Tag Archives: ornithology

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:

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: