Musings and photos of wild and everyday life

Birds

Costa Rica

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Green Iguana, Tortuguero

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

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Turkey Vulture

The vultures can be seen in the skies all over the country and it feels strange to hear them described as ‘only’ vultures!

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Great Kiskadee

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.

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Anhinga (male), Tortuguero

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.

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Green Heron, near Manuel Antonio NP

Many herons can be seen waiting patiently for a fish to come close.

 

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American Crocodile sun bathing, Tortuguero

Rivers are not for the faint-hearted.  They host snakes, Caiman and Crocs that are way beyond ancient!

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Male Mantled Howler Monkey on roof, Tortuguero

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.

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White-faced Capuchin Monkeys eating Palm fruit, Osa Pensinsula

The cheekiest monkeys are the Capuchins which have learnt to rob food from tourists but ‘normally’ eat fruit and small animals.

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Hoffman’s 2-toed Sloth

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.

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Variegated Squirrel, Monteverde Cloud Forest

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.

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Green Violetear Hummingbird feeding on flowers, Monteverde


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

Robin & Worm

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


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.

 


Winter Birds

Swans beside 18th Green Tulfarris under heavy frost
Swans beside 18th Green Tulfarris under heavy frost

Swans beside 18th Green, Tulfarris, under heavy frost

We’ve had frost, snow, winds and rain but it hasn’t been a bad winter so far.

Of course golf hasn’t always been possible!

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Birds have had a mixed time. There has been a good deal of wild fruit on trees and on the ground and people these days put out more food in gardens.

On the other hand, some of those aweful shrubs with ‘lasting’ berries (meaning that birds don’t like them, which makes them close to useless in my book) have begun to see some bird harvesting.

Fieldfare in front garden

Fieldfare in front garden

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Whooper Swans and Greylag Geese still visit the fields beside our garden.

See previous post – ( https://wordpress.com/post/14866330/2493/ )

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In the garden, Fieldfare and Redwing arrived in December.

These thrushes are in the same family as the more familiar Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and Blackbird but arrive in some numbers here only in winter from Scandinavia.

They are definite signs of cold weather if that’s not already obvious.

Redwing in field

Redwing in field

The Fieldfare is pretty much Mistle thrush size and has a grey look.

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The Redwing is closer to Song Thrush size and appearance but has a red patch under its wings.

Both can be a bit shy and scare off easily.

Chaffinch Male feeding on fallen crab apples in front garden

Chaffinch Male feeding on fallen crab apples in front garden

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The Fieldfares love the fallen Crab Apples in our front garden.  Strangely we usually get a bumper crop of these every second year and were not expecting them again this year.  They still came and fell in large numbers which attracted the Fieldfares as well as the more common and less shy Chaffinches and Blackbirds.

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Goldfilch charm on Larch cones Blessington Lakes

Goldfilch charm on Larch cones Blessington Lakes

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Down at the lakes I heard and then saw a large flock of Goldfinches (Charm, Drum or Troubling of Goldfinches according to ‘Birds of Ireland, Facts, Folklore & History). There must have been at least 50 birds making quite a racket as they attacked the cones high in the Larch trees beside the lake. They moved quite fast, making them difficult to photograph and showed good agility.

Long-tailed Tit Blessington Lakes

Long-tailed Tit Blessington Lakes

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Also close to the lake, a flock of Long-tailed Tits flitted amongst the trees

They also move quite fast and don’t stay in one tree too long.

It is an unfortunate fact that Ireland has a much smaller number of bird spesies than the UK – who in turn have a much smaller selection than the continent.  We miss out on some really cute members of the Paridae family, such as Crested, Marsh and Bearded Tits.

However the Long-tailed is one of the most beautiful birds in Ireland with its long tail and pinkish feathers.

Its nest if you ever find one (not easy), is beautifully constructed in a tree from moss and spider webs, with a small entry hole – something to keep an eye out for in spring.

Heron fishing Blessington Lakes

Heron fishing Blessington Lakes

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Finally, checking out the lake near Russborough House, this Heron was happily fishing away. He (or she) didn’t seem to be catching anything large but seemed to have plenty of small successes. The prey looked like insects.

Hopefully the rest of the winter will be as enjoyable.


Whoopers & Greylags at Christmas

Whooper Swans and Greglag Geese neighbours for Christmas

Whooper Swans and Greglag Geese neighbours for Christmas

They arrived in October this year as most years and apart from some very mild mornings, have enhanced our view from the house since.

A particularly nice sight on a frosty Christmas morning.

Happy Christmas and a brilliant New Year to all.


Harry the Heron

Harry with fish SSG
 Harry the Heron in Pond SSG Dublin

Harry the Heron in Pond SSG Dublin

Walking to and from work can be a drudge.

Walking by or preferrably through a green space, can lift the mood and is probably a bit better for the ould lungs!  I am lucky to have 3 possible green areas to traverse depending on the path chosen.  St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin is one of those and it should already be clear from previous posts, how much I believe it benefits the city and its people.

Harry in Willow Tree SSG

Harry in Willow Tree SSG

One of the things that ‘amuses one’  is playing ‘Where’s Harry?’  Harry is a Grey Heron that is commonly seen in different areas of the park and finding where on a particular day is the aim.  OK, it mighn’t be rivetting but it beats listening to the news on the radio.  Also there could be 100 different Herons but if so they are all considered to be Harry:)

Sometimes he is in the open and easy to find.

Harry in Willow Tree SSG Dublin

Harry in Willow Tree SSG

Harry near bridge SSG

Harry near bridge SSG

Other times he could be somewhere in the large Willow Tree or at the edge of the stagnant end of the pond, at the SE, Baggot Street end.

Harry on Rock beside bridge SSG

Harry on Rock beside bridge SSG

Harry & friend on rocks SSG

Harry & friend on rocks SSG

Harry may not be around every day but he can often be seen although sometimes hard to find.

Other common places include the rocks under the viewing point at the West end and the rocks on the NE side of the bridge. In both of these places he can be very close.

Harry preening SSG

Harry preening SSG

Looking around the rocks a metre or two from the pond’s edge in the middle of the park (S side of the pond) can also be fruitful.

 

Inactive can be a common theme for Harry, perhaps having a post-breakfast rest.

However if you have time or are lucky, some typical behaviour can be observed.

 

This includes preening – the systematic cleaning of feathers to keep them waterproof.

Harry calling SSG

Harry calling SSG

Herons can make quite a racket and Harry makes himself very obvious when he calls out.

You may even see him catch a fish – yes there are some fish in the pond and even large eels.

Harry with fish SSG

Harry with fish SSG

Harry waiting SSG

Harry waiting SSG

Harry on Willow tree SSG

Harry on Willow tree SSG

So next time you are in Stephen’s Green, look out for Harry.


New Arrivals

Woodpecker Male on nut-feeder in a S Co.Dublin garden
Common Buzzard flying

Common Buzzard flying

We are often jealous of the bigger variety of wildlife in other countries, even in our neighbours.  This includes birds, animals, butterflies, plants, in fact pretty much everything.  Of course we are on the edge of the continent but it would be nice to have some more species.  The mild climate compared to contintental countries – less extreme weather than England, in fact – offers some compensation.

However, over the last decades, new species have arrived to brighten the scene.  There have also been quite a lot of unwelcome additions – plants and animals that out-compete native wildlife and seriously change the balance of nature. Ignoring these alien invaders such as Mink and Grey Squirrels for now, it is great to catch a glimpse of some of the new stars.

Buzzards have been amongst the most successful recolonisers. Persecuted (shot and poisoned like most birds of prey in Ireland) to extinction during the ninetheenth century and early 20th., they made a small and short comeback in the 1950s but dissapeared again with the demise of their rabbit prey – which had in turn been decimated by Myxomatosis.

Making another return in the 70s in the north of the country, it has taken them a long time to spread south.  This seems to be down to poisons laid for crows and foxes. Strychnine has been illegal in the north for a long time but was only made illegal here in the 90s.

Buzzard over Blessington Lakes

Buzzard over Blessington Lakes

It is now quite common to see them in many parts of the country including in Dublin and Wicklow.  Often they are heard before seen and have quite a high-pitched, ‘thin’ call for such a large bird.

Ironically, it is due to the lack of large predators that Crows and Foxes are so common.  More Buzzards should reduce the prevalence of Crows, Rabbits and Rats amongst others.

Little Egret taking off in Saltmills estuary Wexford

Little Egret taking off in Saltmills estuary Wexford

Exotic is one of the words that come to mind to describe another newish arrival.  The Little Egret can now be found around much of the coast as well as in some inland counties, having started mainly on the warmer south coast. Previously they were an interesting visitor but they started breeding in Ireland in 1997.

It is common to see them in estuaries, often with Grey Herons.  They also often breed beside large heronries.

Woodpecker Male on nut-feeder in a S Co.Dublin garden

Great Spotted Woodpecker Male on nut-feeder in a S Co.Dublin garden

Interestingly, other Egrets such as the Cattle and Great, are making more frequent visits to Ireland.

Outshining the Egrets however is the cartoon king, the Great Spotted Woodpecker, which is not actually all that great in size, being little bigger than a Thrush but makes up for this in colour and behaviour.  Form being a rare winter visitor, Great Spotted Woodpeckers have been increasing in the last 10 years and breeding was confirmed in Wicklow woodland in 2008.

They seem to be spreading quite quickly and are now seen in Wexford, Dublin and a few other counties.  They are really beautiful birds and the drumming sound as they hammer their beaks on trees has to be heard.

Red Kite flying

Red Kite flying

The other notable ‘new boy’ in the East of the country is the Red Kite. These have been carefully reintroduced through young birds brought over from Wales where the population has regrown and spread. There were previously Kite reintroduction releases in Scotland and England and the success of these ventures encouraged Ireland’s efforts.

A great addition to our skies, they are more colourful than the Black Kites common on the continent and seem to be doing well.

In the East of Ireland we have still not entertained the magnificen eagles – Golden and White-tailed – which have also been reintroduced in Ireland, in Donegal and Kerry, respectively.  This also seems to be going well but is being somewhat twarted by the illegal and dangerous practice of laying out poisoned meat.

Hopefully we will get to see these magnificent flying machines soon.

Goosander male in Wicklow river

Goosander male in Wicklow river

Another bird that is coming back is the Goosander.

This is a saw-billed duck common in Scotland and spreading down through the UK. It seems to be building breeding  numbers here since the 90s although it has been a rare winter visitor in the past.

They are long ducks with red bills.  Males are contrasting white, black and green, while the females are reddish brown with a bit of white.  They are found on fast rivers and usually nest in a tree hole or under rocks at the edge.

Finally, while not a new bird to Ireland, Jays seem to be increasing quite rapidly and are now not as difficult to see as before.  They are the best looking crows – even compared to Magpies and Choughs and it is great to see more of them.

Jay on Pine tree

Jay on Pine tree

So some good news while habitat still dissapears, poison is laid and global warming increases!


Lizzie’s Lassies at Large

The good news is that Lizzie brought up 3 fine chicks and they fledged in June, while I was at the office.  Originally there had been 6 but we suspect that the winter and ‘spring’ has taken its toll of the insect population and they found it hard to feed the poor little bairns.
Starling feeding leatherjackets to juv in nest box

Starling feeding leatherjackets to juvenile
in nest box

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We weren’t sure that all 3 would make it as 1 seemed to be more lethargic and smaller, often disappearing under the other two!  However as we watched, it became apparent that the size was more to do with the distance from the camera and that they seemed to rotate the lethargic position.  The one that had been fed a lot, seemed to get lazier and slid down into the warmer deeper part of the nest.
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Anyway 3 is not a bad result.
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Our starlings again produced a fine gang of young’uns around the same time and have already produced a second brood!  Energy  seemed to be unbounded as they flew nearly continuously in and out of the garage nest box.
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Elsewhere in the garden, Blackbirds had a successful breeding season as did Robins but it seemed to be generally a poorer breeding season from our viewpoint – perhaps the bad Spring was to blame?
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Nearby Rooks and  Jackdaws seemed to produce their usual noisy kindergarten group while the sky was brightened by the fast flying and twittering House Martins and Swallows as well as Sand Martins.