Tag Archives: birds

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.

Spring on the Cliffs

Early last week, when the weather started to warm up and get sunny as a spring should be, I decided to walk the Cliff Walk between Bray and Greystones, starting in Bray and ending in Greystones. It was a very misty but beautiful day for it nonetheless.

A beautiful day on the Cliff Walk, looking north in this photo.
A beautiful day on the Cliff Walk, looking north in this photo.

However, no sooner had I started the walk than I was surprised to see a big flock of Brent Geese flying south along the cliffs. Normally they would be well on their way to their summer breeding grounds, far to the north, by now.

A flock of beautiful dark Brent Geese flying south along the cliffs of Bray Head.
A flock of beautiful dark Brent Geese flying south along the cliffs of Bray Head.

The strange thing was that not only did I see geese, but there were no Barn Swallows (our only species) or even Sand Martins arrived from Africa yet. I expected to see at least one. In fact, I didn’t see my first swallow until two days ago, and only one at that. Yesterday I saw another two flying fast along the beach from south to north. They are definitely late this year. But on the cliffs last week breeding season was already well under way, with many seabirds staking their claims for nest sites on the cliff ledges.

Nesting colonies of seabirds are often very mixed. Here you can see Herring Gulls (our most common species of gull) and penguin-like Razorbills on the dangerous cliff ledges. Unlike penguins Razorbills are well able to fly, which is they only reason they can reach those ledges.
Nesting colonies of seabirds are often very mixed. Here you can see Herring Gulls (our most common species of gull) and penguin-like Razorbills on the dangerous cliff ledges. Unlike penguins Razorbills are well able to fly, which is they only reason they can reach these ledges.

I was especially glad to see that the Fulmars had returned. These gull-like petrels spend most of their lives far out at sea, returning to shore only briefly, to nest on the cliffs. By June you will be lucky to see one, let alone get a good look at a Fulmar. They can be currently seen nesting both above and below the Cliff Walk on cliff ledges. Be very careful if leaning over to observe them. And don’t get too close either – they are known to projectile vomit a stinking liquid at anyone who they feel may pose a threat, and I’m reliably informed it doesn’t wash off.

Love birds - a handsome couple of Fulmars nesting on a ledge below the Cliff Walk. If you want to get a photo of this lovely species, now is your chance.
Love birds – a handsome couple of Fulmars nesting on a ledge below the Cliff Walk. If you want to get a photo of this lovely species, now is your chance.

Flowers and the Dawn Chorus – Spring is Here!

It was in the last days of January the crocuses began to spring up. They didn’t open though, remaining spear-like flowerbuds. And then last Saturday some opened slightly and briefly, and then shut again due to the cold. There is one group of Early Crocuses which have always grown in my garden which I consider the markers of true spring, when snow simply will not sit on the ground anymore even if it does fall. These crocuses finally opened today after a night of rain.

Early Crocuses open and declare the spring.
Early Crocuses open and declare the spring. As you can see the shadows are stil long under the winter sun.
Crocuses are robust little flowers until they open, at which time they become as delicate as tissue paper. They are surreal against what had been a winter landscape.
This one is a different crocus, a hortiucultural variety, but still beautiful. Crocuses are robust little flowers until they open, at which time they become as delicate as tissue paper. Their gaudy colours are surreal against what had been a winter landscape.

Flowers begin the spring because they provide pollen and nectar for insects to feed on. The more flowers there are, the more insects there are, and the more larger animals have to feed on. Of course, the slightly warmer temperatures also cause grubs to transform into beetles, and here is one of the first I’ve seen this year, Aphodius prodromus, a type of tiny dung beetle which breeds in horse-manure. There just happens to be a field full of horses nearby.

This little beetle had evidently flown across the garden before crash-landing in a puddle of water - a lucky escape. They are stong fliers but clumsy too.
This little dung beetle had evidently flown across the garden before crash-landing in a puddle of water -from which it had a lucky escape with my help. They are stong fliers but clumsy too.

Wicklow was very dry this winter, with little or no rainfall for almost a month up until two days ago. The result has been an almost magical opening of flowers, including one unexpected little beauty, and one of the most important wild flowers of the spring – Lesser Celandine.

This specimen of Lesser Celandine has nine petals, but they can have as few as six. The plant is a member of the buttercup family, and so many bloom they can turn whole areas yellow. Insects absolutely thrive on their flowers, particularly hoverflies.
This specimen of Lesser Celandine has nine petals, but they can have as few as six. The plant is a member of the buttercup family, and so many bloom they can turn whole areas yellow. Insects absolutely thrive on their flowers, particularly hoverflies. For now this one stands alone.

At seven this morning, in the damp twilight, the dawn chorus began. Birds of many species began singing loudly and melodiously and were perfectly audible indoors. The chorus lasted about half-an-hour and it is the first time I’ve heard it this year. Dawn is still quite late, but gradually the mornings will lengthen and become earlier and the dawn choruses will grow longer and longer. However, the breeding season has begun and spring is most definitely here.