Musings and photos of wild and everyday life

Home Life

Paper Houses – Wasp Magic

Norwegian Wasps building Nest under roof

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! 🙂

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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.

 


Spider Behaviour

Male Spider Tetragnatha extensa cocooning prey in web

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


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.


Springing Up

Ducklings Grand Canal

Ducklings on Grand Canal

What a great change to the weather and suddenly, it seems, Spring is everywhere.

.The great hope of light and warmth and growth, after the dark and cold of winter, is inspiring.

Of course, as usual, everything is a bit later here in the foothills of the mountains!

Snowdrops

Snowdrops in garden

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Snowdrops have bloomed,

Snowdrop

Snowdrop in garden

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Crocus hybrids

Crocus hybrids in garden

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Crocuses are waning.

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Daffodil in garden

Daffodil in garden

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And now Daffodills brighten our roads and gardens and confirm the Spring promise.

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12 of 13 Mallard Ducklings on Grand canal

12 of 13 Mallard Ducklings on Grand canal

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It seems early  but we have already seen ducklings in the canal.  13 tiny balls of puffed up fluff darting around under the watchful eye of Mammy Mallard and 2 Drakes.

13!  That sounds like a lot of painful egg producing effort.

I don’t know if one of the Drakes was a friend, lover, brother or a security guard?  If a guard, he doesn’t seem to have been much good, as a couple of days later, no ducklings could be found!

We can hope they moved elsewhere but they seemed too tiny to go far and the birds on the Grand Canal do suffer great predation.

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Lamb in field Co Kildare

Lamb in field Co Kildare

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This is also lambing time around here and little white quadrapeds have been appearing in the nearby fields for about a month now.

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On the other hand we start to say goodbye to the Geese & Swans.

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Greylag Geese in rear field Blessington

Greylag Geese in rear field Blessington

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The Whoopers have already dissappeared but the Greylags are still feeding in the grass fields – probably stocking up for their long flights. .

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Anyway here’s looking forward to plenty more springing up in the coming weeks.


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.

Lizzie 2013

She’s back.  Lizzie, that is.  Blue Tit near nestYou remember Lizzie?  This blog is about Lizzzie (or Alice and lots of other things!).  See https://cliffsview.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/new-creations-what-grows-in-your-garden/ & https://cliffsview.wordpress.com/2012/01/29/lizzie-2012/

 

The nestbox has at least 5 and maybe 6 eggs in it.  More news to follow.


Hungry Visitor

Sparrowhawk M BG through window

Male Sparrowhawk in Back Garden

The Geese are finally gone and Swallows and House Martins are alreadywheeling through the skies, shrieking and endlessly seeking flies.  Temperatures are up and there is great activity amongst the birds.

I think that is why a silent spell in the garden made me look out the window.  A quick shift in direction of grey wing in the bushes looked different, unusual.  Looking closer I was surprised to see a male Sparrowhawk that seemed to have come to feed on the nut-feeding small birds.

Having the camera close as I was about to head down to the lake, I got a few pics through the window, trying not to scare him.

The small birds seemed to have taken refuge in a woody bush and were now giving the vocals the full treatment, while himself, perched on top of the bush, seemed to be wondering how to get in or perhaps just hoping that one of the little ‘uns would make a break for it.

He seemed to be very keen on a meal so I had a go at opening the creaky back door a little and was lucky enough to be tolerated while I got some better shots.  Such a magnificent creature, albeit built to kill.  Eyes, beak clews, wings – all intended to allow sharp movement and precise, lethal hunting.

Its interesting to note the differences between the sexes – the female (see https://cliffsview.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/sparrowhawk-f-with-twig-st-annes-dublin-1732xl.jpg) is larger but duller.

Eventually he got fed up – not literally, unfortunately for him – and flew off low along the old hedge.

Fantastic encounter with a stunning creature.

Sparrowhawk M BG


Frosty Birds

Whooper Swans and Greylag Geese Frosty field BlessingtonMid-March and Spring is still springing but the weather has regressed – frost, snow and hail-stones seem to be more common than warming termperatures.

So the Whooper Swans and Greylag geese are still close-by.

The very idea of sitting with your belly on the frozen ground is enough to give the collycobbles!

When the birds move you can see a ‘melted’ space!  It can leave a patchwork pattern on the field.Whooper Swans in Frost field with Greylag Geese BlessingtonGreylag Geese in Frost field Blessington


Garden Finches

ooper Swans & Greylag Geese Blessington from homeWell Spring is gathering pace and the weather is drier.  Magpies are very obvious as they build elaborate nests and birds are amorous.

However we haven’t yet seen the first frogspawn in our Wicklow imitation of the North Pole and the Whoopers and Greylg Geese are still next door.

Greylag Geese flying in to land BlessingtonWe are not, of course, wishing our lovely neighbours would leave.  Whooper Swan resting in field BlessingtonThey are brilliant to watch as they shuffle across the fields, making sure not to miss any thick grass and leaving the fields smoother than many lawnmowers!

It’s more a question of figouring out where we are in the natural order after cold and wet spells.

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Interest inside our garden was even greater yesterday.Redpoll F BG

Glorious finches had their day.  Hard on the heels of the Bullfinch and Greenfinches of last post (https://cliffsview.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/more-signs/), the sun (and the nut feeder) brought out quite a range of finch beauties, some of which hadn’t been seen too much this year:-

  • Chaffinch
  • Greenfinch
  • Redpoll
  • Siskin
  • Goldfinch

and a special!

Goldfinch BG.

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Chaffinch M with Siskin behind in BG

Male Chaffinch with Siskin behind in back garden

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As I was getting accustomed to the array of finches battling for position on the feeder (not really a battle when the smaller but quite aggressive Siskin is about!), I thought I saw something different.

Could it be a bird long on my list of wannasees?

Sure was.  My first sighting of a Brambling.  It was a female in winter colouring, similar to a Chaffinch but a bit more striking without being more colourful.

She didn’t stay too long,  A coulpe of short visits was all I got but it has taken a long time to see…. and to find it at home!

Happy Days!

Brambling F W BG

Female Brambling in back garden

Brambling F W BG