Another visit to the Leitrim River in Wicklow Town, and this time a front row seat for watching a hunting Great Blackback Gull (Larus marinus). At first it was perched on a rock looking into the shallow waters near the wall running alongside the river. This species is the largest gull in the world and even dwarfs large species like the Herring Gull. The Great Blackback is as large as a goose.
And then it suddenly jumped into the water and grabbed something. It was a Green Shore Crab, as wide as the palm of my hand. The crab struggled helplessly in the dexterous jaws of the immense gull.
And then this happened – the gull showed how it deals with crabs, but I wasn’t expecting it to swallow it whole. Watch the video and you’ll be impressed. Unfortunately I was in a very windy place, so apologies for the sound. This species of gull is known to kill even adult rabbits and swallow them whole. If you don’t believe me, Google ‘Great Blackback Gull’ and ‘rabbit’ and you’ll be in for quite an education.
Great Blackback Gulls are found along coasts of the North Atlantic, and Ireland is in the southern area of its range. Keep an eye out for them on all coasts, but if you want to get close to them then visit the Leitrim River in Wicklow Town. You will usually see at least one, and many Herring Gulls and the smaller Black-headed Gull.
Considering we are at the transition between summer and autumn, and it’s still astronomically summer (the Equinox is on this coming Wednesday morning, 23 September, at just after 8.40 am) it’s amazing what creatures are still running round although the temperatures are starting to fall. Here’s a little video I made about one of them, and beneath the video window a detailed close-up taken by my brother Gavin.
There is a whole host of incredible wildlife in the Wicklow countryside at the moment, and often going unnoticed. Keep your eyes peeled. Here is a superb example which I found two days ago, the gigantic snake-like caterpillar of the Elephant Hawkmoth (Deilephila elpenor). Hawkmoths are the largest moths found in Ireland, and we are not short of them in Wicklow, although they are relatively rarely seen. Some, as I previously mentioned, can be as large as small birds. And their caterpillars are gigantic and often spectacular, such as this example.
When alarmed, or irritated, this caterpillar rears up as those going to strike. But if further irritated it will lie down and go through a series of frightening spasms, which make it look as though it has been mortally wounded, as though an electric shock was running through its body. It’s a harmless creature though, mostly feeding on Rosebay Willowherb, which most gardeners consider a weed, although it is a beautiful wild flower to we naturalists. Believe it or not, the moth is actually more spectacular than its caterpillar, but I have no photos of it yet. My To-Do List is ever-growing.