Tag Archives: wood pigeon

The Great May Adventure

May is always a bit of a mixed bag. You never know quite what you’re going to get, but it’s always progressing towards the calmer months of summer. And in the natural world it’s a time of frenetic activity. This year we had May weather in April because the weather was so unusually dry for spring. First it started with early bird nesting.

A handsome Wood Pigeon in breeding colours carrying a large twig to its nest.
A Jackdaw carrying nesting material to a disused chimney where it has a nest.
A Robin carrying spider prey back to its nest, which is hidden in the hedge. It watched to make sure I had moved on before entering the nest and giving the location away.

But the most important aspect of the spring, apart from the weather, is the mass flowering of various plants. The most important is the spring dandelion bloom. Dandelions provide huge amounts of pollen that many insects depend on, especially our pollinators. Every conceivable species of bee, fly and many beetles depend on these flowers in the early part of spring. In May they reach a crescendo in their blooming and then rapidly seed while other spring blooms appear just in time to sustain the insect population. Here you can see dandelions and bluebells together:

The Bluebells are now mostly gone out of flower in the lowlands, but up in the highlands of Wicklow they are only coming into bloom, so if you’re looking for bluebells this late in May then you need to go upland. Tawny Mining Bees among many other species depend on these flowers. The Tawny Mining Bees are gone for this year, but you might see another pollinator about, the somewhat sinister-looking and beautiful Panzer’s Nomada (Nomada panzeri) a cuckoo-bee which parasitizes the mining bees. It is also known to have a bad sting, but this one was very calm and unthreatening:

Also, May is the time to see the Orange-tip butterfly (Anthocaris cardamines). The females are all white with very few black dots on the upper sides of their wings. The males have are identical but have stunning orange markings on the tips of their forewings.

The female Orange-tip looks pretty much like other species of white butterfly when seen from above, although she does have silvery-black forewing tips.
The male Orange-tip is very distinctive despite being fast-moving and rarely sitting still.

However, from below both the male and female Orange-tip look very different to other white butterflies, having a green marbling pattern which gives them camouflage.

The marbling pattern on the underside of both the male and female’s wings can be seen when the butterfly is at rest.

As the weather gets warmer more and more moths appear too, but keep a look out for caterpillars, because many of the caterpillars of moths found in Wicklow are far more spectacular looking than the adults of the same species. Here, for example, is the caterpillar of the Yellow-tail Moth (Euproctis similis). The moth is plain pale white with a bright yellow abdomen tip, but look at the gaudy colours of this caterpillar found on a Cistus bush:

The hairs of this caterpillar are a defence against predators and can cause irritation rashes 0n the skin of some people.

Along with dandelions the other big bloomer where the bees depend on is the big spiny Gorse or Furze bush. The yellow flowers fill the air with the scent of vanilla. Unfortunately in dry conditions they are highly flammable, but now we are at last getting some decent heavy rain showers the danger is passing. Some parts of Ireland have suffered terrible Gorse Fires this year. But fortunately Wicklow has escaped the worst of it:

Very Hot July Wildlife

It’s an incredible summer this year, our reward for many which were well below par. Anyhow, if you’re coping with the heat stroke, the sunburn and the hot summer stomach bug doing the rounds (always during the good summers) then you might notice the amazing wildlife around at the moment. There are some very big dragonflies, such as the Hairy Hawker (Brachytron pratense) in the photo below. Many people assume this is the Emperor Dragonfly, due to the similar colouration, but the Emperor is way bigger even than this one.

The male Hairy Hawker is a very strong and powerful predator. I found this one trapped in a polytunnel.
The male Hairy Hawker is a very strong and powerful predator. I found this one trapped in a polytunnel. Don’t worry, he was okay, just a little parched.

Now for a little field craft. Now that the nesting season is drawing to a close you are going to start finding bits of eggs and even nests which have fallen from trees. Sometimes you might be a little suspicious as to how they got there. Were the eggs attacked before they hatched out? It’s actually very easy to tell. Look at this Wood Pigeon egg which I found beneath a tree. The secret lies in looking at the rim.

Note that the edges of the egg are pulled in. This can only have been done by the chick as it hatched out. Birds have an 'egg-tooth' on the ends of their beaks which they use to pull the edges in, cutting a perfect circle.
Note that the edges of the egg are pulled in. This can only have been done by the chick as it hatched out. Birds have an ‘egg-tooth’ on the ends of their beaks which they use to pull the edges in, cutting a perfect circle.

Moths usually like damper conditions, but there are dozens around at the moment, and the chance of some exotics showing up. Below is the beautiful Pale Oak Beauty (Hypomecis punctinalis), a species as large as a large butterfly. Its beautiful pattern acts as camouflage of the highest order. I found it outside my window yesterday.

The Pale Oak Beauty beneath an outdoor light.
The Pale Oak Beauty beneath an outdoor light.