In January there were reports of beautiful tropical wading birds called Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) having somehow arrived in Ireland. Three of them found their way to the East Coast Nature Reserve on the Wicklow Coast and have been the focus of huge attention, the area becoming almost a pilgrimage site. And, most remarkably, they don’t shun the attention at all. They are not scared of people.
They are very dark birds, kind of like a choclate brown combined with shimmering dark purple. They have long beaks which they use to probe the boggy ground for insects.
What everybody is wondering is if they are going to stay in Ireland, like the Little Egret did in the 1990s. They are found mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, southeast Asia and Australasia, but in the mid-19th century Glossy Ibises flew across the Atlantic to Brazil and have since colonised much of the Americas. Could they make a permanent colony here too, despite our cold conditions? We’ll know soon enough.
Here is a video I made about them, easily the most exciting nature event in Ireland, and Wicklow, in a few years:
On Monday 28 March my brother Trevor and I paid a visit to the East Coast Nature Reserve. No sooner had we arrived than he spotted an unfortunate moth attempting to tread water in a slow moving area of river by the entrance. I climbed over the fence, and found a stick to fish the moth out with. This was a serious feat of derring-do, because if I’d fallen in I would have been wet to the knees. It was a Hebrew Character moth – Orthosia gothica – and I left it on some warm stones to dry off.
We spoke to the warden and project manager, Jerry Wray. Jerry was very busy, but took time out to tell me of some Garganey ducks that had arrived, and to lament the absence of the Stonechats, which seem to have been forced into a migration, or killed, by the severe winter. Only time will tell.
As we sat in the main hide looking out for the Garganeys, on the ponds and lake of the reserve, Jerry suddenly shouted “There’s a Swallow!” and a single bird zoomed past the windows and began dipping in the lake for water. “That’s the first one I’ve seen this year! Have you seen many?” I asked. “No, That’s my first one aswell.”
That made the event even more special.
Unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough to get a shot with my camera, but my brother Trevor managed to snap the bird. Not perfect, but pretty good for an unexpected appearance that didn’t last very long. And then the Swallow was gone. Later Jerry saw an entire flock of Swallows, which then followed the shore and astounded onlookers birdwatching at the Kilcoole Reserve to the north.
As Jerry headed back to work, Trevor and I decided to examine the reedbeds and see if there were any new developments. On the boardwalk we found two very interesting insects. The first was a brightly-coloured species of Rove Beetle, known only by its scientific name of Paederus riparius. Bright colours warn of noxious chemical spray from the rear-end. This lovely beetle normally patrols sandy areas, hunting fro smaller insects. It is only about 1cm long, at most, and very narrow.
But our most exciting discovery was yet to come: in the form of a big, finger-length and brightly-coloured furry caterpillar. The combination of fu and bright colours usually denotes hairs that are toxic, so you must always handle caterpillars with great care. Some people are more allergic than others. Trevor recognised the caterpillar for what it was before I did – that of the Drinker moth, Euthrix potatoria. The caterpillar feeds on reeds and many other kinds of grasses, and contributes to the common name of this species because it is said to very actively drink from dewdrops. As you can see from the photograph, it was a very handsme caterpillar. The fire-red plume is over the head. It is very hard to tell one end from the other, except when its moving.
Soon this big caterpillar will pupate, and then emerge as a magnificently camouflaged dead leaf-mimicking moth in July.