Tag Archives: nest

Early Autumn

Autumn began properly last Monday, 23 September, with the Autumn Equinox. This year there is a superabundance of berries of all kinds – most spectacularly those roaring red ones of the Rowan or Mountain Ash tree, and blackberries, the fruit of the Bramble, one of most common and important wild plants. And let’s not forget the seasonal orchard fruit on which civilisation still somewhat depends, such as cooking apples:

However, according to tradition you should not eat blackberries after the feast of Michelmas, which is today, because legend has it the Devil spits on the blackberries! Well, whatever about the Devil, rodents of all sizes have certainly been up in the hedges eating them recently, and many blackberries have gone mouldy on the bush, so there’s probably a  lot of sense to this tradition. However, this year many blackberries are yet to ripen:

   There are certainly lots of moulds and fungi about. Some are drab, and some spectacular. Here is the Common Inkcap, which often appears on damp lawns in September:

Some fungus looks remarkable, such as the Bird’s Nest Fungus  which is named because each flower head looks like a nest with eggs in it, albeit an extremely stylised nest. I think they look like cupcake cake papers:

Although the days are now shorter than the nights, and temperatures are getting progressively lower, it’s one of the very best times of year to see butterflies because in order to feed they often enter gardens where flowers are still blooming, and where there are warm shelters and sun traps. This year has been a bumper one for the Comma butterfly in particular. Commas can easily be identified by their ragged wings. This one was perched on a white sheet, which really highlights the strange ragged appearance of the wings:

The Comma below is sitting on a Butterfly Bush. Some of these bushes are still flowering… but not for very much longer.

The most common butterfly at this time of year is the Speckled Wood, and it will usually be the last seen in Autumn. They are not known to hibernate but it wouldn’t surprise me if they are eventually discovered to do this:

At this time of year, due to the lower temperatures, the butterflies move more slowly and take the time to perch and open their wings in order to warm up. Butterflies can only fly when the temperature reaches 15°C, so basking becomes very important. Many species are known to hibernate. In Ireland Small Tortoiseshells can be seen entering houses, sheds and other buildings to hibernate in autumn and they can often be spotted flying on mild sunny days even in November:

Another species which hibernates, and only recently proven to do so, is the Red Admiral, which is a very bold and striking butterfly, and it will land on people too if they provide a place to rest in the sunshine:

And there is another species which shares these tendencies, although it seems this one also migrates – the Peacock butterfly:

Some butterflies actively migrate, such as the Painted Lady. It will fly south with the swallows and house martins. Thousands of them  filled the skies of Wicklow this year:

 

Some moth species also  migrate – mostly famously the Silver-Y. While it has been a great year for the Painted Lady it has been a disappointing one for the Silver-Y, but there are some about, flying in both day and night, and sometimes resting by windows at night:

There are still one or two Barn Swallows about, but mostly individual stragglers, older birds more experienced in the vagaries of intercontinental travel. Here’s one I saw flying south a couple of days ago:

Whilst most creatures breed in springtime, spiders mostly prefer autumn. And some spider relationships are quite complex – the male  Segmented Orb-weaver has to impress the female with a gift and she will only select him as her mate if the gift-wrapped gift is satisfactory. This one seems to have been successful and to have moved in with a female:

Slugs and snails also breed at this time of year, but they also mate in spring and all the way through when weather permits – here are two impressive Yellow Slugs, mating:

Slugs are hermaphrodites – each one is both male and female. However, in order to ensure genetic health they must mate – they must share their genes with others. The male in each slug mates with the female in the other. However, not all molluscs are hermaphrodites – cuttlefish, squid and octopuses have male and females – gender is a biological fact and a necessity.

Sadly, some of springs babies have not survived the year. Here is something which was recently drawn to my attention by the warden on the East Coast Nature Reserve  – a young Otter, presumably hit by a car on the Sea Road:

For those creatures that stay and winter in Wicklow there is ample opportunity to plan for next year – here are three Jackdaws inspecting chimney pots for suitable nesting sites – these could be siblings hanging about last year’s nest, but are probably last year’s breeding pair and one of their children. Many birds, including Jackdaws, serve apprenticeships with their parents, choosing nest sites, building nests and helping to get food for the young:

A Hedgehog Wakes from Hibernation

A couple of days ago I was standing by the backdoor to my house when I heard a snuffling and crackling sound coming from a small hedge of Vinca. I immediately suspected a Hedgehog was moving about in the undergrowth. However, it never showed up. Two days later I heard the same sound again and this time I investigated properly. The sounds seemed to be coming from beneath one of last year’s hanging baskets, still full of earth. The hanging basket and a huge black pot had been left behind the hedge on a bank of earth. I moved the basket and found, on a ledge beneath the edge of the  bank, and hemmed in by dense stems, a Hedgehog in a nest of dried leaves. Here is the video I got of the sleepy creature, a small Hedgehog –

April Warming and the Mining Bees

Saturday was the first decent warm sunny day in Wicklow this spring, and Tawny Mining Bees immediately appeared. Most of them were males, about twelve all newly hatched out, but there were two larger females giving them a wide berth.

My first photo of a Tawny Mining Bee this year, a male. The males don't look particularly distinctive and not exactly handsome and their sole objective is to mate with females, which gives them a peculiar 'culture' and distinctive weapns too, as you'll see.
My first photo of a Tawny Mining Bee this year, a male. The males don’t look particularly distinctive and not exactly handsome and their sole objective is to mate with females, which gives them a peculiar ‘culture’ and distinctive weapns too, as you’ll see.
It's not easy to get a good photo of a Tawny Mining Bee, particularly the males, but I finally got a decent headshot. Look at the size of those jaws!
It’s not easy to get a good photo of a Tawny Mining Bee, particularly the males, but I finally got a decent headshot. Look at the size of those jaws!

Many mammal species have horns and antlers which allow the males to fight off other males for the right to mate with females and pass on their genetics. Similarly male Tawny Mining Bees have enormous jaws to allow them win these fights. The female is a very different insect.

Looking like a miniature bumblebee, female Tawny Mining Bees have stout reddish furry bodies and distinctive black heads. They also rarely sit still.
Looking like a miniature bumblebee, female Tawny Mining Bees have stout reddish furry bodies and distinctive black heads. They also rarely sit still.
Under the wings you can see a very handsome shimmering abdomen covered in horizontal rows of red fur which glints in bright sunlight. A lovely insect. But they live only a very short time.
Under the wings you can see a very handsome shimmering abdomen covered in horizontal rows of red fur which glints in bright sunlight. A lovely insect. But they live only a very short time.

Tawny Mining Bees fly mostly for the month of April and not much beyond that. So for the next few weeks they will be very busy doing important work, which involves a huge amount of digging.