Musings and photos of wild and everyday life

Wild Places

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 😦

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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 Lá Fhéile Bríde (St. Brigid’s Day) and traditionally welcomes Spring.

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Tree Split,  Lough Dan

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

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

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

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

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

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Snowdrops & Helibores in Garden

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

 

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

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Sika Deer, Trooperstown Wood, Wicklow

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

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


2016 Review

Robin & Worm

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

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

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

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

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Skimmia Japonica Rubella flower buds

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

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

Coal Tit

Coal Tit in back garden

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

Durrow Castle & Estate

Durrow Castle & Estate

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

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Guillemots including Bridled variety on Rock Stack, Great Saltee

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

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Coronation Plantation, Co. Wicklow

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

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

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

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

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Wheat Field with Poppies, Carlow

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

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Worm Casts on Sutton Beach and Ireland’s Eye

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Squabbling M&F Red Deer, Killarney NP

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

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Silver-washed Fritillary butterfly, Killarney NP

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

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Fallow Deer Rut master bellowing over Does, Phoenix Park

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

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Clew Bay & Baltra Strand from Croagh Patrick

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

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Wren at Old Head, Mayo

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

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Seaweed at Old Head, Mayo

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

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Autumn Leaves Shankill River, Wicklow

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

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Calm Blessington Lakes from Tulfarris

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

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Cairn over Neolithic Tomb on top of Seefin Mountain

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

Happy 2017.


Autumn Passing

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Autumn Colours and Shankill river, Wicklow

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

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

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

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

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

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Young Moorhen scavenging – St Stephen’s Green Dublin

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

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

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Great Northern Loon or Diver, Clew Bay, Mayo

 

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

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

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Red-throated Loon, Clew Bay, Mayo

shores.

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

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

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

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Rut Master calling in woods of Phoenix Park, Dublin

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Younger Fallow Deer Stags practice fight, Phoenix Park

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

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

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

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Rut Master Stag with Does, Phoenix Park

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

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

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

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Red Toadstool – Fly agaric – Clara Vale, Wicklow

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

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Plants usually provide the most colourful and showy Autumn sights.

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

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

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

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Curlew & Godwits against morning sun, Baltra beach,Mayo

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

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

Happy Winter


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 – an unmistakeable high-pitched song to brighten any day.

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Howth Head view of Bull Island to Lambay Island

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

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

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

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

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

Gannet Stare

Gannet Stare, Great Saltee Island

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The Saltees welcomed us for our annual visit in June.

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

Puffins Courting

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

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

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

 

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

But they are strikingly coloured and impossibly cute.

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

Heath Spotted Orchid

Heath Spotted Orchid, Pollardstown Fen, Kildare

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Pollardstown Fen in County Kildare was visited in July.

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

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

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

Green Vervet Monkey

Green Vervet Monkey, Nairobi National Park

 

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

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

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

The Green monkeys are cheeky and get quite close.

Elephants bathing and playing in pool

Elephants bathing and playing in pool, Etosha National Park Namibia

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

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

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

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

A great trip in great company.

Autumn Colours Mount Usher gardens

Autumn Colours Mount Usher gardens

 

 

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

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

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

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

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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 – admittedly not as often as it would do in a tidy garden. I was late in discovering them and reckoned by their size and activity, that they were close to fledging.  The parents continued to bring them food and to rest in the nest overnight, keeping them warm. Two days later, when I looked, they were gone but not just the chicks, all trace of the nest was gone!  There had been some wind but not as much as previously, so either they flew and demolished the nest in their leaving or, probably more likely, a cat got them.

Blue Tit in Tree

Blue Tit in Tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moorhen & Chick on Nest Grand Canal Dublin

Moorhen & Chick on Nest Grand Canal Dublin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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 🙂

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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!