Musings and photos of wild and everyday life

Wild Places

Tenerife

Boat passing Sunset between La Frontera & Gomera islands from Fanabe Beach Costa Adeje Tenerife tri xs 9194.jpg

There are many places with more wildlife than Tenerife but with the current restrictions due to the CV-19 Virus, I thought it might cheer us all up to think about somewhere warm and inviting!

And there are many birds and animals here although I confess that we were there for a short sunny holiday late last year ūüôā¬†¬† So the birds and animals in this post are those found easily – without using binoculars or spending hours in a hide.¬† Also we were only on the West coast of the island.Red Rock Crab Grapsus adscensionis at edge of water on wave splashed rocks W Tenerife xs 9164

If you walk around the shore you are almost certain to see many Red Rock Crabs.  They are quite large and very colourful.  This one, like most, was at the edge of the rocks waiting for the next wave to wash over him bringing tit-bits of food. Turnstone bathing in pool La Caleta Tenerife xxs 9286

There are a number of birds that can be seen elsewhere including waders like this Turnstone bathing in a pool on the rocks.Short-finned Pilot Whale off W Tenerife from rib xs 8927

As an island off Africa, a boat trip is essential.  I thoroughly recommend WWT РWhale Watch Tenerife. They have a fast rib with few passengers and are very knowledgeable and keen and care about the animals.  There is a very good chance of seeing Short-finned Pilot Whales as the W coast of Tenerife is a favoured haunt.  Dolphins, Sharks and Baleen Whales are also regularly seen.Corys Shearwater in swell off W Tenerife coast from rib xs 8813

While enthralled by Dolphins and Whales, keep one eye open for birds.¬† This is Cory’s Shearwater which is quite common.¬† It flies beautifully but looks a bit awkward in the water or on land – one landed on the path at our fee one evening!Flathead Grey Mullet Mugil cephalus in Puerto Deportivo Los Gigantes Tenerife xs 8724

Many of the harbours have large numbers of Flathead Grey Mullet swimming around the boats and shadows.Southern Tenerife Lizard Gallotia galloti galloti on rocks near La Caleta Tenerife xs 8738Quite a few of the birds and animals are either species or subspecies endemic to the island or region.  This is the Southern Tenerife Lizard (Gallotia galloti galloti) sun-bathing on the rocks along the coast.Yellow-legged Gull atlantis ssp Acantilados de Los Gigantes Tenerife xs 8733

Finally, there are nearly always Gulls.  This is the Yellow-legged Gull, subspecies atlantis, found on Atlantic islands.

Stay safe.

 


Blessington Basin

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Hooded Merganser drake and Mandarin duck

It’s always great to have wild places in cities. This one is a super water oasis in the middle of Dublin.¬† The ‘Blessington’ in the name comes not from the town in Wicklow but from Blessington Street, in Dublin.¬† It is reached on one side from a linear park that used to be a canal, through a small gate in the surrounding stone wall.

This gives rise to its other name as ‘Secret Garden’.The Lodge cottage 1811 Blessington Basin Dublin rc 9904 At the other end is a more salubrious entrance, gate and lodge, dating from 1811.¬†

The ‘Basin’ itself is a fairly simple, rectangular tank with vertical walls and an island at its centre.¬† This was originally built in 1810 as a water reservoir¬† (The Royal George Reservoir) for Dubliners and was used by a number of whiskey makers into the 1970s. Restoration in the 1990s cleaned it up and it is now well visited by people and wildlife.

Feral Pigeon head Blessington Basin Dublin x 7313Visiting from the secret end, the first wildlife encounter may well be a pigeon.  Feral pigeons know how to find feeding spots and this is a good one with some very regular patrons.  They will line up on railings and take off together at the slightest hint of danger or new food, with an alarming beat of wings.

Wood Duck M Blessington Basin Dublin x 7364However the Basin often holds some surprising bird-life such as the Hooded Merganser drake and Mandarin duck in the top picture and the Wood duck above.

These are normally found in North America but have presumably found their way here after being discarded by collectors.

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Immature Sparrowhawk in tree on the island

Keep an eye out for birds of prey – where there are birds feeding, predators lurk.

For me the star of this show was the male Hooded Merganser which just looks so proud and ‘kingly’, somehow beyond normal reality.¬†

And that’s just what’s so fantastic about the Basin – it is a common haunt of locals and aficionados while at the same time an incredible revelation, haven and uplifting surprise for newbies.

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Saltees 2017

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Gannets Greeting in Great Saltee colony over Egg in Nest

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.

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Puffin taking off from Burrow with undelivered fish after disturbance

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Penthouse Suite – Kitiwakes nesting on cliff, Great Saltee

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.

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Razorbill flying with fish

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Baby Great-Black-backed Gulls in hiding – they will grow to become the marauding Lords of the island

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Great Black-backed Gull in full marauding flight

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Shag & Chicks in nest under Rock

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Grey Seal immature in cave, Great Saltee

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Gannet collecting vegetation for nest

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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.

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Gannet Nests with regular spacing

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!

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Gannets fighting in colony

Fights do break out in the close noisy turmoil.

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Gannet returning to nest in colony, Great Saltee

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.

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Gannet head – with superior attitude

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A magnificent bird and beautifully designed for life on the sea and for diving into the water from a height.

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Puffin with Sandeels

 

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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 ūüė¶

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Puffin flying in


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 L√° Fh√©ile Br√≠de (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 РCrocuses, Snowdrops, Helibores etc. Рand 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 ūüôā – 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 ūüė¶¬† 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 Рhalf 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 Рthey 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


2015 Review

Gannet Stare
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.

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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 Рan 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  Рone 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 Рquite 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.

 

 


Life & Death

Irish Stoat running with Wood Mouse Tomnafinnoge Woods

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 Рadmittedly 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.


Spring Signs

Ewe and Lambs - one with bad eye near Carlow
Ewe and Lambs - one with bad eye near Carlow

Ewe and Lambs – one with bad eye near Carlow

Cold it’s been but February has brought brighter evenings and other hints of Spring.

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First of all there are lambs about.  Some very early and eager young bits of wool appeared much earlier but the serious production has now begun.

Lambs and Ewes near Carlow

Lambs and Ewes near Carlow

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Mother ewes can be seen watching and protecting their little darlings who seem wider in the back legs at this stage – presumably to give more balance.

Snowdrop Species Altamont Gardens Carlow

Snowdrop Species Altamont Gardens Carlow

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Definitely one of the cuter signs of Spring.

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Snowdrops Altamont Gardens Carlow

Snowdrops Altamont Gardens, Carlow

Another traditional sign is the appearance of Snowdrops.

Gardens, parks and scrap ground all over Ireland are showing Snowdrops in full bloom.¬† Last year Snowdrops flowered earlier than the previous 40 years but I did hear a murmur that they were declining.¬† You certainly wouldn’t guess that from the many on show.

The Snowdrop (common version – Galanthus nivalis) grows from a bulb and has become naturalised in Ireland from garden escapees, although it is native to many European countries.

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A great place to see them¬† is Altamont Gardens – a public gardens in Carlow, that apart from being a beautiful place with loads of plants and trees in a great setting, has a display of many different varieties.¬† There are supposed to be more than 100 varieties there, though I didn’t count them!¬† It also has access to one of Ireland’s loveliest rivers, the Slaney.

Although other varieties and species are interesting, I am happy with our common or garden Snowdrop and there are thousands of them in Altamont.

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Young Fallow Deer Stags practice fight Phoenix Park

Young Fallow Deer Stags practice fight Phoenix Park

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Meanwhile, in Phoenix Park, Fallow Deer are divided into male and female groups.

The young stags are practice fighting ahead of the rutting season much later in the year.¬† In fact the ‘clacking’ sounds as they test their impressive young head-gear against each other, can be heard for quite a distance even the though they are relatively well hidden in the trees.

It is a great priviledge to be able to see such behaviour within a walk from the city.¬† Those pointed antlers look like I wouldn’t want them anywhere my eyes or head!

Fallow Deer Does Phoenix Park

Fallow Deer Does Phoenix Park

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The group of does seemed much calmer.

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Strangely they showed no signs of wanting to start a fight ūüôā

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Here’s to a calm spring and great nesting season.


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.


Kilmacurragh

Old gate and wall segment Kilmacurragh

Old gate and wall segment, Kilmacurragh

The Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin is a familiar venue for those looking for peace and tranquility, never mind beautiful flowers, hot houses and international plantings.  Indeed its old iron framed glasshouses are iconic.

Not so many are aware of the Botanic Gardens’ venture in Wicklow, Kilmacurragh.¬† This is an old estate between Rathdrum and the N11 that offers much of the attractions of the Glasnevin park but without the glasshouses. It dates from the sixteen hundreds although a lot of the plantings are more recent.

The old house is now in ruins but the place has a nice mix of shade, glade, pond and open field that encourages exploration.

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While much of the planting is of non-native trees and flowers, it is hard to deny the wild beauty apparent at every turn.

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Flower Border Kilmacurragh Botanic Gardens Wicklow

Flower Border Kilmacurragh Botanic Gardens Wicklow

 

 

There are more concrete factors that help to bring Kilmacuragh into the ‘Wild Places’ category.

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Firstly they are managing and researching wilfflower meadows.  The estate used to have extensive wildflower meadows and some of these are being restored.

It is hoped that the research will be available to others, including home garden owners, that want to develop a sustainable patch of wildflower meadow, which can attrack so many insects.

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Oak Drive Kilmacurragh

Oak Drive Kilmacurragh

Secondly there are substantial amounts of great native wild plants.

Not the least of these are the Oak trees.¬† In particular, there is an ‘Oak Drive’.¬† This I am reliably informed, used to be the main Wexford raod.¬† It is a grassy path bordered by fine Oak trees, of which there are still far too few in Ireland.

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Flower Borders Kilmacurragh

Flower Borders Kilmacurragh

Thirdly, there is an abundance of insects such as Bees, Dragonflies and Butterflies.

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Finally, it is a great place to watch birds.

A red kite flew over at a fairly low height as I was getting out of the car!  Later a Buzzard flew over the fields.

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In short, then, a great place to look at plants, to watch birds, to have a picnic or just to chill out!

 


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.


18 Shades of Green

9th green and Blessington Lakes Tulfarris Golf Club Autumn evening
10th hole Tulfarris Golf Club & Blessington Lakes Autumn evening

10th hole Tulfarris Golf Club & Blessington Lakes Autumn evening

There seems to be a lot of polarisation over golf.  So many people play it and enjoy it but there are also a lot of people who think it a waste of space.

I am biased here.  I do like my round of golf and would argue that whatever else, golf courses tend to preserve a plot of nature Рland, plants, scenery and wildlife Рthat otherwise might be destroyed in another commercial exercise.

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This post is about Tulfarris Golf Club, one of the many fine courses in Ireland, and indeed Wicklow, and one of the prettiest.

Aiming at the 14th green Tulfarris Golf Club Wicklow in evening sun with moon

Aiming at the 14th green Tulfarris Golf Club Wicklow in evening sun with moon

18th Fairway & Green from 13th tee Tulfarris Golf Club Wicklow Autumn evening

18th Fairway & Green from 13th tee Tulfarris Golf Club Wicklow Autumn evening

13th green & Blessington lakes Tulfarris Golf Club Wicklow in evening sun

13th green & Blessington lakes Tulfarris Golf Club Wicklow in evening sun

9th green and Blessington Lakes Tulfarris Golf Club Autumn evening

9th green and Blessington Lakes Tulfarris Golf Club Autumn evening

Putting from the fringe 9th Green Tulfarris

Putting from the fringe 9th Green Tulfarris

…………………….Tulfarris is a challenging course but its real charm lies in its trees and views which help even the worst rounds and encourage wildlife.¬†¬† Deer, Foxes, Buzzards, Ravens, Little Grebes, Sedge Warblers, Mute and Whooper Swans as well as many other species can be found here.

Little Grebe feeding Baby on small lake Tulfarris Golf Club

Little Grebe feeding Baby on small lake Tulfarris Golf Club

Jackdaw at nest in Copper Beech Tulfarris GC Blessington

Jackdaw at nest in Copper Beech Tulfarris GC Blessington

Blackbird M with Leatherjacket in the rain Tulfarris GC Blessington

Blackbird M with Leatherjacket in the rain Tulfarris GC Blessington

Mute Swan claims victory on 8th Green Tulfarris

Mute Swan claims victory on 8th Green Tulfarris

At the end of the day, though, it is the magnificent Oak and Beech trees that really show Tulfarris off.

Oak Trees beside 15th Tee from 13th tee Tulfarris Golf Club Wicklow Autumn evening

Oak Trees beside 15th Tee from 13th tee Tulfarris Golf Club Wicklow Autumn evening


Swans & Cygnets

Cygnets Preening St Stephens Green, Dublin

Cygnets Preening St Stephens Green, Dublin

If you go down to the pond today you’ll see 7 lovely cygnets under the watchful eyes of proud parents.

Well you will if you go to the pond in St. Stephen’s green, Dublin. ¬†Today they are already a good deal bigger than in the photo from the end of May, but they are still seriously cute, swimming almost at random and getting into contortions as they copy their parents preening.

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These are our resident Mute Swans. (See  http://wp.me/p10npw-rX
for our winter visitors, the Whooper Swans).
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Mute Swans courting St Stephens Green

Mute Swans courting St Stephens Green

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Amazingly, they were conceived while the parents were still looking after the remnants of last year’s brood.
The courtship (foreplay?) is very elegant – a kind of dance by heads – and reminds me of Gannets or Great-crested Grebes although the Grebes’ dance is longer and more elaborate.
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On the other hand the mating act looks quite brutal to us with the female risking drowning.  It is not unlike the mating habits of many ducks.
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While one of their cygnets from last year looked on in an inquisitive way, people in the park sat or walked by, mainly oblivious.
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Mute Swans mating in fromt of their Cygnet St Stephens Green

Mute Swans mating in fromt of their Cygnet St Stephens Green

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5 cygnets were produced last year and I believe 4 lasted through the winter. ¬†In fact there were still 4 hanging around home while the parents were ‘planning’ the current lot.
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Perhaps they are mimicking the current human trend of staying home longer.
Cygnets Preening St Stephens Green, Dublin

Cygnets Preening St Stephens Green, Dublin

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Charlie the Swan man with Swans & Cygnets & St Stephens Green 2012

Charlie the Swan man with Swans & Cygnets & St Stephens Green 2012

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When they emerge from the egg, the cygnets are fluffy grey and grow quite quickly.  After a few months they start to get brown feathers which are slowly replaced by white and they begin to look more like teenagers!
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This is one of last year’s mob, already the size of an adult.
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Part of the success may be due to Charlie, ‘the Swan Man’, who pretty much set himself up as the granddad last year and visited the family most days, sitting closely with them and feeding them.
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Mute Swans often have reasonably big clutches Рusually 3 to 7 eggs Рand families but the attrition rate is often high.  Those on the Grand Canal, for example are usually lucky to bring one cygnet up.  They fall victim to dogs, rodents, humans and sometimes disease, amongst others, despite the strong defence capabilities of the adults.

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Despite this, there are large numbers of Mute Swans in Dublin, particularly along the canal!

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The current cygnets are amusing visitors in St. Stephen’s Green.¬† May they live long and prosper!

Moving On

Greylag Geese in Blessington FieldA very brief ‘less cold’ spell seems to have convinced the Whoopers to migrate back north.¬† The Greylags were not so easily fooled and still graze in Willie’s field.

Walking down the Liffey quays towards the lifting bridge, a group of Brent Geese had gathered a couple of weeks ago.  They are probably about to, or in the middle of migrating.

It is interesting to note their amazing travels while we lament their passing.

Whoopers typically fly to Iceland and northern Europe from Ireland while Greylags mainly return to Iceland.

Brent Geese, quite common flying over Dublin or grazing on grass fields, including football fields, in the Winter, head for Greenland or Canada.

Brent Geese on Liffey at Toll Swing bridge Dublin.

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It seems that when temperatures are beginning to get tolerable for us, the winter migrant birds get hot under the collar and feel the pull for colder climes.

Of course the weather this Winter and ‘Spring’ has been pretty miserable – one of the coldest March months on record.

But spring really is in full swing regardless of the cold and frost.  Witness the Crows at their rookeries, the Jackdaws sitting on wires or branches in pairs, not to mention the cute spindly-legged foals and the gorgeous young lambs.

Sheep & Lamb in Frosty field Rathmore Co Wicklow


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


More Signs

Today a Fiach Dubh (Raven) flew over the garden carrying twigs, presumably for a nest.  Bullfinch Male Back GardenPerhaps Féile Bríde still does herald Spring!

To make the cold, wet day even better, a male Corcán coille (Bullfinch) visited, seeking old seed heads in our very un-manicured ghairdín.  This must be one of the most beautiful birds in Ireland and seems to be almost out of place.Greenfinch Female on garden nut feeder
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Chomh maith leis sin, do bh√≠ c√ļpla Glas√°n darach ag beath√ļ ar cn√≥nna.¬† Greenfinchs are threatened by Trichomonosis disease caused by a parasite and their numbers have fallen significantly.¬† Bh√≠ m√© l√°n s√°sta to see them after a bit of an absence.

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Greenfinch male in garden tree

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Mar fhocal scoir, the c√ļpla focal above are in memory of the great Eamon de Buitl√©ar who died a week ago.

Not only was he a very acomplished musician and film maker but he brought Gaelic into his films in a simple easy way that was so welcome after the force feeding that many suffered in schools.

Hi enduring legacy, however, must be the number of people he introduced to Irish Wildlife or that had their passion nurtured.

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Ar dheis Dé, go raibh a anam.


Winter Woolies and Whoopers

Whooper Swan stretching in rear field Blessington

Viburnum flowers winterWell the cold continues but maybe not as bad as previous years ‚Äď yet.¬† The temptation is to stay wrapped in woollies indoors.¬† But winter is an interesting time in the great outdoors.

Firstly the winter flowering shrubs such as Viburnum brighten gardens on even the dullest days.

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Whooper Swans in rear field Blessington 1879x

Secondly, as a side benefit of the cold, winter migrators such as Swans and Geese are attracted to Ireland.  We have the pleasure of living beside prime Whooper Swan & Greylag Geese real estate.

For many years, fairly large flocks could be seen and heard just over our garden wall.¬† In recent years they have been less in number and sometimes absent ‚Äď particularly the geese.¬† Perhaps they found alternate accommodation or perhaps global warming had shifted them.

This year there are reasonably large flocks of Greylag Geese and about 20 Whooper Swans.

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Whooper Swan stretching in rear field BlessingtonWhooper Swans young & old in rear field Blessington.

Whoopers really are large birds .  Whooper Swan resting in rear field BlessingtonWatching them as they feed, rest, stretch and fly is a  real pleasure, especially from the comfort of the house.

As wild birds, they are easily disturbed and tend to stay well removed from our wall. To see them properly usually requires binoculars.  But sometimes they come closer, where perhaps the grass is thicker.

The birds move between the lakes and the fields and make quite a sight in the air Рlike large jets, it seems unreeasonable that they should be able to fly.  In fact they are amongst the largest flying creatures in the world.

And yet they are very good flyers and cover great distances, usually coming to Ireland from Iceland and Northern Europe.

Whooper Swan feeding in rear field Blessington.

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They are also a joy to hear.  Their honking sounds gave them their name, which was apparently originally Hooper.

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The Swans stay fairly close together but sometimes intermingle with the Geese.

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Greylag Goose walking in rear field Blessington.

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Greylag Geese are fairly common in Ireland in winter.  They are of course much smaller than the Whoopers and much darker.  It is only their number and sounds that make them conspicuous.

They too have probably travelled from Iceland where they breed.

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Greylag Goose in rear field Blessington.

While not ‘showy’ they are still striking when seen up close, with browny grey and white plumage, an orange beak and pinkish legs.

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So plenty of reasons to venture out and smell the flowers.

Viburnum flower buds winter


Monsters of the Deep

There are many things in the world that we ‘know Humpback Whale spouting Cape Codabout’ but perhaps find hard to really believe, if we haven’t actually seen them with our own eyes.¬† In this class you might consider the 1st landing on the moon; the size and power of Victoria Falls, the vast amounts of wildlife in the Ngorongoro Crater or in the Serengeti; or the incredible turquoise waters of the Caribbean, as a good friend mentioned.¬† For me the monstrous marine mammals that can dwarf a double decker bus have always seemed hard to credit – how come we never see them when gazing out to sea?¬† Why do we never see them when flying over oceans?

Well this year changed that.  Visiting New England, we eagerly signed up for a whale watching tour from Provincetown near the tip of Cape Cod.  This goes out to the Stellwagen Bank, a well known feeding ground for whales.  While enjoying the trip and scenery, we were still not sure what, if anything in the whale family, would be seen, when the shout went up for a sighting of Minke whales. Minke Whale arching East of Cape Cod

Well that was me happy but the show was only starting!

Soon after we came across Humpback Whales.  We could see them spouting in the distance.Humpback Whale fin flapping Cape Cod

We could see them at close quarters, rolling over and bashing the water with their white fins.

We even witnessed a great display of a calf breaching over and over again while the mother repeatedly slapped the water with the full force of her tail.

Humpback Whale calf breeching Cape CodHumpback Whale calf breeching Cape CodThis was a magical sight and one that I hope to see again some day.  The whales really are enormous.  At times they came so close that you could smell and feel their spout of water.

Humpback Whale blowholes Cape CodThe idea of being beside one of these lovely monsters in the water is at the same time alluring and frightening Рone slight flick of fin or tail  would curtail your birthdays.  Even their blowholes (seems to be a dodgy word for nostrils:), seen up close, are huge.

I think the the most magical sight of all though, was their ‘leave-taking’ tail wave.

Before and as they dive out of sight, Humpbacks slowly raise their tails in a languid curved motion.  When the tail reaches near vertical it cuts down smoothly into the dark sea.

Humpback Whale tail about to lift Cape Cod
Humpback Whale tail lifting

We saw this graceful wave goodbye many times but never got tired of it.

A bient√īt, mes petites!
Humpback Whale tail lifting Cape Cod
Humpback Whale tail submerging Cape Cod


Ria Formosa, Algarve

Garrao Beach, Faro, AlgarveGolden beaches, blue skies, warm weather and good food and wine – sounds like an ideal holiday location.

Add in fantastic bird life and you have a hell of a location! ¬† The Ria Formosa lagoon is a designated Natural Park in Portugal’s Algarve, that stretches from Faro to past Tavira in the East.¬† It is a mixture of lagoons, salt pans and islands that attracts hundreds of thousands of birds, especially during migration.

In early Spring, we had the pleasure of a great week in Tavira and the neighbourhood.  Tavira itself is lovely and there is a wide variation of sights, habitations and things to do nearby.

Cormorant European race sinensis calling Algarve
White Stork mounting mate on Chimney nest Castro MarimReasonably common are Cormorants of the European race, Sinsensis, which have brilliant white head gear, in breeding plumage.

White Storks take most of the vantage posts, waiting on their sites for their returning mates to join them from Africa or building nests together, accompanied by loud, far carrying ‘clacking’ as they greet each other with their beaks.

The birds can be seen and heard in most of the towns and on old factory chimneys elsewhere.Curlew Sandpiper walking in inlet W of Tavira Algarve
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In the salt Pans themselves a wide range of waders and larger birds can be found.  These include Curlew Sandpipers, Greater Flamingos, Kentish Plover and the speciality species, the Spoonbill.

Kentish Plover spring Cabanas Algarve

This unusual bird with a long, strong beak equipped with a spoon-like tip, is hard to miss.

Greater Flamingo and juv salt pan Fuzeta AlgarveSpoonbill feeding in Environmental Education Centre of Marim National Park of Ria Formosa Olhao

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Black-winged Stilt imm salt pans Tavira.

Common in the pans are Whimbrel, Redshanks, Greenshanks, Little Egrets and Black-winged Stilts.Black-winged Stilt & reflection beak open salt pans Tavira

Golden Plover W walking in Gilao river TaviraAlso to be found are Golden Plover, extravagant Hoopoes and skulking Water Rails.Hoopoe with grub in tree Isla da Tavira AlgarveWater Rail in inlet W of Tavira Algarve

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Stone Curlew flying Isla da Tavira AlgarveMore remote areas such as on the islands, can throw up Stone Curlews.
Bluethroat M Quinta do Lago Algarve
Gadwall M&F in pool in EECM National Park of Ria Formosa OlhaoSurrounded by oppulent golf clubs, lakes and ponds host many birds that are often easily seen reasonably close. This includes the beautiful Bluethroat, large birds such as Flamingos, Spoonbills and Glossy Ibis as well as ducks such as Gadwall and Red-crested Pochard.Red-crested Pochard M&F Vale de Lobo AlgarveGlossy Ibis at Vale de Lobo Algarve
Crested Lark Vale de Lobo AlgarveSandwich Tern flying Vila Real AlgarveCrested Larks are quite common.Bonelli's Eagle Fl flying Mertola Algarve

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Of course there are also plenty of Gulls – particularly Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed as well as terns, particularly Sandwich Terns.

Shrub birds such as Serin,¬†Zitting Cisticola and Waxbills can be seen near the towns while further inland you can see a good range of raptors.¬† We saw Kestrels, Lesser Kestrels, Marsh Harriers and Bonnelli’s Eagles.

.Sun declining over Tavira & 4 Aquas

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A beautiful place and a nature paradise.


Darwin & those Finches

Sunset over Galapagos Is In 1835 – no don’t worry I’m not a history fan – Darwin arrived in the Galagagos Island group on board the HMS Beagle, and proceded to cause both controversy and scientific breakthrough.

The controversy was not about collecting samples of incredible species that continue to be in great danger, but rather about the belief that the knowledge he was bringing was somehow denying God. Go figure!

Anyway the breakthrough was seeing that species had evolved to best exploit their environment and the niche they found themselves in, by ‘natural selection’.¬† This theory essentially held that tiny differences within individuals of a species tended to be¬† bred on in a magnifying way if the peculiarity was useful – i.e. helped in finding food, mating or surviving and that conversely, peculiarities that made the individual less attractive or strong etc. tended to die out due to the ‘survival of the fittest’ primciple.Large Ground Finch eating Punta Suarez  Espanola Galapagos
This theory has revolutionised the scientific view and led to many more studies so that it is taken as gospel (sorry) today.

Darwin collected many samples including a number of finches from different islands and it is these finches that are generally considered to be at the root of his theory.

Small Ground Finch F Rabida Is GalapagosDifferent  islands, for example, contained very similar finches but with slight differences that could be accounted for by the topology, type of cover or available food. Where seeds were small, beaks were small and where seeds were large or tough, beaks were large.

Green Warbler Finch highlands Santa Cruz Is
Because the islands were separate, moving apart and hadn’t been interfered with by us, there would have been little interbreeding between different islands and the differences must have been down to selective breeding.

Medium Ground Finch M on beach Gardner Bay EspanolaThere were finches for most ‘purposes’ – Green Warbler Finches with narrow beaks for picking insects; Medium Finches for medium seeds and even Cactus Finches, specialised in boring into Cactus flesh.Common Cactus Finch F feeding on Prickly Pear Cactus Santa Cruz Is

Unaccustomed as my eyes were to identifying these finches  I may have erred in naming.  It seems similar to identifying our warblers!

San Cristobal Mockingbird Cero Brujo San Cristobal Galapagos

San Cristobal Mockingbird Mimus melanotis Cero Brujo San Cristobal

Galapagos Mockingbird Santa Cruz Is

Galapagos Mockingbird Mimus parvulus on Santa Cruz Is

Although more celebrated, it was not the Finches that gave Darwin his first insight into this selection process but rather the Mockingbirds that he had also collected.

Floreana Mockingbird Floreana Is Galapagos

Floreana Mockingbird Mimus trifasciatus on Floreana Is Galapagos

Espanola Mockingbird on beach Gardner Bay Espanola

Espanola Mockingbird Mimus macdonaldi on beach Gardner Bay Espanola

Apparently, unlike with the Finches,  he kept note of the island from where he had collected the Mockingbird samples.  This led him to notice distinct differences in characteristics of birds from different islands.  The first Mockingbirds encountered on Chatham Is. (now San Cristobal) seemed similar to those collected previously in South America.  Birds collected on a number of different islands, proved to have different markings on their cheeks and chest and different sized bills.

Hopefully these great creatures that survived Darwin and many other collectors can now survive the tourist boom.


New Creations – What grows in your Garden?

Cherry Trees FGIt’s hard to say that one season is your favourite when so many wonderful things happen¬† or are to be seen in every season, every year.¬† But there is something extra special about the growing season – Spring early Summer – the creation time.

We are lucky to live in a rural setting with a wildlife-friendly garden.¬† Friends may say that the garden is the wildest thing around, but that’s another story!

Every year the garden seems to burst out, encroach and almost threaten, such is the growth in trees, shrubs, grass and other vegeatation.

Making use of the renewed cover, a range of birds ususally nest.

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Great Tit at nest box Box back garden

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This year we we were fortunate to host a number of home makers.  Of those that we know nested in the gardens, there were Great Tits in the nest box at the end of the back garden (now now, less tittering please);
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Woodpigeon Pair BG.

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Woodpigeons nested in both gardens;
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Starling arriving at Nest box with Leatherjacket & Worm FG.

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Starlings brought up a strong brood in the nestbox on the garage.  This was set up as a replacement for the hole in the garage they had used as a nest site before it was repaired!  They are currently feeding the second brood!

House Sparrow M BG
House Sparrow M with nut at feeder BG
House Sparrow Nest under Soffit front of house
House Sparrows are supposed to be in decline but you wouldn’t think it around our house.

Adabtable, they have learned to hang on to the nut feeder and get at the nuts. They have also successfully bred for the last few years in ventilation holes in the side of the house. This year they also used the creeper under the soffit at the front of the house! They make quite a racket in the back garden.
Sparrow F feeding baby BG
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Once again however, Lizzie was the star of the show. She and hubby once again eschewed the old nest box in the Crab Apple tree to use our camera box attached to the house.

Lizzie 2 (Lizzie 2012) had tried to nest earlier in the spring following our original Lizzie family last year (Lizzie 1).  So we call this lady, Lizzie 3 Рof course they could be all the same.

Robin on bird table BGWe are reasonably sure that Robins and Wrens nested nearby and who knows what else?  Magpies have nested most years but not this one Рthere must be higher trees somehere near!

Of the non-avian animals, we have seen Mice, Rats, Hedgehog, Fox and Badgers but the cutest little Fox cubs appeared this year.

Fox cub near den BGSuspicious of their presence, they were captured first on a trail camera but were tame enough early on, to allow a quiet and reasonably still person to observe and photograph them.