Tag Archives: “Hirundo rustica”

Little Tern Season

It’s that wonderful time of the year again, when the Little Terns have returned to the beaches of The Breaches along the coast between Kilcoole and Newcastle. The main nesting areas have been fenced off by Birdwatch Ireland to protect them from predators and human beings and their pet dogs, who would otherwise walk unwittingly all over the nest sites and do terrible destruction:

And with them are many other wonderful birds. Here is one of my favourites, the Ringed Plover, which will feign injury to lure a predator, or suspected predator away from its nest site:

White is a very popular colour with shorebirds, largely because it affords them a degree of camouflage while hunting and/or nesting. Here is another beautiful species, the Oystercatcher, which has arguably the nicest call of any shorebird or seabird:

Although this bird looks bright and bold against the sea, when it lies down on the pebbles of the beach it becomes almost invisible, especially at a distance.

The terns themselves are bold and beautiful birds, and will attack you if you get too close to any nests:

However, as they come in to land on the beach the terns seem to vanish, and even at close range are very difficult to see, which is why the Birdwatch Ireland wardens mark the nests by numbering large stones:

You have to look hard to see this tern, but you can do it.

If you really want to see this spectacular sight then now is the time: taking Kilcoole Station as your starting point walk along the sandy path towards the thickets of Sea Buckthorn which is located just to the north of the nest site, which is permanently guarded at this time of year.

Also keep an eye out for more common birds, which you can get very close to, especially along the railway fences. Here is a beautiful swallow which I saw, which most people outside of the British Isles will know as the Barn Swallow:

The Autumn Equinox

Tonight, and only a short time ago,  at 9.02 am local time here in Wicklow (8.02 pm GMT) was the exact halfway point between the Summer Solstice and the Winter Solstice. To put it bluntly, this is the definite end of summer and start of autumn, and from now until the Vernal Equinox next March each day will be shorter than the night. And the birds know that, so they’re fattening up, increasing their energy reserves by eating the various berries on the myriad trees and bushes which are brimming with them right now. Here’s a photo I got of a male House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) feeding on blackberries:

   And now butterflies are disappearing fast, although there are Large Whites, Green-veined Whites, Red Admirals, Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells still to be seen in small numbers. The latter two will hibernate and need to find suitable accomodation relatively soon if they are to make it to spring. However, the most numerous butterfly at this time of the year, and the one that blends in best with the autumn colours, is the Speckled Wood, which is usually the last species seen along hedgerows in the autumn. Their numbers are falling too, though. This September has been cooler than those we’ve had in recent years and that’s probably a factor.

But, if any creature plucks the heart strings more than others as it disappears from the landscape it’s the Swallow, You can still see some in our skies, but they’re flying south-east at speed, and usually not playfully hunting for insects as they were a few weeks ago. Now they have no time to waste and need to get to southern Europe and across the Sahara Desert to southern Africa with some degree of urgency, as the insect population on which they depend crashes in the colder, less sunny climate of autumn. There’s still a lot to enjoy out there though, and I’ll be doing my best to showcase it. Here is my slightly out-of-focus photo of a Swallow flyng quickly south,  and quite high up, this morning. I guess this is farewell and bon voyage, until next March or April:

 

September Cooling

Last year it felt like summer right up until the Autumn Equinox and even beyond, but this year autumn seemed to follow the old Celtic tradition and start in early August. The bouts of rain have brought a coolness in with them and only for the bright sunlight of the late morning and afternoon, between showers, creatures would be few and far between. However, keep an eye out for the big strong Autumn Hawker dragonfly (Aeshna mixta) which can be seen patrolling gardens an hedgerows all across Wicklow right now. Occasionally they land and you can see their beauty:

These powerful dragonflies are migrants and snatch big insects such as butterflies and moths out of the air. They hunt by sight, like most birds. The really funny thing about them is that this species was a rare visitor to Ireland until the turn of the 21st century when they first began to arrive in large numbers. But some insects are adept at hiding from such predators, such as the Silver-Y moth (Autographa gamma). Can you see this one hiding among the dried flowers of a phacelia plant? Look for the Y markings.

   Many other flying insects are ending their life-cycles, and their last act is to mate and lay eggs from which caterpillars hatch. If you look on lettuces, cabbages, watercress or nasturtiums you have a good chance of seeing quite big Large White butterfly caterpillars (Pieris brassicae), like this one stretched out on a nasturtium leaf.

And lastly, and sadly, there are still some small numbers of swallows around. Our swallow is found not only  in Europe and Africa but also across much of Asia and in the Americas where it migrates from North to South America every year. It is properly known as the Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) and it feeds entirely on insects, so far as is known. Here are a large number of them I photographed at the end of August, as they gathered on electricity cables to rest before beginning their long flights south across Europe and over the Mediterranean Sea and the vast Sahara Desert to tropical and southern Africa where they will spend our winter. For them it will be another summer.