Musings and photos of wild and everyday life

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Spring or Late Winter

The 1st of February is Lá Fhéile Bríde (St. Brigid’s Day) and traditionally welcomes Spring.

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Tree Split,  Lough Dan

This year the ‘Winter’ was so mild that the usual flocks of Greylag Geese and Whooper Swans only made brief appearances in the fields around us.  ‘Spring’ seems to be wet, cold and windy in comparison!  Storms Doris and Ewan were not appreciated, ripping rooves, felling trees, disrupting Electricity service and ruining golf scores.

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Mallard Drake walking on thin Ice, Frensham Little Pond, Surrey

The birds and animals have been ‘twichy’ – a bit like the bird watchers – for some time but many people associate the onset of Spring more with March or April  and around here the worst weather of the year offen hits us in February or even March.

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R-otary Club Crocuses, Stephen’s Green, Dublin

Anyway the weather generally does seem to have been milder in recent years, no doubt a product of the climate change that politicians and many businesses around the world refuse to tackle.  It is easy to be pessimistic about the future when you couple this with radicals being elected to parliaments and higher stations around the world (trying to be polite as this includes murderers and nut cases) and the increasing violence and war threat.

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Snowdrops & Helibores in Garden

Keeping the happy face on, the usual early flowers have risen – Crocuses, Snowdrops, Helibores etc. – and Daffodills are starting here although much more developed in the capital. Garden flowers such as Viburnum Bodnantense, flowered over winter as usual, improving the  fragrance of the neighbourhood.

 

On another note completely, Sika Deer seem to be thriving in Ireland.  Deer generally are too numerous and suffer official culls but Sika seem to appear much more commonly recently.

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Sika Deer, Trooperstown Wood, Wicklow

What is really required is a reintroduction of Wolves – the 4 legged kind, we have plenty of the others.  Reading a great book, Feral, by George Monbiot, I was delighted to see the case for apex predators was well made.  It always seemed to me that the ‘wild’ here was badly skewed and marginalised.  Monbiot argues convincingly that a bottom up approach to diversity and conservation is much less successful than a top down, apex predator approach along with relieving our mountains from the catastrophies of sheep farming.

Here’s to better action from our politicians on the environment (and hopefully, more immediately,  improving weather and some sun !)

2016 Review

Another good year and the current mild weather is encouraging for a good 2017.

Old favourites were highlights again – Cold weather at the start of the year didn’t put off Harry the Heron in Saint Stephen’s Green, here trying to swallow a large fish.

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Harry in St. Stephen’s Green with Fish – Roach perhaps

Spring brought early flowers including the usual Crocuses, Snowdrops, Daffodils and Helebores as well as more cultivated plants – all providing sustenance for the early insects.

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Skimmia Japonica Rubella flower buds

In gardens and parks, birds were excited, feeding eagerly for the nesting season.

Robin & Worm

Robin eating Worm in St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin

Coal Tit

Coal Tit in back garden

Many walks were taken.  One of the nicest is in Durrow, Co. Laois. A couple of good walks taking in Castle Durrow and the Erkina river as well as woods and fields, are great for relaxation, exercise and nature.

Durrow Castle & Estate

Durrow Castle & Estate

Summer brought our annual pilgrimage to Great Saltee Island. Puffins and Gannets were numerous but the island hosts thousands of other birds as well as eye catching displays of wild flowers.

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Guillemots including Bridled variety on Rock Stack, Great Saltee

Beside the river Liffey, Coronation Plantation looked well in Summer sun.

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Coronation Plantation, Co. Wicklow

Back in St. Stephen’s Green – did I mention what a great place this is, in the middle of the capital city! Of course I did but it really is 🙂 – Swan, Duck, Pigeon and even Sparrowhawk chicks were thriving.

Mother Tufted Duck with growing juniors St. Stephen's Green

Mother Tufted Duck with growing juniors St. Stephen’s Green

Other good Summer walks took us to Carlow where we were rewarded with a glorious sunny wheat field with wild poppies around the edge and

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Wheat Field with Poppies, Carlow

back to my old North-side where Sutton at low tide revealed waders and gulls and great views.

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Worm Casts on Sutton Beach and Ireland’s Eye

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Squabbling M&F Red Deer, Killarney NP

We visited Killarney in August and people and clouds were once again dominant 😦  Someday we will get good weather but not that time.  The scenery was still stunning and we saw a good deal of wildlife including a lot of Red Deer, including 2 that seemed to be boxing! ——————-

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Silver-washed Fritillary butterfly, Killarney NP

The year did not seem to be great for Butterflies but this beauty appeared in Killarney National Park.

———————————————  Deer were again in focus in the Autumn in Phoenix Park, Dublin, where the annual rut saw stags strutting their stuff and sometimes clashing in head-jarring fights with rivals hoping to claim the ‘rights’ to a particular group of Does.

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Fallow Deer Rut master bellowing over Does, Phoenix Park

Climbing Croagh Patrick mountain gave brilliant views over Clew bay, islands and Baltra strand. We also had a great cycle ride.

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Clew Bay & Baltra Strand from Croagh Patrick

Wildlife around Westport included Great-Northern Loons (which used to be called Divers) and pleanty of waders. A wren foraged continuously in the trees and bushes and around old rusty pillars

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Wren at Old Head, Mayo

.All that sea produced lots of Seaweed in a variety of colours and patterns.

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Seaweed at Old Head, Mayo

The colours in Ireland in Autumn and early Winter are often taken for granted but it is worth getting out, particularly on those magical, crisp, clear days to walk, look, listen and just soak-up the scenery.

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Autumn Leaves Shankill River, Wicklow

Frost appeared early mornings late in the year and that coupled with an enduring cold / flu, curtailed golf a bit but the lakes looked stunning on calm days – the course too with a partial frost covering.

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Calm Blessington Lakes from Tulfarris

After Christmas over eating, we felt obliged to take a decent walk and revisited Seefin mountain in the Dublin / Wicklow range.  The cairn on top covers a 5000 year old Neolithic passage Tomb and the view from 621 metres up is well worth the strain and cold.

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Cairn over Neolithic Tomb on top of Seefin Mountain

A few trips were also taken to fine places in other countries but other posts will have to deal with those as it’s time to wish everyone a

Happy 2017.

Autumn Passing

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Autumn Colours and Shankill river, Wicklow

Didn’t seem to last long but Autumn has given way to Winter.  While the weather was good this year, already the temperature has taken a dive.  Hopefully the great colours of the falling leaves were enjoyed by many.

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It was a busy time in many ways.  Apart from loads of photos to be takem, an old oil tank acting as a coal bunker needed to be removed (partly to make way for a new Water Butt and auto solar-powered watering system – but that’s another story) and it revealed a teeming environment of ‘low life’.

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Snails, slugs, spiders and other creepy crawlies behind old bunker

Not everyone’s cup of tea, so to speak, but it’s amazing what lives and dies beyond our normal gaze.

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Interesting contrast between these two pictures, don’t you think!

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Young Moorhen scavenging – St Stephen’s Green Dublin

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Autumn is the time that many young birds start to fend for themselves, entering another dangerous period of their short lives.

Moorhen often feed on droppings and other bits and pieces lying around as this young one was in St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin.

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Great Northern Loon or Diver, Clew Bay, Mayo

 

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Autumn is also one of the main migration times as thousands of birds leave and arrive in search of more suitable conditions.  Twitchers will have been covering the miles to catch sight of unusual birds and rarities.

If not at the twitcher stage, it is still worth looking out for birds and sea creatures from our

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Red-throated Loon, Clew Bay, Mayo

shores.

We recently saw both Great Northern and Red-throated Loons while strolling along the beach in Clew Bay, county Mayo.

Theses used to be called Divers in Europe.  They were in transitionary plumage – half way between breeding and Winter plumage.

Loons or Divers are large duck-like birds sometimes confused with cormorants from a distance.  They can stay underwater for a few minutes at a time during which you need to predict where they will surface.

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Rut Master calling in woods of Phoenix Park, Dublin

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Younger Fallow Deer Stags practice fight, Phoenix Park

Autumn and early Winter is the rutting time for  some deer species in this part of the world.

Right on Dubliners’ doorsteps, the Phoenix Park hosts several groups of Fallow deer.  They have been there for a few hundred years since they were placed for the hunting classes.

During the rut, Stags compete to have mating rights with groups of does.  This involves a lot of posturing, gutteral calls and some fighting using their prodigious antlers (which while impressive and photogenic, otherwise seem to be a bit of a nuisance, catching in grass and branches).

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Rut Master Stag with Does, Phoenix Park

Damage is sometimes done but mostly common sense prevails and the strongest (or most confident or biggest bluffer) prevails.

Fights can be witnessed – they often take place in the woods while the does sit and wait in the fields.  Young stags also practice fight which is a much more relaxed affair.

It is not a good idea to approach too closely at this testosterone charged time.  Indeed too many people get too close all year to animals that should be left wild.  Many also feed them bread, Mars bars and all sorts of stuff best left outside the park.

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Red Toadstool – Fly agaric – Clara Vale, Wicklow

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This is what it is all about – a contented if tired stag with ‘his’ hopefully content and fruitful does!

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Plants usually provide the most colourful and showy Autumn sights.

But it is not just the dying leaves – whose often brilliant colours are caused by the closing down of chlorophyll, resulting in the green leaves changing to a range of yellow to orange and red colours – that are notable.

Many plants show confident colour at this time.  For example Crocuses and shrubs such as Verbena often flower brightly and some with lovely scent.

Mushrooms also can be colourful although generally in nature, the most colourful are the most dangerous!  This one is said to be poisonous although rarely seems to kill humans.  It also has hallucinogenic properties.

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Curlew & Godwits against morning sun, Baltra beach,Mayo

Finally, this is the season of the wader.  Coasts everywhere are greeting larger and larger flocks and Geese and Swans are on their way, including ‘ours’, hopefully.

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The message as always is if you can get out there, well, GET OUT THERE.

Happy Winter

Paper Houses – Wasp Magic

Wasps, like spiders, divide people.  They can cause pandemonium or can be admired.

Norwegian Wasps on Nest under roof

Norwegian Wasps on Nest under our roof

As part of my case for admiring, consider their house building skills and team work. The picture above is of a partly built nest just discovered under our soffit, attached to TV cables. These are Norwegian Wasps, one of 6 species of social (meaning they are not solitary, rather than that they will have a chat with us!) wasps in Ireland.

Norwegian Wasps building Nest under roof

Norwegian Wasps building Nest under roof

These nests are built, bit by intricate bit, by the wasps chewing wood into a pulp and pasting it into place at the nest.

Tree Wasp chewing on garden shed

Tree Wasp chewing on garden shed

The Tree Wasp above was found in early June nibbling away at the wood of our already weathered, garden shed.

The nest is started by the Queen and extended by the worker wasps produced. The inner construction is a honeycomb shape with hexaganol cells where the eggs are laid and the wasp larvae grow.

Yellow Paper Wasps working on nest, Santa Cruz

Yellow Paper Wasps working on nest, Santa Cruz

The picture above from the Galapagos Islands shows the early cells with eggs of Yellow Paper Wasps. And below is a similar example from Spain, showing the stem (Petiole) stuck to the leaf by the Queen.

Wasp nest under Palm leaf, Malaga, Spain

Wasp nest under Palm leaf, Malaga, Spain

Another nest in construction, this time by Paper Wasps (Polistes gallicus), near Montepulciano in Tuscany.

Paper Wasps building nest on back of sign post, Italy

Paper Wasps building nest on back of sign post, Italy

Outside these cells, a number of cover lobes are constructed so that the nest ends up in a roughly round shape with an entrace hole near the bottom.

Common and German Wasps are said to be more common.  They usually build their larger nests underground.

It can be difficult to identify different wasp species, especially if their faces are buried in flowers or you are concentrating more on getting out of the way!  However each species has distinctive black marks on the back and face.  This is a bit complicated by variations amongst Queens,Workers and Males.

Wasps & nest under large leaf, Ecuador

Wasps & nest under large leaf, Ecuador

These paper houses can be found all over the world, varying in shape size and rigidity.  The wasps are also quite adaptable.  A few years ago Tree wasps adopted a Tit Nest Box to host their nest.

Tree Wasps building nest in Tit box, Front Garden

Tree Wasps building nest in Tit box, Front Garden

Tree Wasps extending nest to cover Tit nest box hole

Tree Wasps extending nest to partially cover Tit nest box hole

Tree Wasp guarding entrance to nest in Tit nest box

Tree Wasp guarding entrance to nest in Tit nest box

Surely one of the wonders of the world! 🙂

Goodbye Lizzie, Hello Caoimhe

Looking like a small alien blob, it takes a while to recognise the tiny baby birds huddled together for warmth in a small nest.

In previous years Lizzie had rared families of Blue Tits but last year our camera nest box stayed idle, despite a brief bout of grass depositing.

This year we hadn’t seen any movement near the box and on the infrequent times we had checked the video, there was nothing happening, although again, some grass had been collected early on.  This month we checked again just to be sure there was nothing there.  In another nest box, with no camera, wasps had built a nest a few years back.  Anyway we were surprised and delighted to realise that not only was there a nest but there were eggs – very small oval shaped eggs with few markings and a slight pink tinge, although this could have been caused by the light reflecting off the wooden box.

Only about a week later, we saw one of the birds seemingly breaking an egg.  But as she moved, the strange outline of a fleshy, scrawny, awkward baby could be seen.  The parent was actually getting rid of the broken egg.

Now there are at least six babies.  There could be 7 or even 8 – they tend to sit on each other in the confined nest hollow.  There were 8 eggs, so maybe all hatched safely – more to find out!

Welcome Caoimhe.

 

Spring 16

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Crocus in Garden

While many in Ireland are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Easter rising, plants have been rising in fields and gardens as for ever.

Crocuses, Daffodils, Primroses and Snowrops are the early bloomers, bringing colour & promise.

Snowdrop in Garden

Snowdrop in Garden

Other flowers to test the temperature early are the Hellebores. Like all the others, they provive nectar for the early flying insects.

Hellebore Flower

Hellebore Flower

Most of these are waning now as the main shrubs and plants take over.  However here in the cold foothills of Wicklow, everything starts later and some are still hanging on.

Frost is still a threat and some flowers, like sleepy teenagers, look very different from early morning …….

Snowdrops & Hellebores Drooping in early frost

Snowdrops & Hellebores Drooping in early frost

to afternoon!

Snowdrops & Hellebores Awake

Snowdrops & Hellebores Awake

 

2015 Review

Sorrell Hill from Lugnagun

Sorrell Hill from Lugnagun

Canon EOS 7D

Canon EOS 7D ready for new careful owner

Looking back 2015 was a mixed year, starting cold and ending with the wettest weather that I can remember.  In between there were decent warm and dry spells and from my perspective, at least, a good year for wild things and places.

January started cold with plenty of Finch flocks, particularly Goldfinch around the lakes.

Small flocks of flighty, restless Long-tailed tits tested my camera and patience and Redwing & Fieldfare appeared as usual. (Winter Birds)

It was a good time for walks and enjoying the clear winter air and views.  Lugnagun is one of our favourites offering views of the Lakes on one side and the mountains on the other with chances to see Ravens and small birds and perhaps Peregrines.

It was also the time to sell and upgrade my trusty 7D camera which had served very well for years.

 

Dunlin Flock, Bull Lagoon, Dublin

Dunlin Flock, Bull Lagoon, Dublin

February showed signs of Spring but it was our old haunt, the North Bull Island, that brought fondest memories.  Many hours have bben spent here in the past when it was on my doorstep.  Now it is a good journey but always rewarding.

Thousands of waders were there as usual, as well as Brent Geese and ducks such as Shellduck and Teal.

For me, the huge, wheeling flocks of waders in the sky when they are disturbed, beats any sight in Dublin.

Mute Swan with attitude

Mute Swan with attitude, Kensington Gardens, London

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March saw various creatures getting ready for the amorous season.

This Swan in Kensington Gardens in London seemed to have an extra dose of hormones.

He chased anything that moved and many that hadn’t intended to, seeing off all and sundry, including large Canada Geese, just for being there.

Rat sniffing air outside home, Russborough

Rat sniffing air outside home, Russborough

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Nearer home, a rat had made the base of a tree into a complex home with a network of paths and exits.

Wren on branch

Wren on branch

 

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Regularly hated, shunned and feared, these are interesting creatures and not in any way ugly to my eyes, although they are associated with a number of human diseases.

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Along with blooming plants, the nesting season accelerated in April.  Birds marked their territories by singing and despite being tiny, this little guy sang with the best of them – an unmistakeable high-pitched song to brighten any day.

Howth Head view

Howth Head view of Bull Island to Lambay Island

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May is the official start of Summer.  Flowers that had brightened Spring, spread and developed and showed the countryside at its best.

Howth Head is a great place to visit in May (or most months) and is a favourite trip of ours.

It may be unique in displaying such a diversity of scenes and habitats in such a snall area, still bustling with human life.

To the North is the well-known busy harbour with restaurants, fishing industry, Gulls and Seals.

A brilliant walk takes you all round the cliffs or up over the top of the head.  The cliffs host seabird ‘towns’ – vast numbers of closely nesting Auks, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Cormorants – while the head hosts many lovely small birds, such as Wheatear and Stonechat.

Gannet Stare

Gannet Stare, Great Saltee Island

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The Saltees welcomed us for our annual visit in June.

A bit like Howth only more remote, quieter and with better weather, this is an absolutely brilliant Island.

Puffins Courting

Puffins Courting and Bill-clacking on cliff edge, Great Saltee

Thousands of seabirds, lovely wild flowers and an island away from it all – what’s not to like?

However it is a toss-up as which of 2 birds is the greatest attraction – Gannets or Puffins.

 

Both are magnicifent.  The gannets nest in great numbers  – one of the most important sites in Europe, while the tiny Puffins vary in number each year, depending on the availability of Sand Eels.

But they are strikingly coloured and impossibly cute.

Apart from the sea birds, the island also had Choughs and Gull species as well as Oystercatchers.

Heath Spotted Orchid

Heath Spotted Orchid, Pollardstown Fen, Kildare

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Pollardstown Fen in County Kildare was visited in July.

Fed by a spring, this marsh area is now designated as a Special Area of Conservation.

It has an old feeder canal to the Grand Canal and was important to that transport system.

Many different plants and animals can be found there including a number of Orchids and a car park, path and boardwalk make access easy.

Green Vervet Monkey

Green Vervet Monkey, Nairobi National Park

 

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Business required a visit to Nairobi in Kenya in August and, well, you can’t go there even for a short time without seeing some African wildlife!

Nairobi National Park is not huge and lacks quite a few animals, such as elephants, that had to be removed for their safety.

But it is very close to the city and has Rhinos, Zebra, Lions, and many other animals and birds.

The Green monkeys are cheeky and get quite close.

Elephants bathing and playing in pool

Elephants bathing and playing in pool, Etosha National Park Namibia

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September saw most of the Summer birds and animals still around – butterflies in the garden, terns at the coast, etc.

But holidays took us back to Africa on a brilliant trip from Victoria Falls to Cape Town.

Amongst so many sights, we took in Chobe and Etosha National Parks, the dunes and deserts of Namibia and Penguins in South Africa.

So many mammals and birds but particularly, many many elephants.

A great trip in great company.

Autumn Colours Mount Usher gardens

Autumn Colours Mount Usher gardens

 

 

Water levels in the lakes were quite low in October which saw little rainfall – quite unlike the end of the year!  Now if there could just be some storage scheme to even it out (and maybe have the rain fall at night!) :).

Autumn colours predominated and few places show this better than Mount Usher gardens.

Apart from the foreign trees and plants, there are many native species and the Vartry river flows peacefully through.

Also Butterflies, Herons, Dippers and Wagtails, amongst others, are regularly seen.

Tufted Duck male

Tufted Duck male, St. Stephens Green, Dublin

 

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We had a wedding in November and a number of visitors, so it seemed a more indoors time than outdoors.

But life in the great outside continued as normal, where the mild weather was well appreciated, especially by the smaller birds.

St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin, one of my regular walks, seemed to be back near to Spring levels with Ducks back in full plumage and Swans and Pigeons being fed (although too much bread, I fear).

Tufted Ducks dived and preened and water rolled off them like worries should for us.

 

Wigeon feeding in Rogerstown estuary

Wigeon feeding in Rogerstown estuary

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Rogerstown estuary in North Dublin is a very good birding site with a tidal estuary, bird hides and some pools and a wooded area.

In December it was teeming with ducks and waders including Wigeon, Teal, Shelduck, Pink-footed Geese, Redshank, Greenshank and Lapwing.

There were also Peregrines and Buzzards.  Not bad for one site.

As the tide receeded, hundreds of mostly Wigeon, formed a line along the diminishing channel as the light became more and more golden.  Hard to leave.

Sunken Boats on Blessington Lakes

Sunken Boats on Blessington Lakes at Russborough

Christmas came and went with more parties! The weather outside however was stormy and rainy with many places flooded.  The only good part was that it remained warmer than usual.

With cold weather creeping in, I wish everyone a great 2016.

 

 

Spider Behaviour

There’s been a bit of a gap since the last post – maybe a sign of a good Summer?

Delicate touch - Spider Tetragnatha extensa on web in flowers

Delicate touch – Spider Tetragnatha extensa on web in flowers

Those of you squeamish about Arachnids should maybe wait a bit longer – this is the second part of a Spider feature, dealing more with behaviour.  The previous post can be found here –  Spiders in Ireland.

The first thing we think of regarding spiders is Webs.  Apart from having 8 legs and numerous eyes, this is a very defining deature.  The first picture shows the delicte, sure touch of the spider as well as the strength of the silk lines it weaves.

Spider's Web in frost

Spider’s Web in frost

Raindrops on tiny web

Raindrops on tiny web

Sometimes webs are hard to see – they are used to trap flies afterall – but frost, rain and morning dew makes them very visible.

Then the brilliant structures and their number, can be admired by all.

Dew-covered Webs on bush

Dew-covered Webs on bush

Garden spider - Araneus diadematus underside showing spinners

Female Garden spider – Araneus diadematus underside showing spinners

Spiders have spinners under their rear (see picture and also Garden Spider showing spinners), from where tough silk emerges quite rapidly.

In fact spiders can produce different grades of fibres for different uses – web, temporary scaffold for making web, wrapping prey, cocoons etc – and use different glues.
Garden Spider in web - waiting, feeling

Male Garden Spider in web – waiting, feeling

Spider Meta segmentata female dragging cranefly in web

Spider Meta segmentata female dragging cranefly in web

Spiders wait quietly and still on their webs  with their legs on a number of lines, or at the edge of a web, perhaps under a leaf, but touching a main line, waiting for vibrattions that tell them some prey is struggling with the sticky web.  However spiders themselves are able to traverse the web very quickly.  This seems to be due to a number of factors:-

  1. spiders know where the sticky strands are
  2. spiders have an oily substance on their legs which resists sticking
  3. they walk in a way that minimises the contact between the glue drops and the tiny hairs on their legs and
  4. they have a third claw that seems to work with the flexible hairs to grasp the thread and release it!
Fly caught by spider- linyphiidae

Fly caught by spider- linyphiidae

Prey stuck in a web, is usually doomed unless large and powerful enough to free itself. The resident spider usually approaches quite quickly and ends the struggle with a poisonous bite.

Male Spider Tetragnatha extensa cocooning prey in web

Male Spider Tetragnatha extensa cocooning prey in web

Generally the spider then cocoons its prey using more sticky silk thread – dinner for later.

 

Although it seems out of character, some spiders do not build webs.  Hunter spiders (Hunter Spider), for example, use speed to grab and bite their prey.

 

Spider in web Lough Dan

Spider in web Lough Dan

Another use for spider silk is to make funnels and nests.

Wolf Spider with egg sac

Wolf Spider with egg sac

Spider Tetragnatha extensa on stem

Spider Tetragnatha extensa on stem

Finally, spider silk is used to make a sac to carry its eggs.

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Spiders are good at hiding, whether it is in the shadow under leaves or in the open, staying still.

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This is aided by aligning their legs with the foliage …

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or by looking un-spider-like and staying still.

Harvestman on house wall

Harvestman on house wall

Life & Death

The last few weeks brought home the faster life and death nature of wildlife.  Not that all of us don’t have to go through the same things, but generally we seem to have a more intense and drawn out experience to death.  I was watching a TV documentary on elephants where they seem to mourn and dwell over dead friends and relatives a bit more like us – something I had read about before – and there are the elephant graveyard stories.  However smaller animals and birds ‘appear’ to treat death as a sharp shock before getting on with their lives.

Alternately, it might be the frequency of death, rather than the size of the animal, that lessens its effect on others.  Years ago our company used to train technical staff from an African country.

They came on a series of courses and we got quite fond of some that had been to Ireland on a few occasions.

Song Thrush Nestlings in Nest in rough Hedge

Song Thrush Nestlings in Nest in rough Hedge

Asking casually about one such that was not on the course being taught at that time, we were told, fairly matter-of-factly that he was ‘gone’. We had to pursue this to understand that he had died (of aids which kills so many in Africa).

These morbid thoughts are brought on by a few sightings during last month.

1)  We had a Song thrush nest in a partial wild hedge in our back garden.  The young seemed very healthy and not disturbed by the sound of the lawn-mower going past very close – admittedly not as often as it would do in a tidy garden. I was late in discovering them and reckoned by their size and activity, that they were close to fledging.  The parents continued to bring them food and to rest in the nest overnight, keeping them warm. Two days later, when I looked, they were gone but not just the chicks, all trace of the nest was gone!  There had been some wind but not as much as previously, so either they flew and demolished the nest in their leaving or, probably more likely, a cat got them.

Blue Tit in Tree

Blue Tit in Tree

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2)  Relations of ours have a Blue Tit camera nest-box similar to ours, that this year finally produced a nest, eggs and eventually young.

Their joy at the constant feeding and attention shown by the parents was brought to a shuddering halt by their sudden disappearence.

The babies continued to call for food but as time went by, it became clear that the parents were not coming back and that the chicks would not survive.

Cats are the main suspects although it is strange that both parents ‘disappeared’.

Irish Stoat running with Wood Mouse Tomnafinnoge Woods
Irish Stoat running with Wood Mouse Tomnafinnoge Woods

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3)  While walking in the rain along the river in Tomnafinnoge Wood near Tinahely (this is a very special woods and features Oak trees and Woodpeckers and the River Derry, a tributary of the Slaney), I heard a commotion from behind.

It sounded like a bird in a panic flying towards me but as I looked around with the camera un-ready!, it turned out to be an Irish Stoat (often called a Weasel here but actually there are no real Weasels in Ireland) running towards me.  While still trying to get the camera settings into appropriate action, I realised it had something in its mouth.  I thought it was a bird but on later review of the poor pictures, decided it was a Wood Mouse.

Aware that I would dearly want to get a good picture of this startling scene, the Stoat turned and jumped into the undergrowth!

The animal is gorgeous – very small and beautifully coloured – a kind of fawn / beige brown – and with a white belly and a black tip to its tail.

However the bird in its mouth broke the thought of innocent beauty and brought home the lethal nature of nature.

Moorhen & Chick on Nest Grand Canal Dublin

Moorhen & Chick on Nest Grand Canal Dublin

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4)  This week I walked along the Grand Canal in Dublin, thronged by lunch-time walkers and those eating food from the vendors along the banks.  As usual, I was looking for birds in the margins and eventually found a Moorhen amongst the reeds.  Going to the bridge I could see that it was building a nest and as I got closer again, a chick appeared from under the parent’s wing!  In fact there were 3 chicks and at least one unhatched egg.  Moorhens often have 8 eggs so there may have been more.

Moorhen bringing Grass to partner & chicks on Nest Grand Canal Dublin

Moorhen bringing Grass to partner & chicks on Nest Grand Canal Dublin

The other parent regularly brought leaves that (s)he knitted into the nest.  This was necessary as the nest was a floating one and required constant attention to keep it above water.  Both Moorhen sexes incubate the eggs and they are indistinguishable without examination.  However the male is understood to do most of the nest sitting.

On the far side of the canal, a young Heron stood patiently by the water’s edge unconcerned by people behind him, much closer than normally consider comfortable.

In the nest, little Johhnie – there’s always one – climbed out and swam about on its own.  He may have done this before but the parent on the nest did not seem too pleased while the other parent was pre-occupied with leaf gathering.

While I watched the Moorhen’s knitting abilities, someone behind me was feeding pigeons.  They wanted to peck at the large bread crumbs thrown and constantly pitched the crumbs up in the air as they tried to break them.  This led the crumbs and them to get very close to me.  So close that I nearly missed the drama.

A Lesser Black-backed Gull, which presumably had been watching the crumb throwing, also had his eye on the Moorhen Nest and suddenly flew down.  The parent jumped up to attack it and defend the nest but as the Moorhen pecked at its neck, the Gull, in one movement, reached down, grabbed a chick in its beak and disengaged from the fight, flying to the other side of the canal with the unfortunate chick in its bill.

This was not little Johnie, the mischievious roamer but one of the goodie-goodies that stayed in the nest – it’s the same the world over!

This all took about a second or two.  Too quick for yours truly, unprofessional, unprepared and a bit stunned, to get a picture of the scrap.

Lesser Black-backed Gull with chick taken from Moorhen Nest Grand Canal Dublin

Lesser Black-backed Gull with chick taken from Moorhen Nest Grand Canal Dublin

On the far bank, the Lesser Black-backed Gull manoeuvred the chick a couple of times and then swallowed it, as a few people and the Moorhens looked on disbelievingly.

After a few minutes, the Moorhen sat back on the nest with little movement.  It seemed to be detrermined to shield and protect the remaining brood & egg(s).  I was left wondering if (s)he continued to dwell on the incident, to be sad or to mourn.

A couple of days later, the nest was gone.  Only floating leaves remained.  It may be that the remaining eggs hatched and the young went off with the parents.  On the other hand, the nest was close to the bank, in a place frequented by people and the Canal in its city stretches, features many predators including dogs, foxes and of course little (and big) brats!

Looking forward to more on the ‘Life’ side in the next few weeks.

The Flowers that Bloom in the Spring …

Crocuses in Hermitage Museum courtyard Amsterdam

Crocuses in Hermitage Museum courtyard Amsterdam

With apologies to Messrs Gilbert & Sullivan, these flowers have everything to do with this case.

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There has been a good showing of wild and garden bulbs such as Crocuses as well as other Spring flowers this year befitting from some sunny spring weather.
They add colour and provide nectar for early flying insects.
But more importantly, they signal an end to the dark cold days.
Snowdrop in Garden

Snowdrop in Garden

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Snowdrops lit up field edges and areas under sleeping bushes, early on.
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Their delicate, fairy-like white heads seemed to dominate fields and gardens.
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The traditional show in Altamount Gardens, Co. Carlow, was brilliant with different varieties and areas where the lawn was almost obscured by white. . See https://cliffsview.wordpress.com/2015/02/22/spring-signs/

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Daffodil against sun in Garden

Daffodil against sun in Garden

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Daffodils (Narcissi), Cyclamen and Tulips followed, reminding us what great value bulbs are, usually recurring each year, often in greater numbers, with little work required.
Tulip inners in Garden

Tulip inners in Garden

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Bluebells in Garden

Bluebells in Garden

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Primrose has had a very good spring and these always cheery flowers are in full bloom.
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So also are Bluebells in many places.
Bluebell woods Muckross rd Killarney

Bluebell woods Muckross rd Killarney

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Here in this colder corner of heaven, they are just starting!
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It always seems to me that blue is not a common colour in nature and so to see woodland carpeted in blue surprises and delights year after year!
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Three-cornered Garlic Allium triquetrum Howth with E coast in distance

Three-cornered Garlic (Allium triquetrum) Howth with East coast in distance

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Many places have large shows of white flowers again, like a revisit of Snowdrops. Ransoms or Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum), related to Chives, are in full growth in many places, especially in woods. A quick break of a leaf delivers the sharp Garlic smell.
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An introduced species of Garlic, Allium triquetrum, gives a similar show in some more open spaces around the country.  It  has more bell-like white flowers on Hydra-like multiple stems.  It also smells of Garlic but not as strong as the more common variety and has narrower leaves.
Wild Pansy Viola tricolor Bull Island

Wild Pansy (Viola tricolor) Bull Island

Pink Rhododendron Flowers Russborough

Pink Rhododendron Flowers Russborough

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Meadowsweet is beginning to add fragrance to country roads and keep an eye out for Wild Pansies which seem too vivid to be growing wild.
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Rhododendron, that most invasive of invasive species, should be blooming shortly.  It probably is already in some parts. Despite its all enveloping and choking nature, the flowers in many colours, are something to see.  If you can forgive them their bullying nature for 1 month, two good places to view them are Deer park in Sutton / Howth and Russborough House, south of Blessington (See .  Howth has the advantage of great views over the coast.
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In the west, many roadsides sport them and they can be a real nuisance to control!

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Gorse at Lower Reservoir Silent Valley Co Down

Gorse at Lower Reservoir Silent Valley Co. Down

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Of course one of the nicest sights at this time of year is Gorse (Ulex) in full bloom.

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Enjoy and may the Furze be with Yew.

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