Last year I made a meadow in my garden with a lot of help from my brother, and the results were spectacular as all sorts of insects were drawn in to feed and collect pollen, and hunt. It’s worth considering doing, and here is a video I made of it, with some nice music from Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers:
Among the flowers are phacelia, buckwheat, poppies, marigolds, anthirrhinum, stock and buddleia bushes. Among the insects in this video are Buff-tailed Bumblebee, Red-tailed Bumblebee, White-tailed Bumblebee, Carder Bee, Honey Bee, Greenbottle fly, Large White butterflies, Green-veined White butterflies and a Common Blue butterfly.
And there is also a species of solitary wasp not often seen in Ireland near the end of the video.
Spring has been a little slow to take off – I only saw my first Swallow yesterday, and we only had our first reasonably warm and sunny weather over the last three days. There might not be swallows but the sunny weather has brought out some very impressive birds, most notably Buzzards (Buteo buteo). These birds are best described as either very large hawks or small eagles and should not be confused with vultures which are a very different kind of bird. Here are two photos I got of one bird recently:
Buzzards like bright, sunny days because they can use the sun to hide their approach. Their favourite prey are rabbits, especially in spring when there are abundant young rabbits around which lack the experience of older rabbits and can be easily caught. Buzzards will also eat rats and will scavenge roadkill. The famous cry of the hawk in American western movies is the same as the cry of the Buzzard.
Because it’s April I would like to remind you to keep an eye out for Ireland’s rarest known species of solitary bee, the Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva). These bees make small volcano-like burrows on lawns and the female is stunningly beautiful. They have no sting and although you might see a number of bees in one area they are not working together as a colony but living single lives. Here is a photo of a female, and the yellow on her hind legs is not the bees colour but, in fact, pollen collected on special hairs:
The male is much less handsome and harder to tell apart from the males of other mining bee species, of which there are a few in Ireland. And here is a photo of a female in her mine. They often like to watch from the entrance and will duck their heads in if they think they’ve been spotted.
The female is about the size of a small worker bumblebee, but is large as mining bees go. There is a very similar bee species which is more common and not quite so red in colour, the Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum) which is more robust-looking, and I here is a photo of that species so you can tell them apart:
If you see a Tawny Mining Bee and especially if you find nests the National Biodiversity Data Centre will want to hear from you, and they can be contacted at this website which allows you to submit records, coordinates and photographs of anything and everything in the natural world, but rare creatures especially:
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.