Tag Archives: wildlife photographer

Blooming Marvellous this September

It’s hard not to feel sad in September as another summer draws to a close. Children are looking forward to Halloween and Christmas coming after it, but adults often see time slipping away. It never seems long since last September, yet here we are again. But I found something really incredible which will absolutely lift your spirits if you feel the sort of poignancy I do, and that something is a beautiful new book by the botanist Zoe Devlin entitled Blooming Marvellous: A Wildflower Hunter’s Year. It will change your perspective on September, and the year itself.

I can honestly say there is only one book I have ever come across which is like it in any way, and that is the legendary naturalist Gerald Durrell’s The Amateur Naturalist which can best be described as a manual and interactive adventure story rolled into one. These are the sort of books you don’t want an electronic version of, because they are beautiful things in themselves, a combination of art and reading which is truly exhilarating. Blooming Marvellous recounts episodes in the author’s life while inviting you to have your own adventure with the aid of the book.

It’s divided into chapters which deal with each month. Zoe suggests you read the chapter of the month you’re in right now, and immediately you are seeing what she sees and not only that, but you are able to find things she tells you about which you never even realised were there in front of your eyes, by a hedgerow or in your garden. I took mine out into the garden and suddenly I was in the book, and just look at this and you’ll see what I mean:

   As you can see by the page shown from Blooming Marvellous it’s not just about wildflowers, but also about the wildlife which supports them, and depends on them. This is not a botanical manual, but a true-life adventure story comprising anecdotes and a field guide combined. And it’s rugged too, with a rock hard cover and a beautifully stitched binding of heavy, tough, glossy pages, but it is the weight of wisdom. This is a rugged book you can carry in your rucksack, and the writing is fantastic and elegant and absolutely draws you in to the adventures:

“Wordsworth had a way with words that many have envied. In 1798, on the banks of the River Wye, that self-proclaimed ‘worshipper of nature’ wrote ‘Nature never did betray the heart that loved her’. Long before I ever knew those words, my less eloquent maxim was ‘Nature never, ever lets you down’.”

And those are just the opening lines! The rest of the book reads as easily, and there are sad bits, and thought-provoking tales too,  which sweeten the knowledge you are unwittingly taking in with them. Remarkably, all of the adventures Zoe describes in this book occurred in Ireland. Even more alluringly Zoe has included recipes for cooking some of the fruits and wildflowers you encounter, which adds a whole new dimension to this book and interracting with her adventures. For example, there is a really nice recipe for blackberry tart, which is great considering how many blackberries there are on the hedgerows this year:

Before Zoe had published her first book she appeared in a photo on this blog when I met her and her ever reliable sidekick and husband, Pete, out on one of their adventures (as far as I’m aware this is her third book for the Collins Press – or are there more?). So you might think I’m biased, especially if you read pages 186-187. This very original masterpiece is, I promise you, different from anything you have seen before, with photos and text by the author, and I think Gerald Durrell would definitely love it.

If I am ever unfortunate enough to find myself lined up in front of a firing squad I’m going to make sure this book is in my breast pocket, because, although it’s not gigantic, I feel pretty certain, in addition to its many other virtues, it can stop bullets.

If you’re too lazy to go to the bookshop, or don’t live in Ireland, or fear catching one of those horrible September flus or colds, you can buy Blooming Marvellous from Amazon right now and have it delivered to your door.

Summer in September

Last week I finally met a naturalist who has become unwittingly famous, and he even let me take his photo.

Wildlife photographer Shay Connolly - no relation (as far as I know) exhibiting a seriously big lens. We do have similar taste in vests and hats, but that's probably not a genetic predisposition... probably. But I could be wrong.
Wildlife photographer Shay Connolly – no relation (as far as I know) exhibiting a seriously big lens. We do have similar taste in vests and hats, but that’s probably not a genetic predisposition… probably. But I could be wrong.

Every time I come across a likely naturalist (any person with binoculars and/or a big camera) and introduce myself they ask me, if they don’t immediately assume it, if I am related to Shay Connolly. This has been going on for years, yet I had never come across the enigmatic wildlife photographer, until last week when I came across him after he had spent a morning photographing beautiful little migratory birds called Wheatears. He kindly agreed to let me take a photo of him for the blog and reveal to the world, finally, what the legend looks like. I’m seriously considering writing A Field Guide to the Naturalists of Ireland. The birds would think it a fair revenge, no doubt.

A Small Tortoiseshell butterfly basking in the sun. This species is still on the wing, but as autumn draws in they will begin entering buildings, caves and even hollowed tree trunks to hibernate.
A Small Tortoiseshell butterfly basking in the sun. This species is still on the wing, but as autumn draws in they will begin entering buildings, caves and even hollowed tree trunks to hibernate.

Anyhow, back to our story – a lot of people tend to assume that September is Autumn, but in all truth it is often as much if not more of an extension of summer than it is the first month of autumn, and this year is a perfect example. After a very cool August we have had a perfect ‘Indian Summer’ September. The weather has been absolutely fantastic and reliably so too.

The Speckled Wood is the most common butterfly species in Wicklow and Ireland as a whole. It is one of the hardiest too, often being the earliest seen in spring, and often the latest in autumn, sometimes seen as late as December in warm years. At the moment they are the most common along the hedgerows and possibly the only butterflies many people are seeing as we approach the Equinox marking the beginning of true autumn.
The Speckled Wood is the most common butterfly species in Wicklow and Ireland as a whole. It is one of the hardiest too, often being the earliest seen in spring, and often the latest in autumn, sometimes seen as late as December in warm years. At the moment they are the most common along the hedgerows and possibly the only butterflies many people are seeing as we approach the Equinox marking the beginning of true autumn.

In fact, it’s a little too dry for Wicklow’s ecosystem, but that will almost certainly change very soon, when true Autumn arrives early next week and the nights grow steadily longer than the days. But the landscape is still full of butterflies, caterpillars, moths and all sorts of insects and their dependants – bats, shrews, hedgehogs and many, many bird species. The swallows are still very much with us although some will have begun departing for Africa, and I saw my last swift two weeks ago, which is late in the summer for those birds.

To shake things up a little I plan to link some videos to my next instalments, which will hopefully be helpful to people although they are by no means perfect. But if videos aren’t your thing, please continue to enjoy the text and photos, which will be accompanying the videos.