Tag Archives: birds

Easter and the Fertility Goddess

A lot of people wonder what the word ‘Easter’ means, and if you don’t already know the answer then you’re in for a surprise. Easter is actually Eostre, an ancient German fertility goddess associated with the springtime. Eostre is almost certainly a version of the ancient Babylonian goddess, Ishtar, and therefore the same as the Phoenician goddess Astarte, who was also known (in different time periods and places) as Ashtarot. According to one very reliable ancient source (preserved by the early Christian bishop, Eusebius of Caesaria):

“… Astarte set the head of a bull upon her own head as the mark of royalty, and in travelling about the world she found a star that had fallen from the sky, which she took up and consecrated in the holy island Tyre [modern day Lebanon]. And the Phoenicians say that Astarte is Aphrodite.”

My reconstruction of the so-called Burney Relief, an item of pottery, dating from 19th or 18th century BC, which is believed to show the Babylonian goddess, Ishtar. She also seems to have been associated with birds, and here is depicted as a bird-woman. Film fans will probably recognise the inspiration for the mechanical owl in Ray Harryhausen’s blockbuster 1980s movie Clash of the Titans.

This is very interesting because Aphrodite was known to the Romans as Venus and identified with the planet of the same name, which is Earth’s nearest neighbour, and which is also the brightest star in the night sky.

So, I hope you all had a happy Ishtar!

Anyhow, it is the perfect time to acknowledge both fertility and birds, and here is a little video about birds which you will see pairing off and building nests right now all around Wicklow, and further afield.

Beautiful Tropical Birds Visit Wicklow

In January there were reports of beautiful tropical wading birds called Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) having somehow arrived in Ireland. Three of them found their way to the East Coast Nature Reserve on the Wicklow Coast and have been the focus of huge attention, the area becoming almost a pilgrimage site. And, most remarkably, they don’t shun the attention at all. They are not scared of people.

They are very dark birds, kind of like a choclate brown combined with shimmering dark purple. They have long beaks which they use to probe the boggy ground for insects.

What everybody is wondering is if they are going to stay in Ireland, like the Little Egret did in the 1990s. They are found mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, southeast Asia and Australasia, but in the mid-19th century Glossy Ibises flew across the Atlantic to Brazil and have since colonised much of the Americas. Could they make a permanent colony here too, despite our cold conditions? We’ll know soon enough.

Here is a video I made about them, easily the most exciting nature event in Ireland, and Wicklow, in a few years:

Autumn Changes

I’m sure a lot of people are a little tired of the spider hysteria which grips the nation every year. However, due to spiders appearing around houses in Autumn we also have larger creatures. Rural gardens, and even gardens in villages and small towns in Wicklow are often visited by Pheasants (Phasianus colchicus), and you are almost certainly guaranteed a sighting of a big handsome male pheasant if you stop by the gate of a field and take a look inside. Male pheasants are very territorial birds. Here is one I managed to get a shot of recently:


Last spring I was woken very early in the morning, before sunrise, by a tapping sound on my bedroom window, and when I got up and drew back the curtains I found a startled pheasant on the other side of the glass, spider webs hanging from the corner of its beak. It had been plucking them off the outer window frame.  Spiders make up a substantial part of the diet of these birds, as do many insects.  This species was introduced from central Asia in the 18th century as a gamebird, and domestic pheasant cocks often have ring-necks, but after several generations the ring-neck disappears and many wild Wicklow pheasants are now more or less identical to those found in their original habitat. These big insect-eaters are also joined in gardens by smaller ones, and arguably  the cutest of the lot is the Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus):

   These acrobatic little birds travel in small flocks, and they sing to each other in communication as they hop and fly through the canopies of trees and shrubs. Because of their size and long tails, and habit of climbing everywhere, not to mention their somewhat mammalian appearance, they were known as ‘tit-mice’. Keep an eye out for them. You’ll hear them before you see them.

However, Autumn is best known for the fruiting bodies of fungi which appear everywhere, and in huge numbers. I hope to do a little bit of a showcase of these mushrooms and toadstools shortly, but will start with this little one, which is found on manicured lawns everywhere at this time of year – the Brown Mottlegill (Panaeolina foensecii), also known as the ‘mower’s mushroom’ – a mower being a lawnmower, or the person using it:

This weekend is the time to see them, because if Hurricane (or ex-hurricane) Ophelia lands on Ireland on Sunday night and Monday morning, then most of the mushrooms and toadstools will be destroyed by torrential rain. But let’s hope it is much weaker by the time it arrives here.