I thought I’d heard of everything until on Friday night my brother told me to hurry out into the garden with my camera because he had been clipping the garden hedge when suddenly a Sparrowhawk (Accipter nisus) lunged out of the sky and attempted to carry off his garden shears! My first reaction was he must be losing his marbles, but then, he said the sparrowhawk had dropped to the ground after making its attack, looking stunned. It was now watching him from the top of the fence! Surely he had to be wrong? But, incredibly, it was still there, and still watching him. I managed to get several photos!
I got close enough to see that the sparrowhawk was almost certainly a young male, quite a bit smaller than a female. About the size of a Collared Dove, but far more robust. I attempted to edge closer for a better shot but, annoyed by my presence, the sparrowhawk flew into a neighbouring garden. I went back into the house and my brother continued clipping the hedge, and then he suddenly came to the door and said “He’s back! He’s watching me!”
Incredibly, the sparrowhawk was now perched on a neighbour’s house and was watching my brother working with his shears, possibly considering another attack. Clearly the sound of the shears was encouraging the hawk. I took several still photos and some video and edged closer as darkness approached. The sparrowhawk decided to fly off at that point. And if you doubt any of this please look at the video I took, below, showing the hawk actually watching my brother at work. You will not be disappointed.
Buckroney is unusual in that it is exclusively a sand dune nature reserve, and for this reason has very unique wildlife. The Common Blue (Polydommatus icarus) is a small but colourful butterfly, and the males will attack any flying insect entering their territory if it looks like it might be a rival butterfly. They will pretty much have a go at anything, even a bit of tissue waved at them. Like the one in the photo they like to perch on tall stems so they can survey the land.
Dunes have uniqe plants too, such as the beautiful low-growing and extremely spiky Burnet Rose (Rosa pimpinellifolia), which usually has cream yellow blooms but in places has pink or reddish, probably due to chemicals in the certain areas.
In many areas the sand is exposed, and this keeps the temperatures high in the dunes. Grasses tend to grow thinly, and in some places you find peculiar-looking ball-like objects. These strange things are actually a species of puffball fungus. In this case it is the Brown Puffball (Bovista nigrescens).
But for me the most interesting find on the dunes was a collection of about forty little mounds of sand with holes in their tops making them seem like volcanoes. I knew they had to belong to bees, but when a bee did show up it was tiny, but it entered the little mound. This species, which was new to me, is one of the Lasioglossum bees, which are a type of Sweat Bee. In the tropics they cause great annoyance by drinking sweat from people’s skins – but at least they don’t bite! However, in Ireland they are not a problem at all.
National Biodiversity Week ended on bank holiday Monday, but it really only heralds the start of summer. We have had a very mixed spring, with a colder May than anyone would have expected, but the wildlife is certainly out there. During Biodiversity Week the National Biodiversity Data Centre held its field meeting for volunteer recorders of butterflies and bees here in Wicklow, starting in Glendalough.
Most of the wildlife seen was actually at Buckroney Nature Reserve on the second day of the meeting, and not in the very crowded valley of Glendalough. However, there were lots of these insects which you will see around over the summer, Common Dor Beetles (Geotrupes stercorarius) one of the most common species of dung beetles. They are related to the famous Egyptian scarab beetles and have massive digging claws as they do.
Down at Buckroney Nature Reserve we had more luck. This area is part of the Brittas Bay dune system and very hot in bright sunlight due to all the sand. And it’s packed with wildlife. Such as…
And here are what naturalists look like in the field when they’ve caught something interesting…
There were quite a few interesting creatures at Buckroney, so I’ll post some photos of them in the next instalment.