Have you ever walked through a marshy area and been shocked by a sudden explosion of feathers at your feet, which then disappeared off at full speed with a zig-zag flight? This is the culprit but I didn’t think we’d ever see one in our back garden!
In fact we have 2 Snipe – a brace. They have discovered that amongst the acres and acres of deep snow around here, there is one spot where the the snow is thin enough for their long beaks to reach into the soil – our old trampoline!
There are a lot more birds in the garden than usual, drawn by the need to find food and by our feeders and seed strewn-steps etc. Today we had a Pied Wagtail our our doorstep.
It all looks cute and is great for close views of birds we seldom see close up but many birds will die during this spell. Indeed many people will suffer with some main and most side roads closed.
So be safe and help your neighbours – feathered and otherwise 🙂
Some of the commonest and noisiest birds are in the crow family.
Found in most regions of the world they tend to be medium to large sized, intelligent, mainly blackish in colour and relatively brave around people.
Here in Ireland, the Jackdaw is one of the most visible members of the family which numbers approximately 40. Its white eye ring and mixture of black and grey feathers making it easily identifiable.
Slightly bigger are the Rooks which often mingle with Jackdaws.
They are much tougher looking and have a strong beak with a whitish patch at the base. They also show a dark blue tint when the sun shines.
They make untidy large nests in colonies known as rookeries, in the tops of trees in whereas the Jackdaws nest in holes, such as in trees or chimneys.
The biggest of our crows is the Raven with a wingspan of up to 1.3m. These are birds of higher ground, mostly scavenging on dead animals.
The other typical Grey-Black crow we have is the Hooded Crow. It is very similar to the Carrion Crow, found in England, which does not have any grey.
This is the main crow in many European continental countries.
Hooded Crow pairs nest on their own in tops of tall trees.
However, another common crow here is the Magpie – a really beautiful bird but with a bad reputation due to their success in towns and dominance over small birds.
Reasonably common but not seen as much is the Jay which has much less black in its plumage.
It is predominantly Brown with patches of blue, black and white and is most often seen in woods, particularly Oak woods.
The final Irish Corvid is the least known but possibly the most interesting and certainly my favourite. The Chough is similar in some ways to the Jackdaw but has red legs and beak. Also the beak is thinner and down curved – designed for poking into the ground.
The best places to see these are along the South and West coasts. They will probably be noticed first by their unusual ‘chough’ calls.
That’s a reasonable number of ‘Crows’ for a little country. In a blog to follow, some of the other crows will be highlighted.
This is a really majestic, beautiful and fun city. The large complex Cathedral and magnificent Giralda tower in Plaza Virgen de los Reyes, together with so many other lovely buildings, could take most of your attention.
These buildings include the Bishop’s Palace in the North of the Plaza
and the Royal Palaces, Reales Alcazares, to the South.
But Seville has much more and demands more time. It is not a place to be rushed and only a hint of Seville’s treasures can be shown here.
Further South still and nearer to the river, you’ll be flabbergasted by Plaza de Espana, stunning at night as much as by day!
And speaking of the river, a walk along the Guadalquivir is very relaxing with rowers and wildlife as well as other jewels including the Golden Tower and the Bull Ring, Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza.
It is hard not to see interesting buildings and the bridges are great in their own right.
Beside Plaza de Espana, Maria Luisa Park is full of trees, ducks, water and offers some quiet and shade but it is very popular and busy.
Finally check out a few of the many quirky churches – many along very narrow streets and the Metropole, a sort of modern art city canopy with awalkway and great views from the honeycomb-like roof.
3 tips –
It is a relatively short trip South to Donana National Park with Imperial Eagles, Peregrines, Azure-winged Magpies, Boar, Deer, Lizards and much more are to be seen or even shorter to Charco de la Boca lake at El Rocio where Glossy Ibis, Spoonbills, Egrets, Coot and many other birds thrive.
This is a place that produces great food – enjoy.
- Should the unthinkable happen and it rains, explore the interiors of Reales Alcatras and the Cathedral – even if not religious you will come away uplifted! 🙂
Great Saltee Island off the SE coast of Ireland is the place to go in May or June – or most times of the year.
But in early Summer the flowers and birds are terrific.
It seems to have its own micro-climate and has been kind, weather-wise, to us on our yearly pilgrimages.
We spent 4 or 5 hours on the island but could have spent 4 or 5 days without doing it justice.
It is known best for its 2 Gannet colonies and for its Puffins but has so much more – birds such as Auks, Waders, Gulls, Cormorants, Choughs, Pipits etc. as well as Seals, Rabbits (inevitably), wild flowers and great views.
The Gannets number over 2,000 and try to nest away from interference – one colony on a rock stack and the other at the extreme end of the island.
However over-enthusiastic visitors and camera holders constantly get too close, pushing the colony back and causing unnecessary stress and disturbance.
Gannets build a small mound of earth and vegetation – grass, seaweed, etc. – with more vegetation on top.
In such a crowded place, the Gannets are very regularly spaced. This is not so much about privacy for couples or respect for neighbours but rather fear of agression and use of agression to keep a small gap!
Fights do break out in the close noisy turmoil.
Gannets mostly look all the same to us but presumably they can see distinct differences and hear different calls. Nevertheless finding one’s mate in a large noisy colony can’t be easy and landing amongst defensive neighbours in wind has to be difficult.
A magnificent bird and beautifully designed for life on the sea and for diving into the water from a height.
Puffin calling from rock amongst Pinks on clifftop, Great Saltee
Hard to ignore the gorgeous, cute little Puffins though.
Puffin numbers go up and down yearly based mainly on the numbers of Sandeels available.
The last 2 years seem to have been fairly good but of course fish numbers worldwide are only fractions of 100 years ago due to over fishing, pollution, human interference and now, particularly plastics – hard to imagine such a happy state for our seas now 😦
A long wish-list sleeper was ticked off this year with a great trip to Costa Rica. The country is small, about the same size as Ireland but there the comparisons seem to end.
It has kept many of its forests and regrown many others. It has a great variety of habitats and features – highlands, beach, mountains, cloud forest, rain forest, mangroves ….And it has both Caribbean and Pacific shores!
Best of all for wildlife enthusiasts, it has brilliant birds, animals and plants. Over a few posts, I hope to show a sample of these.
Let’s start with some common birds and animals.
While Crows, Starlings and the odd Buzzard might act as scavengers in these parts, in Costa Rica they are replaced mainly by Black and Turkey Vultures and Grackles
The vultures can be seen in the skies all over the country and it feels strange to hear them described as ‘only’ vultures!
A hot country with rain, breeds loads of insects which spawn many flycatchers. One of the commonest is the Great Kiskadee, seen on wires in all regions.
The rivers and canals are home to many species including the ancient Anhingas, often seen drying their wings. This one looks like a rock star.
Many herons can be seen waiting patiently for a fish to come close.
Rivers are not for the faint-hearted. They host snakes, Caiman and Crocs that are way beyond ancient!
Meanwhile the trees are home to 4 different types of Monkeys. Nosiest of these is the Howlers whch have a habit of waking people at dawn with their deep growling howls, produced by large throat balloons.
The cheekiest monkeys are the Capuchins which have learnt to rob food from tourists but ‘normally’ eat fruit and small animals.
Its also in the trees that Sloths can be seen. It’s hard to believe how hard it can be to see such big slow moving creatures.
It can be hard to see both large and small mammals but Agoutis and Coatis can usuallly be seen with a bit of patience. And Squirrels often come close.
This can only be a quick look at the common wildlife in Costa Rica but more will appear in subsequent posts. Let’s leave with one of the iconic birds of the region – the Hummingbird – as well as bright flowers which are also a big feature of beautiful Costa Rica.
The 1st of February is Lá Fhéile Bríde (St. Brigid’s Day) and traditionally welcomes Spring.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 !)
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.
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.
In gardens and parks, birds were excited, feeding eagerly for the nesting season.
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.
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.
Beside the river Liffey, Coronation Plantation looked well in Summer sun.
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.
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
back to my old North-side where Sutton at low tide revealed waders and gulls and great views.
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! ——————-
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.
Climbing Croagh Patrick mountain gave brilliant views over Clew bay, islands and Baltra strand. We also had a great cycle ride.
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
.All that sea produced lots of Seaweed in a variety of colours and patterns.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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’.
Not everyone’s cup of tea, so to speak, but it’s amazing what lives and dies beyond our normal gaze.
Interesting contrast between these two pictures, don’t you think!
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.
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
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.
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).
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.
This is what it is all about – a contented if tired stag with ‘his’ hopefully content and fruitful does!
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.
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.
The message as always is if you can get out there, well, GET OUT THERE.
Wasps, like spiders, divide people. They can cause pandemonium or can be admired.
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.
These nests are built, bit by intricate bit, by the wasps chewing wood into a pulp and pasting it into place at the nest.
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.
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.
Another nest in construction, this time by Paper Wasps (Polistes gallicus), near Montepulciano in Tuscany.
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.
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.
Surely one of the wonders of the world! 🙂
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!