Tag Archives: House Sparrow

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:

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:

 

January, outgoing

So we’ve finally reached the end of a January which was slightly wetter than most Januarys, but much more typical than December was. However, all the heavy rain of December provoked a remarkable response from the plantlife of Wicklow. Here, for example, are two photos from the 4th January, and they are quite incredible because this one is a tuft of natural Bluebells:

Yes, genuine Bluebells in early January.
Yes, genuine Bluebells in early January.

And these are the leaves of the Arum Lily, also known as Lords-andLadies or Cuckoo Pint, Arum maculatum:

Borad fleshy leaves of the Arum Lily.
Borad fleshy leaves of the Arum Lily.

Both are spring plants, but usually they don’t begin to appear until much later in the year, in March or April. However, the weather became more cold towards mid-January, and their growth slowed. Birds began showing up in gardens looking for food, as usually happens in December, January and February. Here are a few which came to feeders in my garden:

A spectacular little Blue Tit, one of our more common species.
A spectacular little Blue Tit, one of our more common species.
A Blue Tit and a much larger Greenfinch at a peanut feeder.
A Blue Tit and a much larger Greenfinch at a peanut feeder.
Two male House Sparrows at a seed feeder. These birds have become very rare in some parts of Europe, but are an invasive species in North America. In Ireland they are perfectly at home and still doing well.
Two male House Sparrows at a seed feeder. These birds have become very rare in some parts of Europe, but are an invasive species in North America. In Ireland they are perfectly at home and still doing well.
A Robin. The European Robin is a species of Chat, whereas the American Robin is much larger and a species of Thrush. Our Robins are starting to make territorial calls and to fight - breeding season is coming.
A Robin. The European Robin is a species of Chat, whereas the American Robin is much larger and a species of Thrush. Our Robins are starting to make territorial calls and to fight – breeding season is coming.
A male Blackbird basking in the weak January sun. Blackbirds have begun to sing their territorial songs and squabbling over territories just like the Robins. This year breeding season will be early for them too.
A male Blackbird basking in the weak January sun. Blackbirds have begun to sing their territorial songs and squabbling over territories just like the Robins. This year breeding season will be early for them too.

It is definitely one of the best times of the year to birdwatch, because birds need the food we provide and the shelter or our gardens, but it is important to remember that when the weather improves that they will become lazier and more likely to be killed by both cats and Sparrowhawks if they keep attending the feeders, and they will lose some of their foraging skills. So it’s best to help them when they need help in winter, but don’t make them dependant on bird feeders.

This week spring has made a serious declaration of intent – here are three photographs I took in the last few days which prove spring has properly begun:

Proper, wild Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, blooming brightly right now.
Proper, wild Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, blooming brightly right now.
The first Crocus bloom I've spotted this year, but it was eaten by a slug yesterday, before it could open.
The first Crocus bloom I’ve spotted this year, but it was eaten by a slug yesterday, before it could open.

And finally, here is one of my favourite spring sights of all:

24584088241_3ff70c7479A female Early Thorn moth, usually appearing in mid-February, but this one seems happy enough to join the spring bandwagon. Keep an eye out for these moths when they come to windows at night. They are like a butterfly in size and pose. Absolutely beautiful. This Monday is 1 February, which means St. Brigid’s Day, the first day of the Celtic spring. This year spring wouldn’t even wait for the saint.