Tag Archives: water

Butterflies, Moths and Moorhens

We are now in deep Autumn and, although the Met service will declare the first day of December the start of Winter, usually winter does not take effect until after the Winter Solstice. For the first time in many weeks I spotted a butterfly basking in the sun, albeit on an unseasonably warm day. It was a Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae), a species which hibernates:

With any luck this one will also be basking in the sunlight of next spring. I observed it for quite a while and watched as it finally entered an old wooden nest box. Hopefully it will vacate the premises before any spring breeding birds move in and eat it.

While butterflies more properly belong to the warmer months there are moth species which only appear in autumn. One very handsome species which you might see, and which will soon be finished for the year is the Feathered Thorn (Colotois pennaria)  – the male has antennae that resemble feathers:

   In August I was in the Herbert Park in Dublin when I spotted a family of birds which are common in Wicklow, but almost impossible to see here because they are so shy and the ponds and lakes they inhabit are often on private land. These birds are Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) and, incredibly I saw young chicks and was able to record them over a period of months as they grew to full size – here is the video I made about them and I hope you enjoy it:

Trout About

Wicklow certainly got its fair share of rain last night, and there are a few showers still knocking about right now, with the promise of a deluge overnight and tomorrow. But the streams and rivers are still relatively clear, and it’s good and sunny, so keep an eye out for Brown Trout (Salmo trutta) in the sandy shallows.

A small Brown Trout basking in a very shallow river. Keep your eyes peeled.
A small Brown Trout basking in a very shallow river. Keep your eyes peeled.

They are brilliant at looking like bits of waterweed, so watch for any movement, make light steps on the river banks (because they will feel heavy vibrations) and move very slowly, and you will almost certainly get good views, especially if you’re next to one of the many little hump-back bridges which are found throughout Wicklow.

Cliffs of Adventure

Right now is a great time to check out the cliff areas of Wicklow. The cliffs of Bray Head in particular are wildlife paradises of the first order, and in summer are the best places to see lizards and the fascinating Leaf-cutter Bee. But this time of the year they are dominated by seabirds, which come inshore to breed.

Looking north along the Cliff Walk where fragrant yellow blossoms of gorse can be seen at the moment.
Looking north along the Cliff Walk where fragrant yellow blossoms of gorse can be seen at the moment.

 

Looking south along the Cliff Walk towards Greystones. To get the best of the light it's a good idea to set off walking around 11.30 am, south from Bray to Greystones. This way you are moving with the sunlight.
Looking south along the Cliff Walk towards Greystones. To get the best of the light it’s a good idea to set off walking around 11.30 am, south from Bray to Greystones. This way you are moving with the sunlight.

Down near the sea there are Cormorants, Shags, Kittiwakes, Black Guillemots, Razorbills, Herring Gulls, and immense Great Black-backed Gulls.

Cormorants in breeding plumage, high on the cliffs, just below the Cliff Walk.
Cormorants in breeding plumage, high on the cliffs, just below the Cliff Walk.

Especially interesting are the Fulmars, which will ‘buzz’ you as you walk the cliffs, ensuring you don’t get too close to their nests. These seabirds are related to petrels and albatrosses, the so-called “tube-noses”, birds which have tube-like nostrils which look like spectacles perched on their beaks.

 

Fulmars perched on a ledge below the Cliff Walk, where they will rear their chicks. Both the adults and chicks are infamous for their projectile vomiting of foul-smelling oil, which is said to be virtually impossible to get out of clothing, so don't get too close to them.
Fulmars perched on a ledge below the Cliff Walk, where they will rear their chicks. Both the adults and chicks are infamous for their projectile vomiting of foul-smelling oil, which is said to be virtually impossible to get out of clothing, so don’t get too close to them.

The Cliff Walk is also a terrific place to see plant-life too. A particularly interesting plant that grows on the bare faces of the cliffs is a lush succulent called Navelwort, on account of the leaves looking like bellies with navels. The leaves also have a fleshy feel to them. This plant is also known as Sea Pennywort.

Navelwort growing on the hard shale of a cliff.
Navelwort growing on the hard shale of a cliff.

Also, as you move southwards along the cliff you will have terrific views of the town of Greystones and the coastline beyond.

Looking down on Greystones from the Cliff Walk. A beautiful scene.
Looking down on Greystones from the Cliff Walk. A beautiful scene.

As you gradually descend towards the town the landscape widens, there are high sand cliffs which are home to Sand Martins, and many other birds. This part of the walk is also a good place to see other African migrants that live along the Wicklow coastline in summer, including the Wheatear. Large numbers of Wheatears have just arrived this month.

A Wheatear waiting for me to approach and scare insects into the air, which will be deftly snatched by the bird.
A Wheatear waiting for me to approach and scare insects into the air, which will be deftly snatched by the bird.

Finally, while Ireland is not the warmest of countries, it is very important to remember to bring a hat, and/or sunglasses, and some sunblock would not be a bad idea either. One person got very severe third-degree burns on these cliffs while out taking photos with me a few years ago, and it was days before he recovered. A leisurely stroll, stopping to take photos, usually takes two-and-a-half hours to complete.

Yours truly on the Cliff Walk towards Greystones - note the hat, and the bag containing a bottle of water, among other things. It was not a particularly hot day, but still sunny enough to get burned, and the weather will only improve from now on.
Yours truly on the Cliff Walk towards Greystones – note the hat, and the bag containing a bottle of water, among other things. It was not a particularly hot day, but still sunny enough to get burned, and the weather will only improve from now on.