We’ve been having some decent cold nights and frosty mornings in Wicklow, which is usually a good sign for a stable springtime. We are in the middle of another cold spell as I write this. Here is what some properly frosty grass looks like:
The frosts have meant clear skies and sunny but chilly mornings, but the newly blooming Snowdrops look great in the sunlight:
For me the flowers that are usually the most reliable indicators of the arrival of spring are Crocuses, and I’m glad to say I’ve found one with flowers on the verge of a full bloom:
They look bigger in the photo than they actually are in real life. On the other hand, the Daffodils are every bit as large as you expect. And in the last two days I’ve found some with their flowers opened and ready for business. If there are any early hoverflies about, they now have good amounts of pollen to feed on:
However, despite the cold conditions there are still berries to be seen on some trees. I found these impressive ones on a Hawthorn tree. Why are the birds not eating them?
However, probably the best indicators of warming temperatures are the Lords-and-Ladies, also known as Cuckoo-Pint or Arum, which have fleshy leaves and are slightly less hardy than other spring wildflowers. Their leaves rise from the ground and unfurl usually only when spring is well in place. Admittedly these ones which I photographed were in a sheltered area with a sunny aspect:
Today is a beautiful sunny day, perfectly marking the first day of the Celtic spring. But it is a very cold day with a biting breeze from the north carrying Arctic winds to Ireland. And it is a sad St. Brigid’s Day too, because on Friday news came of the passing of James ‘Shay’ Fagan, a well-known ‘birder’ in Co. Wicklow.
Shay Fagan, originally from Dun Laoghaire in Dublin, came to live in Newcastle in Co. Wicklow in the 1980s chiefly because he had become friends with Ireland’s most famous ornithologist, Major Robin Ruttledge, who lived in the village. Although Shay had a day job as a salesman he was a dedicated ornithologist and contributed to articles and scientific papers, along with conservation efforts with the Irish Wildbird Conservancy, which later merged with another wild bird conservation charity to form what is today Birdwatch Ireland.
Shay lived a very exciting life and travelled the world birdwatching. He admitted he had struggled with ill-health for many years, so his accomplishments are even more extraordinary. I remember well one May morning in 1990 when my younger brother Trevor and I mitched off school to instead go birdwatching with Shay. Unfortunately Shay was almost knocked unconscious when we were walking through a thicket of gnarled blackthorns looking for a Chiffchaff warbler, when Shay walked straight into a long branch which he couldn’t see as it was pointing directly at him. He was struck between the eyes and knocked onto his back where he was then struck by his heavy binoculars. When we helped him to his feet and asked him if he was okay he replied ‘that happens every now and then’,
He had many incredible true stories. In the late 1960s Shay spent two weeks out on Charlie Haughey’s island off the Kerry coast with a small group of ornithologists. Mr. Haughey had an enormous interest in nature and wildlife. According to Shay ‘I was just a ghillie so they left me to look after all the luggage and I was going to go over on a boat because there wasn’t room with them all in the helicopter. And then the pilot told me to hop up into the seat next to him. I ended up with the best view on the flight.’
When the helicopter landed Shay said he was left to unload the luggage while his fellow ornithologists ‘went exploring’. He then became aware of another person who joined in unloading the luggage, and over to find Charlie Haughey himself was helping him with the heavy lifting. Shay said he got on very well with Mr. Haughey and was surprised to find himself consulted almost as much as the academics present.
Unfortunately Shay Fagan was a very shy man and for this reason I have no photo of him to add to these words, but this shyness also is largely responsible for a series of misadventures Shay would have much preferred to avoid – those involving a man who was impersonating him. Unfortunately the impersonator, who came to be known as ‘Mad Shay’ led to Shay’s own reputation being somewhat damaged, because this impersonator (who exactly fitted his description, with thick spectacles and grey beard) , liked to add in all sorts of extraordinary unheard of details about birds, before recounting his exploits with the CIA and KGB as a double-agent and his work as a test-pilot with NASA.
Fortunately the real Shay Fagan had a great sense of humour (although this was sometimes sorely tested) and despite his long battle with illness he lived an exciting and interesting life studying the birds to which he was devoted. He was himself part of the wildlife of Wicklow and will be sadly missed.