It was a tough spring for the birds because temperatures were almost relentlessly below normal, causing plants to bloom, blossom and leaf late, and insects to be in short supply. I was surprised to see the Blackbird above with such a large fledgling chick. I had put some cream out for them, cream which had just gone off, but they loved it.
Last Thursday was our first really warm sunny summer-like day and later that night I found Maybugs, better known as Cockchafer Beetles, coming to the lights of the house in huge numbers. In fact, I’ve never seen so many at one time. They will be flying around Wicklow skies until late in June, and possibly even into July. They are heavy beetles and when one very big one accidentally blundered into the web of a female Giant House Spider the poor spider was quite at a loss what to do, as the beetle was a bit bigger than its usuall prey. The Cockchafer fell out of the web soon after, ably assisted by gravity:
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.
The spring blossoming continues, with the next wave of flowers coming out in succession, as happens every year. But now, thanks to the first blooms and blossoms and warming temperatures there are many insects around. Some are less welcome than others, but are very important to the food chain, such as the Rose Aphid (Macrosiphum rosae) , the original ‘Greenfly’ which gardeners detest although they’re not as destructive as they’re supposed to be. Here’s a winged female which has landed on a tulip blossom and given birth to two live young, which stand behind her.
Greenfly reproduce mostly asexually, meaning they are females and don’t require a mate to fertilise them, although there are occasionally males which do mate with females. And Greenfly give birth to live young. These ones disappeared soon after I took this photo, probably because the tulip wasn’t to their taste, or because a predator spotted them. Aphids are eaten in huge numbers by some flying insects, such as this female Large Red Dragonfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) , which I photographed nearby:
Of course, even damselflies don’t have it all their own way. They have to be careful where they land. Take this dandelion flower for example – can you see the predator lying in ambush?
This predator, the Flower Crab Spider (Misumena vatia) can also turn yellow and this one soon did, making it impossible for me to photograph it in any meaninful way, as it simply could not be seen against the flower. In the close-up below you will notice yellow flecks on its abdomen, the first signs of the colour change it underwent.