Tag Archives: warbler

Little Terns and Whitethroats

This year we had a mostly very warm and sunny May and as a result many creatures, and wildflowers, appeared earlier and stayed around longer, but we are now coming to a period of transition as spring becomes summer. If you can visit the coast of Wicklow this year, when the weather is fine, do it. Down at the Breaches halfway between the functioning railway station of Kilcoole and the retired station of Newcastle you will find a fenced off area where an absolute bumper breeding season of the rare Little Tern (Sterna albifrons ) is in full swing, and will be for about another month.

Watchtower and hide used to monitor the Little Tern breeding grounds on the Kilcoole side of the Breaches.

The birds themselves are very noisy and can be seen fishing for sandeels and other small fish very close to shore. Their flocks fill the sky, but this is a very rare sight as this species has only a handful of breeding grounds in Europe.

The Little Tern is smaller than other terns and can be identified by its bright yellow bill. In the past they were known as ‘Sea Swallows’.

Being high spring there are many incredible birds to be seen, often at much closer proximity, and in better light, than at any other time of year. Here, for example, is a gaudily coloured male Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula). These beautiful birds feed on seeds and will hover over dandelion heads plucking off the seeds before retiring to a branch to munch them, as this one did:

Male Bulfinch feeding on dandelion seeds while perched in a rose bush. The female was nearby.

And there is always something new to see. This weekend I was was out for a walk, looking for butterflies, when I came across a nature photographer. As I usually do I asked if there was anything interesting about and he pointed out a Whitethroat warbler (Sylvia communis) perched on hogweed. I have seen Whitethroats many times but never once got anywhere near getting a decent photo, but thanks to this photographer I had my chance:

My first ever decent shot of a Whitethroat, and this one was almost certainly a male out to impress females and guard his territory from interloper males.

So now all I need is a photograph of a Green Tiger Beetle, Elephant Hawkmoth and Emperor Moth and I’ll be reasonably content with my lot. So a big thanks to Colin Rigney for making the above shot possible, and here is a photo of the man himself:

Evidence of an Early Spring

This morning I got a huge surprise when I found a Crocus flower above ground and ready to flower this morning. I always judge the arrival of spring by crocuses, and this year, like last year, it’s incredibly early. Early February is much more typical. This is not a wild flower though.

The delicate flower of a not-so-delicate little plant, a crocus ready to bloom. It could be a day or two though, before it decides to unfurl.
The delicate flower of a not-so-delicate little plant, a crocus ready to bloom. It could be a day or two though, before it decides to unfurl.

Yesterday we had some very stormy weather, and trees were brought down all around Wicklow, and electricity supplies were cut off in some places, and there was some destruction to garden fences, sheds and in some cases even houses. The storm brought very warm weather, up to 16 degrees Celsius. However, today it was about 5 degrees Celsius in the day and it’s a chilly night. The birds are still very dependent on the food put out for them, and you could find some nice unusual species are attracted. Here, for example, is a male Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), which is quite a large species of warbler.

The male Blackcap, a beautiful garden visitor. The female is virtually identical, but has a rusty brown cap instead of a black one.
The male Blackcap, a beautiful garden visitor. The female is virtually identical, but has a rusty brown cap instead of a black one.

These birds have traditionally been considered summer migrants, but I have seen them in the garden in winters since the 1980s, and they were probably doing so before that. Blackcaps are actually insectivores, but will gladly take peanuts from feeders in cold winter months.

A Slowly Arriving Spring

Ireland has escaped the extreme wintery conditions that have struck the rest of Europe, including the island of Great Britain, but soil temperatures are still below normal for this time of year and so far the crocuses in my garden, the most accurate gauge of the arrival of spring, have not risen and flowered, although other people have reported finding crocuses. However, there have been some nice surprises due to the Siberian system that struck Europe, and a few days ago I photographed a peculiar warbler in my garden. Not being a warbler expert by any means I showed a series of photos (taken through a foggy window) to Dick Coombes of Birdwatch Ireland, and it seems that the mystery warbler is, in fact, a Siberian Chiffchaff, a subspecies of the Chiffchaff warbler that arrives in Ireland for the summer.

Siberian Chiffchaff photographed in Newcastle in Wicklow, seen here foraging for insects in tubs of garden plants.