Tag Archives: Bullfinch

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.

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: