many incredible birds to be seen, often at much closer proximity, and in better light, than at any other time of year. Here, for example, is a gaudily coloured male Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula). These beautiful birds feed on seeds and will hover over dandelion heads plucking off the seeds before retiring to a branch to munch them, as this one did:

Male Bulfinch feeding on dandelion seeds while perched in a rose bush. The female was nearby.

And there is always something new to see. This weekend I was was out for a walk, looking for butterflies, when I came across a nature photographer. As I usually do I asked if there was anything interesting about and he pointed out a Whitethroat warbler (Sylvia communis) perched on hogweed. I have seen Whitethroats many times but never once got anywhere near getting a decent photo, but thanks to this photographer I had my chance:

My first ever decent shot of a Whitethroat, and this one was almost certainly a male out to impress females and guard his territory from interloper males.

So now all I need is a photograph of a Green Tiger Beetle, Elephant Hawkmoth and Emperor Moth and I’ll be reasonably content with my lot. So a big thanks to Colin Rigney for making the above shot possible, and here is a photo of the man himself:

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.

Tyrannosaur on the Shore

Another visit to the Leitrim River in Wicklow Town, and this time a front row seat for watching a hunting Great Blackback Gull (Larus marinus). At first it was perched on a rock looking into the shallow waters near the wall running alongside the river. This species is the largest gull in the world and even dwarfs large species like the Herring Gull. The Great Blackback is as large as a goose.

The Great Blackback Gull is a handsome species, and the largest gull in the world.
The Great Blackback Gull is a handsome species, and the largest gull in the world.

And then it suddenly jumped into the water and grabbed something. It was a Green Shore Crab, as wide as the palm of my hand. The crab struggled helplessly in the dexterous jaws of the immense gull.

The Blackback Gull with its prey. It brought the crab to the rocky shore.
The Blackback Gull with its prey. It brought the crab to the rocky shore.

And then this happened – the gull showed how it deals with crabs, but I wasn’t expecting it to swallow it whole. Watch the video and you’ll be impressed. Unfortunately I was in a very windy place, so apologies for the sound. This species of gull is known to kill even adult rabbits and swallow them whole. If you don’t believe me, Google ‘Great Blackback Gull’ and ‘rabbit’ and you’ll be in for quite an education.

Great Blackback Gulls are found along coasts of the North Atlantic, and Ireland is in the southern area of its range. Keep an eye out for them on all coasts, but if you want to get close to them then visit the Leitrim River in Wicklow Town. You will usually see at least one, and many Herring Gulls and the smaller Black-headed Gull.