Tag Archives: “natural history”

Autumn Geese and a natural mystery

Autumn came in very slowly this year, but it turned quite cold quite quickly. However, now at last we are getting rain in proper autumn levels. We had proportionally very little rain all last winter, spring and summer. Finally the geese have started to arrive too. Here are two of the most common species, the Brent Goose (Branta bernicla):

and a flock of Greylag (Anser anser), with two Rooks (Corvus frugilegus) providing a sense of scale:

All of these birds are pictured at the famous Kilcoole Breaches and nature reserve.

There have been two noticeable trends this autumn – firstly there have been far less spiders than you would expect on average, particularly House Spiders. But all species seem to be lower in number than usual. The only spider species at normal levels, or apparently normal levels, has been the Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus), which is also the most obvious autumn spider:

    Conversely, there has been a population explosion of Brown Rats (Rattus norvegicus) which has been attributed to the long hot summer and the summer heatwave of May, June and July which almost led to a severe drought. The increased population of Brown Rats very likely has reduced the number of spiders, as rats and mice will happily eat large spiders. More rats equals less spiders.

However, from my own observations I disagree that the summer heatwave is responsible for the population explosion of rats – back in March, during the heavy snows, there was a massive surge in rat numbers. They were especially attracted to bird feeders. The winter had been very cold even before the snows arrived late, and it seems that this factor drew rats from the countryside towards human settlements in order to find food and warmth. But whatever the exact cause, there were a lot of them around, although numbers at last seem to be returning to normal:

Mothy Nights in July

The warm temperatures and drought (which have lasted two months in many parts of Wicklow and caused massive gorse fires) have also encouraged many species of butterflies, but even more species of moths, including some very big ones, such as the Northern Eggar (Lasiocampus quercus f. callunae ), a subspecies of the smaller Oak Eggar (L. quercus). This truly is a huge moth, and before now I last saw one all the way back in the early 1990s. This one is the female, which is the largest and more colourful of the sexes. Here is a video which shows the power and size of this moth, which is one of the largest in Europe:

Here is a still of the female, showing her details best:

The male of this species is smaller and darker than the female, but is otherwise almost identical. And here are other beautiful moths encountered in the last few days:

The Great Oak Beauty (Hypomecis robararia) is a large and somewhat variable species of moth. 

The following is the Common Emerald (Hemithea aestivaria), which is slightly smaller:

 

The Silver-Y (Auographa gamma), below, is a famous species which flies both day and night, migrating from southern Europe and even sub-Saharan Africa into Europe every year, and possibly even some individuals fly all the way back again. They come to flowers in large numbers and seem to fulfill the role of bees at night.The Mother of Pearl moth (Pleuroptera ruralis) gets its name from the nacre-like sheen on its wings. It is the size and shape of a small butterfly.The ultra-white, angel-like White-plumed Moth (Pterophorus pentadactyla) resembles a fairy when seen glowing in the darkness of a summer evening. Occasionally they come to light, but mostly fly about lawns. The Common Footman (Eilema lurideola) is a small moth, but not tiny, and it gets its name from its appearing to wear the neat liveried uniform of a coachman.The Clouded Border (Lomaspilis marginata) is a very handsome species of carpet moth, moths which have beautiful carpet-like patterns on their wings. Buff Arches (Habrosyne pyritoides) with slight damage to left wing probably caused by a predator.

This is one of the variations of the Mottled Beauty (Alcis repandata).

 

 

Easter and the Fertility Goddess

A lot of people wonder what the word ‘Easter’ means, and if you don’t already know the answer then you’re in for a surprise. Easter is actually Eostre, an ancient German fertility goddess associated with the springtime. Eostre is almost certainly a version of the ancient Babylonian goddess, Ishtar, and therefore the same as the Phoenician goddess Astarte, who was also known (in different time periods and places) as Ashtarot. According to one very reliable ancient source (preserved by the early Christian bishop, Eusebius of Caesaria):

“… Astarte set the head of a bull upon her own head as the mark of royalty, and in travelling about the world she found a star that had fallen from the sky, which she took up and consecrated in the holy island Tyre [modern day Lebanon]. And the Phoenicians say that Astarte is Aphrodite.”

My reconstruction of the so-called Burney Relief, an item of pottery, dating from 19th or 18th century BC, which is believed to show the Babylonian goddess, Ishtar. She also seems to have been associated with birds, and here is depicted as a bird-woman. Film fans will probably recognise the inspiration for the mechanical owl in Ray Harryhausen’s blockbuster 1980s movie Clash of the Titans.

This is very interesting because Aphrodite was known to the Romans as Venus and identified with the planet of the same name, which is Earth’s nearest neighbour, and which is also the brightest star in the night sky.

So, I hope you all had a happy Ishtar!

Anyhow, it is the perfect time to acknowledge both fertility and birds, and here is a little video about birds which you will see pairing off and building nests right now all around Wicklow, and further afield.