Tag Archives: zoology

Beautiful Tropical Birds Visit Wicklow

In January there were reports of beautiful tropical wading birds called Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) having somehow arrived in Ireland. Three of them found their way to the East Coast Nature Reserve on the Wicklow Coast and have been the focus of huge attention, the area becoming almost a pilgrimage site. And, most remarkably, they don’t shun the attention at all. They are not scared of people.

They are very dark birds, kind of like a choclate brown combined with shimmering dark purple. They have long beaks which they use to probe the boggy ground for insects.

What everybody is wondering is if they are going to stay in Ireland, like the Little Egret did in the 1990s. They are found mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, southeast Asia and Australasia, but in the mid-19th century Glossy Ibises flew across the Atlantic to Brazil and have since colonised much of the Americas. Could they make a permanent colony here too, despite our cold conditions? We’ll know soon enough.

Here is a video I made about them, easily the most exciting nature event in Ireland, and Wicklow, in a few years:

St. Brigid’s Day

I know what you’re wondering – where have I been for the month of January? I’ll tell you – sick with the worst dose of flu I’ve had in 22 years! But I’m almost over it.

According to Irish tradition the first day of February, which is St. Brigid’s Day, is the beginning of spring. And, considering that the term ‘spring’ refers to the ‘springing forth’ of plantlife, then it is usually pretty accurate. However, this year, despite a good cold January and a very cold and blustery first day of spring, has seen very early plant growth – the earliest I’ve ever seen. Daffodils rose out of the ground in late December and I saw my first daffodil blooms last weekend!

   And this is not an early type of daffodil. However, the crocuses beat the daffodils to it, just.

The crocus above was the first crocus bloom I saw this year, and it appeared las week during a short bout of freakishly warm weather which lasted four days. But the Early Crocuses I usually rely on as the definitive announcement of the arrival of spring have not risen yet, let alone bloomed, so maybe they think we still could get snow. However, other spring plants, usually much later than daffodils and crocuses, have already made an appearance. Check these out:

They are, of course, snowdrops, which are usually the earliest bloomers of the spring plants, although they are technically more winter flowers. However, in snowy areas they usually signal the end of carpeting snowfalls. What is really strange is how quickly these much less hardy plants have jumped out of the ground:

These are the relatively delicate leaves of Lords-and-Ladies, aka Cuckoo-pint, aka Arum Lily (Arum maculatum) which normally break out of the ground in February but don’t unfurl their leaves like this until March at the earliest, yet here they are. And here’s something more impressive:

Believe it or not, these are bluebells! I have never seen them appear out of the ground quite so early, and looking so robust. However, there are also insects astir, including this extremely early moth, the Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria):

The male is a stocky moth, shown here, and the female is wingless. This species is around from January until March, so it’s not exactly early. To make things interesting there are two varieties of this species. Both have silky ‘silver screen’ underwings.

Birds in Autumn

It can be hard to love November. Whereas October is like a watered down, slightly colder version of summer, November is often wet, quite cold, and very dark as the sun travels across the sky at a very low angle causing very long shadows. And, of course, the days are now much shorter than the nights. We have very long nights. But because of this there are often great opportunities to see many species of birds close-up. Small birds in particular, come into villages and towns, and gardens in Wicklow looking for food and shelter. Some are harder to spot than others, but here is one you really ought to keep an eye out for – the Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris):

   It is an unusual-looking bird with a narrow curved bill with which it probes for insects and spiders in the bark. A Treecreeper will usually land at the base of a tree, or a wall, and walk up it to the top, before flying back down to another side, or area, to start the climbing process again. They are quiet birds, but quite calm, and can easily be mistaken for mice due to their colouring, long tails and habit of climbing.

The Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) is difficult to see for a very different reason – it is green like a leaf, is so hyperactive it seems like a leaf in the breeze rather than a bird as it hunts for insects under the leaves and twigs of bushes and trees, and it’s tiny. In fact, it’s the smallest bird in Europe. However, despite the difficulties I managed to get some photos. Here is one, which shows how camouflaged a Goldcrest is, despite the gold ‘crown’ on its head:

   Some birds are a lot easier to see because they prefer to look for food in the open, and they are coloured more boldly. One of them is the Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba), which is black and white and likes to bob along in front of walkers, relying on them to scare insects up from the ground so the Wagtail can leap up and snatch them. They will also enter supermarkets, and even small shops, in cold weather to shelter from cold or wet weather. Here is one which hopped across a flower tub to take a better look at me as I sat at a table outdoors:

However, even common garden birds can be a little bit shy sometimes. Here is a Robin (Erithacus rubecula), observing me from behind a leaf on a tree, a little shy of my camera. I like this photo: