Tag Archives: ornithology

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.

A Very Crazy Spring – Winter Returns with a Vengeance

Only last week the weather was improving so much, and the spring flowers all blooming so brilliantly, that it seemed spring was truly here and here to stay. I even saw my first hoverfly, which was, unusually for our spring, a Drone Fly (Eristalis species):

But this week everything went crazy, with the arrival of the so-called “Beast from the East”, a fierce cold weather system bringing snow and freezing temperatures to all of Europe from Siberia. Just as I was winding down using the bird-feeders in my garden they suddenly became vitally important to birds in the cold weather, and were also getting the attention of many rodents, including one particularly handsome and determined Wood Mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus).  Here it is climbing out of the leaf litter next to the tree holding the feeders, just at sunset:

One night I even managed to get a video of the mouse climbing on a peanut-feeder, a tiny creature with huge eyes and ears, and a long tail:

However, there were also some less welcome visitors, such as two young Brown Rats (Rattus norvegicus), which were not quite so cute, and a lot bigger than the mouse, but equally interesting in their cheekiness:

   The cold weather inspired some incredible behaviour in some of the wildlife. Probably the most amazing thing I have seen in some years was a flock of desperate crows, Rooks (Corvus frugilegus) to be exact, who were managing to take food off the carefully-designed “crow proof” small bird feeders. One of them was even hovering like a hummingbird! Watch and be amazed:

The bad weather doesn’t end there though – tonight a huge rain storm from the Bay of Biscay, Storm Emma, collides with the Beast from the East and we have a Red Weather Warning, the highest level, only used once before and, ironically, only a few months ago when Hurricane Ophelia made for the island of Ireland. This time, it’s for snow drifts. Hopefully the wildlife will not suffer too much.

Beautiful Tropical Birds Visit Wicklow

In January there were reports of beautiful tropical wading birds called Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) having somehow arrived in Ireland. Three of them found their way to the East Coast Nature Reserve on the Wicklow Coast and have been the focus of huge attention, the area becoming almost a pilgrimage site. And, most remarkably, they don’t shun the attention at all. They are not scared of people.

They are very dark birds, kind of like a choclate brown combined with shimmering dark purple. They have long beaks which they use to probe the boggy ground for insects.

What everybody is wondering is if they are going to stay in Ireland, like the Little Egret did in the 1990s. They are found mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, southeast Asia and Australasia, but in the mid-19th century Glossy Ibises flew across the Atlantic to Brazil and have since colonised much of the Americas. Could they make a permanent colony here too, despite our cold conditions? We’ll know soon enough.

Here is a video I made about them, easily the most exciting nature event in Ireland, and Wicklow, in a few years: