Tag Archives: Chaffinch

Late Autumn is still not Winter

It’s easy to forget, when the days get colder and shorter as they are doing now, that it’s still not winter. Autumn is very much a season of its own, as season of change. I forget this myself, sometimes, but was reminded on a cold day, when the sun suddenly got very strong, that not all of summer’s creatures have gone to sleep. I was amazed to see a very hungry Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) butterfly late last week:

   This lovely Red Admiral must have briefly awoken from hibernation to feed on this Winter-flowering Viburnum. Thanks to the exotic plants we now have growing in our gardens, many of which blossom in our Autumn and Winter, there is still nectar available to butterflies when days are warm enough for them to fly. Incidentally, this particular day was only 7 degrees Celsius in the shade. But a clear sky allowed a bright sun to warm the butterfly to the necessary 15 degrees Celsius it needed in order to fly. However, some relatives of butterflies are much hardier, by which I mean certain species of moth:

   The moth above is a small and handsome species known as the Rusty-dot Pearl (Udaea ferrugalis). It is attracted to light, and here can be seen resting on a wall beneath an outdoor light. It is normally seen in Summer and Autumn, but is so hardy it can be found at anytime of the year, so do keep a lookout for it.

However, whatever about butterflies and moths, this time of year is a terrific time to see birds, and more and more are coming into gardens looking for food. Here is a young male Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs), which was foraging in my garden only last week:

   Chaffinches like to eat seed from small plants. They don’t usually come to feeders. The female looks identical to the male, but in sepia tone. Far more numerous than the Chaffinches here in Wicklow are the House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) which like to roost in trees, shrubs and bushes, often in large numbers. Here is a male watching the sun set behind the hills from a perch amid the ferocious thorns of a bramble, at 3.45 pm in the afternoon:

At the End of February

Today is the last day of February and the weather is a bit stormy right now, but considerably milder than it has been. However, we had daytime temperatures briefly climb up to 16 degrees Celsius two days ago, and stay at 12 degrees Celsius through the following night, which led to a wonderful surprise the following morning – frogspawn.

A beautiful blob of crystal jelly frogspawn. A good sign of an established spring, but we can't rule out heavy frosts just yet.
A beautiful blob of crystal jelly frogspawn. A good sign of an established spring, but we can’t rule out heavy frosts just yet.

There have been some other signs of warmer sunnier weather, although much less spectacular than frogspawn. Namely, 7-spot Ladybirds and Green Shieldbugs sunbathing on plants on warmer afternoons.

The 7-spot is the most common and recognisable of our ladybird species. In early spring these predatory beetles sunbathe and feed on the pollen of early flowers. Later it will be insects.
The 7-spot is the most common and recognisable of our ladybird species. In early spring these predatory beetles sunbathe and feed on the pollen of early flowers. Later it will be eating small insects.
Green Shieldbugs are probably the most common species in Wicklow, and they can be found all year. In winter they often turn brown to blend in with brown leaves. However, in gardens they often can remain green due to evergreen bushes and trees of many varieties. They are very sociable insects and feed on plant sap.
Green Shieldbugs are probably the most common species in Wicklow, and they can be found all year. In winter they often turn brown to blend in with brown leaves. However, in gardens they often can remain green due to evergreen bushes and trees of many varieties. They are very sociable insects and feed on plant sap.

Wild primroses (Primula vulgaris) have also begun to bloom all over Wicklow. You can see them along hedgerows, usually on exposed banks at the bottom of trees. They really stand out at this time of year.

Primroses won't usually open fully until they are satisfied with the weather. This one is in a somewhat shady area and unwilling to completely unfurl.
Primroses won’t usually open fully until they are satisfied with the weather. This one is in a somewhat shady area and unwilling to completely unfurl.

But probably the most important flower of all to bloom in spring is also the most overlooked and least appreciated – the dandelion. Dandelions produce a massive amount of pollen and are very important to insects. They are especially popular with Honey Bees. Here is one of the first I’ve seen this year.

One of our most important wild flowers, the dandelion. They seem almost as bright as the sun.
One of our most important wild flowers, the dandelion. They seem almost as bright as the sun.

Finally, here’s something much less obvious to look for. The drab little bird below is a Chaffinch, and you might think it’s a female, but if you look closely you will see it is tinged at the edges with the the bright colours of an adult male. This little bird is a young male and in the next few months will wear the sky blue and salmon pink of an adult. He might even breed this year. It’s highly likely. He has a lot of living ahead of him.

A young male chaffinch currently living the solitary existence of a bachelor, but soon he will have bredding colours and a chance of finding a mate.
A young male chaffinch currently living the solitary existence of a bachelor, but soon he will have breeding colours and a chance of finding a mate.